KEEPING EASTER IN THE FAMILY

 

“The family is the first and best prayer group!”

 

Pope John Paul II often calls the family the “domestic church”  (see paragraphs 49 and 59 of his Familiaris Consortio) a term recommended by the Second Vatican Council (paragraph 11 of Lumen Gentium) and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. At this time of year it is good to ask: “How is my domestic church going to celebrate Easter?”

 

 There are only two requirements which the Church obliges for everyone who is able to do so:

If possible, it is good to go as a family also to

 

 If you have members of your family who are not well enough to go, or the family situation makes it difficult to take all the children, it would be very good to mark these special hours in the life of your own family – your “domestic church.” Some of the ideas here might also help make this Holy Week and Easter a family occasion: feel free to use as few or as many as feel useful.

 

 One form of prayer which the Church encourages for everyone is the Divine Office – the daily cycle of prayer, based on the psalms, which all members of religious orders and all priests are bound to celebrate five times each day. It might not be the easiest form of prayer for children to take part in, but you could always adapt it to what your family can manage – one psalm instead of three, and use a hymn book with songs you know for the opening hymns. If you do not have copies of the Divine Office books, you can obtain the American version of the texts for the day at http://www.universalis.com/.

 

 As well as the ideas on this web page, you may find other useful ideas for Easter and indeed all times of the year at Domestic-Church.com. Their family Stations of the Cross are very useful for any time in Lent, especially on Fridays.

 

 

PALM SUNDAY and HOLY WEEK

 

Mass today has two Gospels: the story of Palm Sunday, and the story of Good Friday. At the start of Holy Week, we look onward to the death of Jesus. From now until Good Friday, we think especially of Jesus dying for us.

 

What will you do with your palm crosses when you come home from Mass? Think carefully about where you will put them. Perhaps you can have a short time of family prayer when you place them as a reminder.

 

If you want to make all the weekdays of Holy Week special with a short time of family prayer, you could gather around the palm cross, and think about one or two Stations of the Cross each day; you could divide the 14 stations into two for each day from Palm Sunday to Holy Saturday inclusive.

 

Useful Scripture readings:

 

 

MAUNDY THURSDAY

 

Tonight, the Church remembers the Last Supper. If you have a family meal in the evening, take a little longer to say grace that you normally would. Jesus washed the disciples’ feet – perhaps the head of the household should do the chores normally done by others.

 

Suggestions for a family prayer time:

 

Useful Scripture readings:

 

 

GOOD FRIDAY

 

Today, the Church in England and Wales asks everyone over 14 to abstain from meat, and everyone between 18 and 60 to “fast” – athough this is no longer spelled out, the previous law of the Church defined a "fast" as restricting your diet to one main meal and two snacks. Our bishops say: “Parents are urged to foster the spirit and practice of penance among those too young to be the subjects of either law.” So find some suitable way that your younger children can join in with your fasting. Of course, anyone who is ill – adult or child – is not obliged to follow these rules at all. If you are vegetarian, or would only eat a meal and two snacks in a day anyway, you may need to be creative and decide what kind of fasting and abstinence would “bite” for you.

 

The point of this discipline is to give up something (tobacco? television?) out of reverence for Jesus’ sacrifice, something that needs a special effort of will-power. By doing this, we tell Jesus with our actions as well as with our words that his sacrifice is important to us.

 

The Church always links fasting with prayer and almsgiving. Even if you don’t go to the parish service, you could hand in a donation for the Good Friday collection which supports the Christian places of worship in the Holy Land. And today especially the Church prays for the needs of all the people of the world. If you are going to make the Novena to Christ the Divine Mercy, this begins today, and is a very special way of remembering the needs of different groups of people in prayer through Easter Week.

 

Suggestions for a family prayer time:

 

Useful Scripture readings:

 

 

HOLY SATURDAY

 

Today, Christ’s body lies in the tomb, while his soul visits the “souls in Hell” (we understand those to be the good men and women of Old Testament times who have been awaiting Christ’s resurrection to enable them to enter Heaven). Today might be a good day to pray for the deceased members of your family.

 

Today, Mary is weeping for the death of her Son. We might join with her in praying the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary, or the “dolour rosary”.

 

Today the Church keeps silence, and urges (but doesn’t insist) that we continue the fasting and abstinence of Good Friday. You might want to reflect this in your main family meal.

 

Useful Scripture readings:

 

 

EASTER VIGIL (SATURDAY NIGHT)

 

If you choose not to go to the Vigil, but to go to Mass in the morning, then make this evening special at home.

But because the Mass is the greatest celebration of the resurrection, you might choose not to eat your chocolate eggs or tuck in to whatever you gave up to Lent until after you’ve been to Mass in the morning.

 

Useful Scripture readings:

 

 

EASTER SUNDAY and EASTER WEEK

 

If you went to the Easter Vigil you will probably enjoy a good rest this morning, and celebrate with a Sunday lunch. Lamb might be most appropriate, in honour of Christ the Lamb of God who was slain for us – but whatever you cook, make it a feast! Today is the greatest day in the Church’s year.

 

 Your family prayer today should focus on praise and thanksgiving, because of what Jesus has done for us. Rejoice and be glad, and sing your favourite worship songs!

 

 The Church keeps the weekdays of Easter Week as if each day was an Easter Sunday, so don’t stop celebrating on Sunday evening!

 

 

DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY (LOW SUNDAY)

 

 In 2002, Pope John Paul II officially named the Sunday after Easter Sunday to be “Divine Mercy Sunday”, thereby recognising a series of revelations given by Our Lord to St Faustina Kowalska. Jesus promised that on this day, “the soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain the complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. On that day all the divine floodgates through which graces flow are opened.”

 

 All confessions, of course, forgive sin; but normally our forgiven sins still require us to be purified of the selfishness which lead to them, either by our doing good works in this life, or else in Purgatory. Christ’s promise is that if we receive communion on Divine Mercy Sunday, and make a confession on the day or as close to it as possible, there will be no purgatory required for any of our past sins. This makes the feast a kind of “second baptism” which washes clean our souls.

 

 The Church has confirmed this by declaring an indulgence for those who “on Divine Mercy Sunday, in a spirit that is completely detached from the affection for a sin, even a venial sin, recite the Our Father and the Creed, and also adding a devout prayer (e.g. Merciful Jesus, I trust in you!)”, combined with the usual conditions for an indulgence (receiving communion and saying a prayer for the Pope’s intentions on the day, and making a confession on or near the day).

 

 We should still go to confession during Lent, because Lent is the season when we focus on our own wrongdoing and need to change. We confess our sin to God and ask for his grace to help our own efforts to change our lives. Going to confession for Divine Mercy Sunday had a different focus: it is God’s pure gift to wipe away all our punishment, and our confession for this purpose is our recognition that we need God’s gift, and that our forgiveness comes from him alone.

 

 So perhaps after going to Mass on this Sunday as a family, you could pray together the Our Father and Creed, and say a prayer for the Pope’s intention, so that together you do what is necessary (along with confession and communion) to receive God’s gift of forgiveness of all purifying punishment as well as all your guilt. You could also (though this isn’t needed to receive God’s gift) pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.

 

 

Do have a very blessed celebration of Holy Week and Easter.

 

Dr Gareth Leyshon.