Holy Week with Children

Several years ago, I was attending Holy Family’s Good Friday service. Behind me a precocious three year old was asking questions. Dad, what’s happening? Dad, did him die? Dad, is this sad? Dad, did Father Sarah die him? Is him going to be alive again? You could see the wheels turning and sense that the pieces were falling into place. Jesus–the one who died during the events of Holy Week–this is the Jesus who is alive again on Easter morning. This might seem obvious, but it isn’t always so. Indeed, some of the children in the parish had a lively debate going in the children’s liturgy last year: Did Jesus really die or did he only pretend to die? Was Jesus really raised from the dead or were people seeing a ghost?
Holy Week with children can seem daunting, but there is nothing like watching the children of the Parish witness and respond to the drama of Holy Week. There is more to the story than the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the Resurrection on Easter morning. When we walk with children through this time, we can answer their questions and share ours. What happened to Jesus and why? What does it have to do with the hope we share as Christians? Our hope is deeper and more real when the joyful Alleluias of Easter morning are put in the context of the events of Holy Week.

This year, join us for the services of Holy Week, and bring your children. There is a lot for them to seem. Join us to get it all started on Wednesday evening, when we will have a All Parish-friendly Stations of the Cross. This short service might be just the thing to help your family get ready for the Triduum (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil). Nursery care will be available for all of the services except Wednesday evening.

  • Palm Sunday: In lieu of Sunday School, Join us today at 9am in the Parish Hall. We will fold palm fronds into crosses. Children and adults are also invited to walk a set of interactive Stations of the Cross in the Library.
  • Wednesday Stations of the Cross, 6pm in the Nave
  • Maundy Thursday, March 24th @7pm
  • Good Friday, March 25th @ noon
  • Easter Vigil, March 26th @ 8pm

Saint Potluck

As we have worked through the lives of the saints, we have learned that saints always point beyond themselves to Jesus Christ. They show us how members of the Church led lives of holiness in various times and places. Whenever we read stories and legends about the saints, we should keep at the front of our minds the question: What does this person’s life show us about God and who God is in Christ?

This week we will take a break from Church School for an intergenerational celebration of All Saints at 9am (Brunch and Saint Inspired fare) and 11am (Cupcakes to celebrate baptism and activities in the commons).

Everything we have done and learned thus far has prepared us for the liturgy of All Saints by reminding us to listen closely for stories of faithfulness and giving us a sense of the great Cloud of Witnesses (Hebrews 12:1).

By now your children (and you!) have learned a great deal about the Saints–Clare and Francis, Augustine and Monica, Mary Magdalene, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Luke the Evangelist–and you may have a good idea of what their lives were all about. We have focused on these saints with our Flat Saint project, in Sunday School, children’s liturgy, and here on the blog. Now, we close out our unit on the Saints with a festal celebration.Read stories about your family’s favorite saints and check out the list of suggestions below. Be creative! Dishes can be inspired by a saint’s location, symbol, story, or a food traditionally made on their feast day. Breakfast and finger foods are welcome.

Looking for a Saint inspired dish to bring to this Sunday’s Potluck brunch at 9?

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Soul Cakes, a classic treat for All Saints’ Day (Here’s a short article about the tradition of Soul Cakes)
Mary, the Mother of Jesus: Baked Apple Roses
Mary Magdalene: Madeleines
Saint Francis: Tonsure cake
Saint Ambrose: Honey Cake
Saint Michael or Saint George: Dragon Bread
Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael (Archangels): Angel Food Cake
Saint Lucia: Saint Lucia Buns
Saint Nicholas: Saint Nicholas Spice Cookies (many recipes here)

Once you’ve selected a Saint and a recipe, members of your family can write something about your saint on one index card and illustrate a scene from your saint’s life on another. Bring your index cards on Sunday and put them down next to your dish. We will feast in the memorial gardens if the weather is nice and the commons if it isn’t.

Flat Saints: Saint Luke the Evangelist

During our month of saints, we are hearing the stories of seven different saints from Scripture and tradition and learning about the saints in as many ways as possible. Check out some suggestions here. Come back all this month, for posts about our saints and remember to share what you and your family learn about the saints this month on Facebook with a photo of your flat saint out and about and #CHFSaints.

Saint Luke Paints
A flat Saint Luke, created by one of our students. Here, he is pictured as a painter. Legend has it that Saint Luke, a real-life friend of Mary, the mother of Jesus, painted her first portrait. He is often pictured painting images of the Madonna and child.

Saint Luke the Evangelist (First Century)

Feast day: October 18

Symbols: Book, ox or winged ox, Madonna and child, paintbrushes, icons of Mary and Jesus, physician symbol (snake and rod).

Saint Luke is the writer of the Gospel according to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. Luke is thought to have been a physician and a painter. We don’t know a whole lot about each of the Gospel writers as there is little information about their lives that is considered historically reliable. We do know from Scripture that Luke was a doctor (Colossians 4:14), a travelling companion of Saint Paul (Philemon 1:24, 2 Timothy 4:11), the author of both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, and it is suggested that Luke was probably a Gentile, making him the only non-Jewish Evangelist. Some tradition has suggested that he was also a martyr, but no significant details of his death are known.

An At-home Activity

Icons of the Madonna and Child: Some traditions hold that Saint Luke was a friend of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and that he painted her first portrait. This is why images of Luke often show him painting Mary and Jesus. It is also why Luke is the patron saint of artists and iconographers. (When iconographers paint an icon it is called “writing” an icon.) Create your own image of Mary and Jesus.

Writing an icon is very serious work. It isn’t just painting, an iconographer prays with every stroke, reflecting on the life and work of the person, scene, or story that is depicted and how the story behind the icon points to God. Icons are holy. If you do this activity, do so with a sense of calm and quiet.

Flat Saints: Clare and Francis of Assisi

During our month of saints, we are hearing the stories of seven different saints from Scripture and tradition. We have already heard about Mary Magdalene, Monica and Augustine of Hippo. Aside from these posts, there are several other ways to learn about our Saints. Check out some suggestions here. Remember to share what you and your family learn about the saints this month on Facebook with a photo of your flat saint out and about and #CHFSaints.

Giotto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Poor Saints of Assisi: Clare and Francis

After returning to Assisi upon his release as a prisoner of war, Saint Francis found himself praying in a church: “God what do you want from me?” when Christ, from the crucifix on the wall responded: “Francis, rebuild my church; it is falling apart.” This is exactly what Francis began to do, earning one stone at a time as payment for singing, Francis carried stones to rebuild the dilapidated church in Assisi.

It is quite easy to sentimentalize the lives of Saint Francis and Saint Clare, at least hundreds of years after their lives. The potency of their witness to the church has seemingly lessened in their popularity. Though they had many followers in their lifetime, even in their own time, their rule of life, which required giving up ownership of any material possessions and living in poverty, was difficult for those who opted to follow their way of life. Before establishing the Order of the Friars Minor, the pope said that the requirements of their lives were far too stringent, and perhaps the standards might be relaxed. Clare and Francis both responded that this was the life God had required of them.

Following God, for Francis and Clare, was costly and the requirements of a holy life, extreme. In their lifetimes, they challenged and pushed the church to see God at work in poverty. In his lifetime, Francis built churches, cared for the poor, lived a poor and simple life, gave away all of his family’s wealth, and most amazingly received the stigmata (the markings of Jesus’ crucifixion) on his hands, feet, and side. Clare was the first woman to write a rule of life, which has already been said, was found difficult even for those in the church’s highest levels of leadership.

Francis of Assisi (1181-October 3, 1226): Remembered on October 4. His symbols are skull, stigmata, cross or crucifix, birds and other animals, friar’s robe.

Clare of Assisi (July 16, 1194 – August 11, 1253): Remembered on August 11. Her symbols are flowers (esp. roses and lilies), monstrance, book/Rule of life, cross, cloth.

Books in the Christian Education Cabinet: The books in our Christian Education resource cabinet are always available for check out. Please remember to fill out and leave the card that comes with the library book and remember to return it when your family is finished. We have many books about Francis and Clare in our Christian Education Library. Among them:

Saint Francis by Brian Wildsmith
Francis: The Poor Man of Assisi by Tomie de Paola
Clare and Francis by Guido Visconti
Brother Sun, Sister Moon by Katherine Patterson
Canticle of the Sun by Fiona French

Activity to do at home: 

On Saint Francis Day, parishioners at Church of the Holy Family painted birdhouses and read together Saint Francis' Sermon to the Birds.
On Saint Francis Day, parishioners at Church of the Holy Family painted birdhouses like churches and read together Saint Francis’ Sermon to the Birds, a lovely sermonette in which Saint Francis admonishes birds always to be grateful to God for all that God has done in caring for them. If you didn’t make it to our church-birdhouse painting intergenerational event, you can make a simple bird feeder by spreading crisco or peanut butter on a pinecone before rolling it in birdseed. Make a cross with found items for the top of the pinecone.

Canticle of the Sun (also called the Canticle of Creatures). We have several children’s books, in the Christian Education library in the Commons, illustrating the words of this hymn. The last verse, welcoming sister death is said to have been composed by Francis moments before his own death, and the song sung in its entirety for the first time by the community gathered around him on his deathbed.

Learn the Canticle of the Sun together and work on the art project below.

Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

Art Project: You can find a simple art project to do at home with young children (through third grade) that visually reflects the section of the song written above, here.

The Way of the Cross

Stations Bags
Every Friday during Lent, members of Holy Family gather in the Nave to walk the Way of the Cross.  The custom of walking the Stations of the Cross has long been observed by pilgrims to Jerusalem who want to walk in the footsteps of Christ on his journey to the Cross. Since pilgrimage to Jerusalem isn’t a possibility for everyone, stations based on the Scriptural and pietistic accounts of Jesus’ journey to the cross, have been compiled andadapted to local custom in a variety of ways over centuries of Christian practice. At times there have been as many as twenty stations and at others as few as five or six. The stations we walk every week at CHF come from the Book of Occasional Services and may be used, as we do, in a public service, or for private devotion, particularly on Fridays during Lent.

The Way of the Cross invites us to reflect together on the suffering of Christ as we journey with him to the cross. Usually, when we pray the stations together, we do so without images. The language of the prayers and readings provides rich imagery of their own. As a way of inviting our Parish’s youngest members to join this practice, last Friday, we met to pray using an interactive set of Stations. Our readings remained the same and we didn’t use images, but we explored key moments in the story through objects gathered over the course of our journey to the cross.

We began our journey at the altar, then moved to the first station “Jesus is condemned to death” at which participants received a burlap bag. Burlap, aside from it’s connections to simplicity and sackcloth and ashes, is a symbol that we use for Lent in Christian Education. The stories we work on in Lent, like burlap, are rough. On the one hand, they are often difficult or sad stories. On the other hand, Lent is a season during which we ask God to smooth out the rough places in our lives, places where various sins have taken hold.

Arriving at each subsequent Station, participants collected a symbol, holding it as the words for the Station were read. Some of the items, whose meaning was initially obscure (a toothpick), became apparent as we listened (Simeon’s words to Mary in Luke 2:35: “a sword will pierce your own soul also”). Some stations entailed a movement. At the tenth station, Jesus is stripped of his garments and “offered wine to drink, mingled with gall.” In the versicle and response which follow participants repeat the words of Psalm 69: 21, “and when I was thirsty they gave me vinegar to drink.” At this station, participants received vinegar on a sponge. At Station thirteen, “The body of Jesus is place in the arms of his mother” participants marked their burlap bags with ashes in the shape of a cross.

Moving through the stations, each item was placed in the burlap bag as we chanted the Trisagion–Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, Have mercy upon us–during walking transitions.

At four stations, all three times Jesus falls and the station at which Simon of Cyrene takes up the cross, there were no symbols for participants to gather. Rather, we took note of the increasing weight of the story we carried as we approached Golgotha.

We concluded at the altar: Savior of the world, by your cross and precious blood you have redeemed us.

Save us, and help us, we humbly beseech you, O Lord.


Interested in reflecting further? Come back during Holy Week for reflections on several of the symbols explored in our interactive Stations.

The Eve (of the Eve) of Epiphany

This evening, The Eve (of the Eve) of Epiphany, members of our parish gathered for a festive celebration including a spaghetti dinner, Epiphany carols, and king cake (of course!). Holy Family’s parish hall was decked out in symbols of the season. Wooden statues of the three Magi from our parish creche reminded us of the travelers who sought a king at the beckoning of a star. Candles signified the growing light of Christ. Chalk (which would later be blessed and sent out into the world along with our parish families) reminded us that our homes are places of blessing, hospitality, and witness to the light of Christ.

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In a dramatic reading of T.S. Eliot’s, The Journey of the Magi we were confronted with the questions of what Christ’s birth means and what difference it makes for the world. Eliot offers a conflicted picture of the Magi’s own encounter with Jesus, at once hopeful  and full of doubt and uncertainty. Eliot writes:

There was a birth, certainly. We had evidence and no doubts.

A few lines later:

This birth was hard and bitter agony for us, like death, our death.

Our reader suggested that Epiphany may in fact remind us not just of death, but of the new life we receive in Christ. This encounter with Christ, like our baptism, is not only death, but life and new birth.

In Matthew’s account of the Magi’s journey, we catch the first glimpse of Christ’s identity, a strong theme in Epiphanytide. Christ’s identity in this story was most succinctly summed up by our Rector in his presentation about the gifts of the Magi: Jesus is given gold because he is a king; frankincense because he is a priest, and myrrh because he is going to die.

Overall, the night was wonderful and we couldn’t have had more fun if we tried.

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Stay tuned this season. Next week, after we hear the story of the baptism of Jesus, look out for several “faith formation at home” posts on exploring and remembering baptism with your children.