Lent & Easter: A Sourcebook for Families

Author: Women for Faith and Family

The following are excerpts from the book:




The Observance of Lent Movable Feasts Carnival - Mardi Gras

Ash Wednesday and the Lenten Fast Fasting and Penance Today Farewell to Alleluia and Gloria Suggestions for families

Laetare Sunday / Passiontide

Passion Sunday Blessed Palms, Palm Procession

Holy Week Confession and the Easter Duty The Triduum, Tenebrae

Holy Thursday Family Activities

Christian Passover Seder Preparing the Seder

The Stations of the Cross

Good Friday Veneration of the Cross, The Reproaches Ideas for Families

The Cross The Sign of the Cross Crosses and Symbols of Christ

Holy Saturday Preparations for Easter, Customs

The Easter Vigil The Water, The Light of Christ A Family Easter Candle

Easter Day and Easter Season Alleluia, The Lord's Day Ideas for Family Easter Celebrations

Octave of Easter and Paschal Tide Feast of the Ascension, Pentecost Activities for Easter Week

Quem Queritis

Te Deum

Antiphons for Easter


Music Supplement



Lent begins when the earth is dormant, chill -- and we celebrate the blazing Light of Easter just as the Spring returns and the world begins to bloom. As the Church celebrates the liturgical seasons of Lent and Easter, we sense a certain tension in the sometimes suddenly changing lights, the brights and the darks -- a tension or a pulling within our hearts, between our hope in the eternal joy which Christ's Resurrection promises, and the intensified consciousness of all that is within us which corrodes and clouds this radiant vision -- the awareness of our own disfiguring sin and need for salvation and mercy.

This anticipation within dread, rejoicing within mourning, comfort within anguish; this paradox of human existence -- of the Dark Night of the Soul which can be delivered only by the Dayspring From on High; the Light of the World forever triumphant over the Prince of Darkness -- is dramatically and passionately portrayed in the liturgy of the Church during the season of Lent and Easter. For here we relive the ultimate paradox, the utmost Mystery: that out of Death comes Life. There can be no Resurrection without the Crucifixion; no salvation for sinful man apart from the utter immolation of the Perfect Victim. It is the very degradation of the Cross which reveals its dazzling Glory. This is the Light which reveals our darkness, penetrates it and destroys it, as dark clouds are burned away by the sun.

During this season each of us must look into the mirror held up to us by our Lord, who said "Be ye perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect." [Matthew 5:48] We must be transformed ourselves in order to reveal His truth to others.

The Lent and Easter season is a time of the Church's annual renewal and revival in rites of celebration of the Paschal Mystery, Christ's death and resurrection. Christians make this annual retreat together as one family in Christ, that we may all be invigorated and inspired for our mission to bring Christ to the world. We cannot become fruitful missionaries unless we are filled with Christ. We cannot carry His life- giving message of Salvation to our families and to the world unless we comprehend it ourselves. We cannot bring the revealing Light of Christ into the darkness of the world unless this Light blazes within our own hearts.

May we be so ignited by our Savior's radiant truth that we may, as He bids us, "shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify the Father in Heaven." [Matt. 5:16]

Women for Faith & Family Feast of St. Scholastica February 10, 1992


The penitential season of Lent is the period of forty week-days beginning on Ash Wednesday. It is a season of the Church year which commemorates the forty days Jesus fasted and prayed in the wilderness before he began his public ministry of preaching for repentance. Six Sundays are within the season, the last, Passion Sunday, marks the beginning of Holy Week. Holy Thursday begins the Triduum (three days) before Easter day, which includes Good Friday and Holy Saturday....

Pre-Lenten Season

Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the pre-Lenten penetential season began on the Sunday three weeks before the beginnng of Lent, called Septuagesima. The word Septuagesima (seventieth) was a supposed to be a reminder of the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity of the Jewish people, and thus of our captivity in sin, although this Sunday was actually only sixty-three days before Easter. The succeeding pre-lenten Sundays were called Sexagesima and Quinquagesima. Just as in Lent, violet vestments were worn and the Alleluia was omitted from Mass.

The liturgical changes initiated by the Council removed this anticipated pre-Lenten penitential season, however, and the Church returned to the earlier practice of beginning Lent on Ash Wednesday. The Sundays between Epiphany and the beginning of Lent are now in the season called Ordinary Time.

Carnival - Mardi Gras

Carnival is from the Latin Carnevale or "farewell to meat," and it is a time of joyful feasting and fun. The practice of celebrating carnival probably began in ancient times when the Sunday a week before the beginning of Lent was called Dominica Carnevala, or "farewell to meat Sunday"....

Suggestions for Family Activities on Shrove Tuesday

Families can make Shrove Tuesday a spiritual time of preparation for Lent by going to confession where this is possible (a sort of spiritual "pantry cleaning.")

Decide on Lenten sacrifices appropriate to the age of each child, reminding them that our souls need this spiritual exercise to gain strength for living as Christians, just as our bodies need exercise to remain healthy. Our sacrifices are like a gift offered to God, and all real gifts 'cost' the giver something....

Our Lenten spiritual preparations should not be confined to "giving up" things; we should "take on" things -- extra prayers, for example. Especially family prayers. If your family has not already established some form of family prayer, Lent is a good time to begin. We are prepared to do something special during this season anyway. If you have not established the habit of praying together as a family, and in our busy times it is difficult, do set aside some time this Lent to do it. Fathers and mothers can plan together what form this will take -- whether as simple as saying the Angelus every night at dinner, or as elaborate as saying the Daily Office together in the evening....


"The main current of Lent must flow through the interior man, through hearts and consciences. The essential effort of repentance consists in this. In this effort the human determination to be converted to God is invested with the predisposing grace of conversion and, at the same time, of forgiveness and of spiritual liberation."

This reflection by Pope John Paul II in Lent of 1979, recorded in a collection of his meditations, "The Light of Christ," indicates the attitude with which we should approach our observance of this penitential season--a season which begins with a sign of repentance so ancient as to be almost lost in antiquity, and continues with penitential action equally ageless.

Putting ashes on our heads as a form of penitence is a practice inherited from Jewish tradition....

The ashes imposed on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday are a reminder of our unworthiness and sinfulness--sinfulness which corrupts and stains us and leads to death (we return to the dust from whence we came.) Ashes remind us of our original sin and our need of redemption--our need to be cleansed of sin and made worthy of Salvation....

Fasting and Penance Today

The Code of Canon Law states that Fridays throughout the year and in the time of Lent are penitential days for the entire Church. Although fasting usually refers to any practice of restricting food, there is a distinction, in the Church, between fast (limiting food to one full meal a day, with two smaller meals allowed) and abstinence (abstaining from eating meat.) Abstinence from meat on Fridays as the universal form of penance on all Fridays is no longer mandatory. We may choose another way of observing the Church's requirement for acts of penance on Fridays, but we are not to neglect it, either....

Both fast and abstinence are required on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday....

Farewell to Alleluia and Gloria

During the penitential seasons of the Church, the Gloria and the Alleluia are not said or sung. The Gloria is sung only at the Mass on Holy Thursday, usually with great ceremony, organ and sometimes trumpets, and often with the ringing of bells. After the singing of the Gloria, musical instruments are to silent until the Alleluia at the Easter Vigil. (Catholic families might imitate this solemn silence by not playing instrumental music in their homes at this time.)...

Suggestions for families

Lent is a time for each of us to increase our knowledge of the "faith that is in us" in order that we can fulfill our vocation as Christians to extend this rich blessing of faith to others. We accomplish personal renewal and revitalization of our faith through penance, prayer and instruction.


The value of self-denial must be learned early in a person's life. Lent provides an excellent opportunity to teach our children the necessity of self-denial in our permissive society.

A spirit of fasting can include restriction of luxuries such as television watching, shopping and going out with friends.

We can give away clothing or possessions to those in need or we can give time to the Lord by volunteering our services....

Special prayers and devotions.

Whenever possible we can go to daily Mass, and pray more often alone or with family members.

Children could make an Alleluia card or banner to be "buried" during Lent and displayed prominently during the Easter season.

Initiate a practice of saying extra prayers at family meals. One ancient prayer which reminds us of the multifaceted nature of penance is the following prayer said by the Eastern Church during the Lenten fast....

Read passages in Scripture which help to explain the meaning of fasting and of penance in our lives....

For study and reflection

Families might develop a Lenten reading program (Reading can replace some of the television shows we've given up for Lent.) Also, reading aloud from the Bible or from a Catholic classic every evening for half an hour can be a way of fostering family conversation about the Catholic faith.

Maria von Trapp suggests that "every year we should divide our reading into three parts: something for the mind, something for the heart, something for the soul." [p. 104] (We cannot regard mind, heart and soul as really separate, of course.)...


The Fourth Sunday of Lent is called Laetare (Rejoice) Sunday, from the first words of the liturgy [Introit] above. Since it is in the middle of Lent, like Gaudete Sunday midway through Advent, Laetare reminds us of the Event we look forward to at the end of the penitential season. As on Gaudete Sunday, rose-colored vestments may replace violet, symbolizing, the Church's joy in anticipation of the Resurrection.

In England, this Sunday is known as Mothering Sunday, a custom which arose during the Middle Ages, because the Epistle for the day said, "But Jerusalem which is above, is free, which is the mother of us all" [Galatians 4:26]. The Church is 'Jerusalem which is above.'...


Passiontide is the last two weeks of Lent, when the readings and prayers of the liturgy focus on the Passion of Our Lord. The word 'passion', in the Christian sense, does not mean an intense emotion; it refers to the historical events of Jesus' suffering and death. Although for several centuries the Fifth Sunday of Lent was known as Passion Sunday, after the Second Vatican Council this name was restored to the Sunday at beginning of Holy Week , formerly called Palm Sunday. As a penitential season of the Church, Passiontide is evidently even more ancient than Lent.

Devotions and Prayers for Passiontide

Among the traditional non-liturgical devotions of Passiontide are saying the Stations of the Cross, praying the Rosary, meditating on the five Sorrowful Mysteries, and saying the five prayers in honor of Christ's five wounds....

It is fitting, during this season, that we remember Mary and her inexpressible grief at the suffering and death of her Son. Another ancient devotion for this season was The Seven Sorrows [Dolors] of Mary. Christian believers appealed to Mary, the Mother of Sorrows who publicly shared in her Son's suffering on the road to Calvary, taking all things upon herself- -concern, affliction and sorrow. This devotion listed the Seven Sorrows of Mary as: 1. The prophecy of Simeon, 2. The flight to Egypt, 3. The loss of the Child Jesus in the temple, 4. His way of the Cross, 5. His Crucifixion, 6. The piercing of His heart on Calvary, and 7. His burial in the tomb....


Holy Week, the most solemn and intense period of worship in the Christian faith, begins with Passion Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. In spite of the spiritual gravity of Holy Week, it begins with joy; for on this Sunday, the Church celebrates Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem which foretells the victory of His Resurrection and His return to earth in glory; and with the first reading of the Passion in the liturgies of Holy Week, the Church begins her commemorative pilgrimage with her Lord on His way to Calvary.

Liturgical commemoration of the Passion actually begins during the fifth week of Lent, when Masses are focused on the power of the Cross and the Kingship of Christ. Until the liturgical reforms just before the Second Vatican Council restored important liturgical elements of the early Church which had gradually disappeared (the Easter Vigil, for example), the Fourth Sunday of Lent was called Passion Sunday, and this Sunday was called Palm Sunday. Earliest accounts describing the beginning of Holy Week speak of Passion Sunday.

Blessed Palms

The blessing and distribution of palms takes place on Passion Sunday, and altar decorations are palm branches rather than flowers. The palms are solemnly blessed by the priest, and each worshipper holds the blessed palm during the singing of the ancient hymn, Gloria Laus ('All Glory, Laud and Honor') and during reading of the Passion....

Palm Procession

According to the account of a fifth-century Spanish pilgrim to the Holy Land, Passion Sunday Mass was celebrated in Jerusalem at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. After this the people were invited to meet again in the afternoon at the Mount of Olives, in the Church of Eleona (the grotto of the Our Father). They then proceeded to the Church of the Ascension for a service consisting of hymns and antiphons, readings and prayers, where at five o'clock in the afternoon the Gospel of the palms was read and the procession set out for the city. The people responded to the antiphons with the acclamation, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord," as we say even today....


Holy Week has been held in great reverence since the very early years of the Church. No other Christian observance has interested the world so much as Holy Week. For the rituals of the Church during these few days of each year, so complex and so laden with meaning, emphatically and prophetically proclaim to the entire world the liberating and redeeming and perpetual truth of the Gospel -- the Good News that Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again....

Although in our time and nation the Church's only required food fast is to restrict meals (fast) and to abstain from meat (abstinence) on Good Friday, we learn from medieval Church documents that Christians observed a strict fast from Monday of Holy Week to the cock-crow of Easter Day. A very strict fast was usually observed from Thursday evening to Easter morning....

Confession and the Easter Duty

The discipline of fasting from food is not the only nor even the primary way in which we must prepare our entire selves--body and soul--to receive the benefits of our Savior's redeeming sacrifice. Physical fasting is not enough....

This is what the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, like the early Fathers of the Church, tried to teach us with the emphasis on personal awareness of how we have offended God and need His forgiveness. As Pope John Paul II said "The awareness of sin, in which the person knows before whom and towards whom he is guilty, is an indispensable pre-condition for obtaining the objective value of forgiveness. This is because He against whom the sin is commited and who is therefore offended is also the Father who has the power to fogive it." And this is what the Church invites us -- no, implores us -- to do during Holy Week.

The Triduum

In the Triduum, or Three Days -- Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday -- the Church gives us a singularly dramatic, intense and richly symbolic expression of the very heart of Christian belief. Even in our unspiritual time and culture, the Triduum and Easter re-affirms the essence of the Church's central beliefs in the strongest possible way -- a way which penetrates the deepest recesses of the human heart, and calls forth a response from all, young and old, rich and poor, and in every state of life....

By participating in the liturgy of the Church and by increasing our own observance of these holy days in our homes, we can deepen our understanding of these Events in the history of Salvation.


The Latin word Tenebrae means 'darkness.' Tenebrae is very ancient service of prayers in the Church which takes place during the darkness of night. Many parishes are now reviving this extraordinarily moving service which consists of three sets of verses from the Lamentations of Jeremiah chanted on each of three nights of Holy Week; Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. (Originally this was a service of Matins said in monasteries before dawn on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday; but it customarily takes place the evenings before.)...

If you have young children you might consider using the adaptation of this service in this book, Stations of the Cross. It is by no means as powerful as real Tenebr‘, but it does retain the symbolism of Christ as our Light, and it may be a workable substitute if your chldren are little or if the real service is not available where you live.

Holy Thursday

Holy Thursday is the most complex and profound of all religious services, saving only the Easter Vigil. It celebrates both the institution by Christ himself of the Eucharist and of the institution of the sacerdotal priesthood (as distinct from the 'priesthood of all believers') -- for in this, His last supper with the disciples, a celebration of Passover, He is the self-offered Passover Victim, and every ordained priest to this day presents this same sacrifice, by Christ's authority and command, in exactly the same way. The Last Supper was also Christ's farewell to His assembled disciples, some of whom would betray, desert or deny Him before the sun rose again....

There is such an abundance of symbolism in the solemn celebraton of the events of Holy Thursday -- layer upon layer, in fact -- that we can no more than hint at it in these few words. It has inspired great works of art and literature....

Family Activities for Holy Thursday

We have prepared a Christian adaptation of a Passover Seder, simple enough for use in families with young children. This special meal stresses the Christian significance of elements of the traditional Jewish Passover meal (seder) as it may have been celebrated in our Lord's time. It is neither a re-enactment of the Last Supper, nor a Jewish service....

Maundy Thursday's emphasis on ritual washing also gave rise to the ancient tradition of spring cleaning, evidently related to the Jewish custom of ritually cleaning the home in preparation for the Feast of Passover....

Adults and children who are old enough to accompany their parents can return to Church after Mass for a period of Adoration....

A Christian Passover Seder for Holy Thursday

(See book for complete ceremony.)


Elements Of The Meal

Readers In The Ceremony

The Paschal Meal I - Kindling of the festival lights II - Kiddush III - Hagadah IV - Hallel Psalm V - The Solemn Blessing Of The Food VI - The Paschal Supper VII - The Cup Of Blessing VIII - The Cup Of Melchisedek

Preparing the Seder

If you are planning to go to Church for the Holy Thursday evening Mass, remember to start the seder meal early. Though this Christian version of the Passover Seder is much abbreviated, it still takes longer than the usual week-day family dinner. The suggested menu is purposely very simple with a vaguely Middle-Eastern flavor. Some of the ceremonial foods can be part of the meal. You could, of course, make substitutions and additions. Christians are not bound by Jewish dietary rules or customs....

The Stations of the Cross

The Stations of the Cross continue to be a popular devotion in both the Eastern and Western Churches. It was developed during the Crusades when the knights and pilgrims began to follow the route of Christ's way to Calvary. This devotion spread throughout Europe and was promulgated by the Franciscan friars in the 14th and 15th centuries. Eventually, the Stations of the Cross became an important catechetical tool, and the popularity of this devotion inspired some of the greatest examples of medieval Christian art. Some scholars believe that medieval miracle plays, which were essentially tableaux of Christ's life, developed from the sculptured representations of the Stations of the Cross in the great Churches. These scenes from the Way of the Cross have provided inspiration for many of the world's greatest works of visual art.

During Lent or Holy Week most parishes have a service of Stations at least once. It is worth taking children to this so that they can participate with other Catholics in this timeless and very moving devotion....

Suggestions for Family "Tenebrae" Stations

Throughout the season of Lent, but especially during the Holy Week Triduum the family can pray the Stations together at home. In her book "The Year and Our Children," Mary Reed Newland suggests that family members make a candelabrum for the Stations of the Cross "to be used after the fashion of Tenebrae...to help them love the Stations and to say them nightly during Lent." [p. 146] You might make a particular effort to say them as a family during the evening on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of Holy Week, especially if the service of Tenebrae is not available at your parish....


On Good Friday, the entire Church fixes its gaze on the Cross at Calvary. Each member of the Church tries to understand at what cost Christ has won our redemption. In the solemn ceremonies of Good Friday, in the Adoration of the Cross, in the chanting of the 'Reproaches', in the reading of the Passion, and in receiving the pre-consecrated Host, we unite ourselves to our Savior, and we contemplate our own death to sin in the Death of our Lord....

The liturgical observance of this day of Christ's suffering, crucifixion and death evidently has been in existence from the earliest days of the Church. No Mass is celebrated on this day, but the service of Good Friday is called the Mass of the Presanctified because communion which had already been consecrated on Holy Thursday is given to the people....

We can see that the parts of the Good Friday service correspond to the divisions of Mass:

1. The liturgy of the Word -- reading of the Passion.

2. The intercessory prayers for the Church and the entire world, Christian and non-Christian.

3. Veneration of the Cross

4. Communion, or the 'Mass of the Pre-Sanctified.'...

Good Friday Ideas for Families

Catholic schools will be closed on Good Friday.so the children will be able to participate in family observances of this solemn day. If possible, the entire family should attend Good-Friday services together, or at least make a trip to Church to make the Stations of the Cross (see section on Stations). Following are a few other suggestions.

Hot Cross Buns. The familiar hot cross buns are sweet rolls with the sign of the cross cut into it, and they are one of several traditional European breads marked with a cross for Good Friday. According to tradition, these buns originated at St Alban's Abbey in 1361, where the monks gave them to the poor people who came there....

The Three Hours. Some churches hold prayer services during the three hours of Christ's suffering on the Cross. It would be appropriate to observe a period of silence at home, for devotional reading and private prayer (e.g., no radio, television, etc.), especially between the hours of noon and 3 o'clock in the afternoon.

Each member of the family might choose a particularly unpleasant job which has been put off for a long time -- like cleaning the garage or a closet, or scrubbing the bathrooms (we're sure you can think of something!)-- to emphasize the dreariness apropriate to the day....

The Cross

In the symbol of the Cross we can see the magnitude of the human tragedy, the ravages of original sin, and the infinite love of God. Lent is a particularly appropriate time to attempt to penetrate the true meaning of this sacred image through prayerful contemplation; and to study the traditions surrounding the Christian symbol of the Cross.

Looking at the Cross in prayer helps us truly to see it. Most Christians have crosses in their homes....

It is fitting that Christians glorify the Cross as a sign of Christ's resurrection and victory over sin and death, of course. But we should remember each time we see a cross that the Cross of Jesus' crucifixion was an emblem of physical anguish and personal defilement, not triumph--of debasement and humiliation, not glory--of degradation and shame, not beauty. It was a means of execution, like a gallows or a gas chamber. What the Son of God endured for us was the depth of ugliness and humiliation. We need to be reminded of the tremendous personal cost of love.

As Lent advances we contemplate the redeeming Mystery of the Cross which aids the Church in her pursuit of the renewal of the faithful....

The Sign of the Cross

The season of Lent is a most appropriate time for children of all ages to learn more about one of the most distinctively Catholic prayers: the sign of the cross. It is a visible sign (a sacramental) of one's belief in Christ and of one's hope in the redemption which flows from His Cross. Accompanied by the invocation of the Trinity (Doxology), "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit", making a sign of the cross is a simple and beautiful form of Christian devotion. By making this sign both in public and in private we affirm our faith in Christ crucified and ask for His blessing and protection. It is also a gesture of reverence to the Blessed Sacrament....

Some suggestions for helping to increase children's awareness of this devotion are:

Give your children a new medal, and ask the priest to bless it for them while they are present.

Have holy water at home for making this sign "in all our coming in and going out."

Before going to Mass, ask the children to notice the different forms of the sign of the cross used during the celebration by the priest and by the people.


Holy Saturday (in Latin, Sabbatum Sanctum ), the 'day of the entombed Christ,' is the Lord's day of rest, for on that day Christ's body lay in His tomb. We recall the Apostle's Creed which says "He descended unto the dead." It is a day of suspense between two worlds, that of darkness, sin and death, and that of the Resurrection and the restoration of the Light of the World. For this reason no divine services are held until the Easter Vigil at night....

Ideally, Holy Saturday should be the quietest day of the year (although this is not so easy in a busy household with children as it might be in a convent or monastery.) Nightfall on Holy Saturday is time for joy and greatest expectation because of the beautiful liturgy of the Easter Vigil, often referred to as the Mother of all Holy Vigils, or the Great Service of Light. The Easter Vigil was restored to the liturgy in 1955, during the liturgical reform which preceded the Second Vatican Council.

During the day, the preparations at home which must be made for Easter Day are appropriate, however, because they keep our attention fixed on the holiness and importance of the most central feast of the Church. Working with our children to prepare for Easter can offer us many 'teaching moments', as well.

Family Preparations for Easter

As with Christmas, the secular aspects of the Easter season threaten to overwhelm its religious significance. And as in Advent, which is a penitential season also, the solemnity of the events we celebrate during Holy Week risk being obscured by the advance preparations which we may make for the joyous celebration of Easter. As Catholics, we need to keep this in mind, and not put out the Easter decorations before Easter. Holy Week and especially the Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday) are so rich with meaning that we must be careful not to lose any of it, and to make our observances fit the solemnity or the celebration. But any festive celebration (and Easter is our greatest cause of rejoicing) takes advance preparation....

The Easter Vigil

The night vigil of Easter signifies Christ's passage from the dead to the living by the liturgy which begins in darkness (sin, death) and is enlightened by the fire and the candle representing Lumen Christi--the Light of Christ--just as the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, the community of believers, is led from spiritual darkness to the light of His truth. Christ's baptism, which our own baptism imitates, is represented during the liturgy by the blessing of the water of baptism by immersing ('burying') the candle representing His Body into the font.

During the liturgy we recall God's sparing of the Hebrews whose doors were marked with the blood of the lamb; we are sprinkled with the blessed water by which we were cleansed from original sin through Christ's sacrifice, and we repeat our baptismal vows, renouncing Satan and all his works. We rejoice at Christ's bodily resurrection from the darkness of the tomb; and we pray for our passage from death into eternal life, from sin into grace, from the weariness and infirmity of old age to the freshness and vigor of youth, from the anguish of the Cross to peace and unity with God, and from this sinful world unto the Father in heaven....

A Family Easter Candle

If for some reason your family cannot attend the Easter Vigil (if the children are too young to be taken out late at night, for example) some of this symbolism can be brought into the home, and the ceremony below might be done after dark just before bedtime. The family Easter candle should be large enough be lighted at meal times for forty days. Most religious goods stores carry "Christ Candles" which will serve. A new fire can be kindled in a large heatproof pan or you may want to do it outside, in the barbecue, for instance....

Easter Day and Easter Season

With these joyous words Christians have greeted one another on Easter Day for nearly two thousand years. And every Easter the words proclaim anew the faith and hope of every Christian in the Good News of God's profound love of mankind--a love which conquers death. This Easter greeting is still used in Church, and in the Eastern Orthodox Churches this proclamation is made during the Easter service as each person kisses the Gospel book.

Whenever Christians greet one another with these exultant phrases we affirm the unity of believers throughout all times and ages until He comes again in glory. Every Christian family can establish the custom of exchanging this historic greeting, which is also a profession of faith, on Easter morning. It would set an appropriate tone of rejoicing for the entire day (and a reminder, also, for young children who may be so excited about their Easter baskets that they tend to forget why we are celebrating.)

Mass on Easter Day is the most splendid and exuberant celebration of the Church. For this is the Sunday of Sundays, the day of Resurrection of Christ, the center and foundation of our faith. As St. Paul said, "If Christ be not risen, your faith is vain." [I Cor. 15:14, 17] Thus Easter is the pinnacle of all feasts of the Church year -- which began with Advent, or the expectation of the coming of the Messiah, sent by God to provide the means for our Salvation. The culmination of the entire liturgy is the Easter feast. Families who attend Mass on Easter Day join millions of Christians all over the world--past and present--in joyous affirmation of our redemption through the love of Christ, our hope of salvation, and our faith in the resurrection from the dead and the life of the world to come. Although the Easter Vigil and Mass fulfills the obligation for Easter Mass, the Easter Day celebration is a highlight that many will not want to miss, and it is permissible to attend both.


Every element of the festive celebration of Mass on Easter Day resounds with the great Alleluia -- the triumphant word of praise for God of men and angels.

Alleluia (or hallelujah) is a Hebrew word adopted by the Christian Church. (Another familiar Hebrew word is amen, 'so be it.') Hallel is the greatest expression of praise in Hebrew. Combined with Jah, the shortened form of the name of God, JHVH (meaning "I AM"), it becomes Hallelujah. Alleluia is a Latinized spelling.

From the time of the apostles the proclaiming of the Alleluia was a revered custom in ordinary life as well as in connection with the liturgy of the Church. Farmers and tradesmen sang it as they worked, and mothers taught their children to pronounce it before any other word. According to Father Francis Weiser, "in the Roman Empire the Alleluia became the favorite prayerful song of oarsmen and navigators.The Roman poet-Bishop Sidonius Apollinaris (480) described how the river banks and shores of Gaul resounded with the Alleluia song of the rowing boatmen." [Weiser, pp. 28- 29] ('Alleluia' fits the familiar tune of the Song of the Volga Boatman. Try it!)...

The Lord's Day

Every Sunday is a celebration of the Day of the Lord's Resurrection. Every celebration of Mass commemorates all the Easter Mysteries, the Lord's Supper at which Christ instituted the Eucharist, the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross and His Resurrection, the historic events on which Christianity is based. And each Sunday celebrates the Descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (fifty days after Easter) which established the Church.

Every Sunday, then, is a "little Easter." Every Sunday is Christ's feast day. This is why the Sundays during Lent are excluded from the forty days of penance; why no saints' feast days on the Church's calendar are celebrated on Sunday; and, likewise, why no funeral Masses may be conducted on the Lord's Day. All Catholics are seriously obliged to participate in the Church's celebration of Mass on Sundays....

Ideas for Family Easter Celebrations

Everything we have done as a family during the forty days of Lent has led us to this day. It is time for rejoicing! It is appropriate to bring out the best of everything for the feast of Easter Day. Flowers, china -- the works. If you can, though, have food that doesn't take a lot of last minute preparation, so that instead of fretting too much in the kitchen, like Martha, you have time to rejoice with Jesus, like Mary.

Easter baskets and Easter egg hunts and lawn rolls are surely a universal occupation of American children on Easter morning -- along with chocolate eggs and bunnies and marshmallow peeps-- and jelly beans and green Easter grass all over the carpet -- and keeping the dog and the baby out of the chocolate! Nearly every family has its own special customs and traditional foods for Easter....

In addition to the requisite excess of candy eggs, we hope you've included in the basket something a little more lasting, like the inexpensive little books of Bible stories for the younger children; perhaps a medal or picture or a biography of a child's patron saint; even a tape of religious music would be welcomed by some older children.

Make an Easter Lamb cake....

Another cake idea (simpler but pretty) is to make cupcakes, decorate them with green colored frosting sprinkled with green shredded coconut "grass" (just add a few drops of green food color to a tablespoon or so of water, then stir in the coconut until it is nicely dyed.) With few jelly beans (or, even better, one or two coated chocolate "bird eggs") on the top, each little cake will become a colorful Easter egg nest....

You can get dozens of holiday ideas from household magazines and the food section of newspapers. The main difference in the celebration and festivities in a Christian household is that we know what we're celebrating--and why!

Octave of Easter and Paschal Tide

The celebration of the feast of Easter, like that of all great feasts of the Church, continues for eight days, or an octave. During the week following Easter Sunday various post-resurrection appearances of Christ are celebrated in the liturgy....The Octave ends on the first Sunday after Easter, which is known as Low Sunday. This name is apparently intended to convey the contrast between this day and the great Easter festival which preceeded it, as well as to indicate that , as the Octave Day, it is part of the Easter feast but in a lower degree. This Sunday is also known as "Dominica in albis depositis," in reference to the fact that those who had been baptized on Easter Eve laid aside their white baptismal robes for the fiirst time on this day.

The time from the end of the Octave of Easter to the eighth day after Pentecost is called Paschal Tide. The two great feasts celebrated during this time are Ascension and Pentecost.

Feast of the Ascension

The feast of the Ascension is celebrated on the fortieth day after Easter Sunday, commemorating the Ascension of Christ into Heaven and His completion of the work of our redemption. The liturgy on this day celebrates the entry of Christ into heaven with our human nature glorified, and the pledge of our glorification with Him. In the past processions outside the church were held on this day to imitate Christ's leading the Apostles out of the city to the Mount of Olives, and to commemorate the entry of Christ into heaven. After the Gospel on this day the Paschal Candle is extinguished.


Pentecost, from the Greek word for 'fiftieth', commemorates the descent of the Holy Ghost on the Apostles fifty days after the Resurrection. It is also called Whitsunday. This feast is very ancient, dating back to the first century. The Vespers Hymn for this feast is the Veni, Creator Spiritus (Come, Creator Spirit), and the sequence for the Mass is the Veni sancte Spiritus (Come, Holy Spirit). Red vestments are worn to commemorate the love of the Holy Ghost, or to represent the tongues of fire. In Italy it was customary to scatter rose petals from the ceilings of the churches to recall the fiery tongues; and in France it was the custom to blow trumpets to recall the mighty rushing wind mentioned in the accounts of the descent of the Holy Ghost.

Family Activities for Easter Week

Catholic schools have a holiday on Easter Monday. If the weather permits, this would be a good day to go to the park or zoo if you live near one, or to go on a walk looking closely for signs of spring, promise, rebirth, reawakening.

An alternative is to go to an art museum to look at Christian art; or to the library in search of some of the beautifully printed reproductions of medieval Books of Hours (the Tres Riches Heures painted by the Limbourg brothers for the Duke of Burgundy is one of the finest.)....

Throughout the Easter Season, the Regina Coeli (Queen of Heaven) is said as the mealtime Angelus prayer. [For music see Music Supplement at the end of this book.]

The Regina Coeli

Queen of Heaven, rejoice! Alleluia! For the Son you were privileged to bear, Alleluia! Is risen as He said. Alleluia! Pray for us to God. Alleluia! Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, Alleluia! For the Lord is truly risen. Alleluia. Let us pray. O God, who gave joy to the world through the resurrection of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ, grant, we beseech you, that through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, his Mother, we may obtain the joys of everlasting life: Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Quem quaeritis Whom do you seek?

In the 11th and 12th centuries the Visit to the Sepulchre tropes and antiphons (chanted verses) developed into a liturgical Easter drama of great complexity and profound theological insight. This liturgical drama fulfilled both a didactic (teaching) and a ritualistic function. It was meant to teach the mystery of the Resurrection and also the proofs for the Resurrection. According to St. Augustine, the most important feature of the Visit to the Empty Tomb is that it furnished "ocular proof" of the miracle on which the entire fabric of Christianity depends. Such visible evidence includes the abandoned graveclothes, the empty tomb, the appearance of an angel, and the appearance of Christ to Mary Magdalene.

In the "Quem Quaeritis" drama each member of the congregation is asked the same question that the angel asks the three Marys, "Whom do you seek?" The re-enactment of the Visit took place after the third lesson of Easter Matins, or Morning Prayer. Each member of the congregation participated in the drama, so in a sense all were immediately present at the events succeeding Christ's rising from the dead. (The reading of the Passion in Churches today similarly assigns roles to be read by every participant, although it is not actually dramatized.)

This very beautiful and very ancient dramatization of the Gospel was meant to be performed in Church with the principal roles always performed by clerics, as the stage directions indicate. But it might be read in the home, with family members taking the roles, or in a religion class at school or Church. The following text is based on one which appears in Karl Young's "Drama of the Medieval Church" (vol. 1, pp. 363-365.) This liturgical drama concluded with the singing of the "Te Deum" (English text also follows.)...

Copyright 1989 by Women for Faith & Family, P.O. Box 8326, St. Louis, MO, 63112