Teaching Liturgically in March: Holy Week

Several ways to help your students prepare for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and ultimately the celebration of Easter.

By Rachel Gleeson

As we continue our journey through Lent, there are many ways to engage students in the observance of this season. Our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving lead us to Holy Week, which this year falls at the end of March. Here are several ways to help your students prepare for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and ultimately the celebration of Easter.

The Seven Last Words of Christ

In the Gospels, Jesus speaks seven times while on the Cross. These are known as the Seven Last Words of Christ. They are the following:

  • “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
  • “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
  • “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” (John 19:26-27)
  • “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
  • “I thirst.” (John 19:28)
  • “It is finished.” (John 19:30)
  • “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)

Each of these scriptures contains a message that can be reflected on during Lent. The literal meaning and the events surrounding the phrase can be considered too. It can be beneficial to remind students of both. For example, the thirst Jesus speaks of not only reminds us of his humanity but reflects his thirst for souls as well.

Consider taking one phrase a day to reflect on with your students in the seven days before you leave for Easter break, to help students reflect on Jesus’ suffering and death. These can be included in your daily prayer time. You might also do a more intensive study of the Words. Have students use skills learned in social studies to create a timeline of the events of Jesus’ passion with scripture citations for the various events and each of the Seven Last Words. Students may also write reflections or create collages for each of the phrases and then share with the class.

Triduum Triptych

Another activity I do with my students is to make a triptych that depicts the Triduum. A triptych is a three-paneled art display. In this case, each panel shows events from a day of the Triduum. In the first panel, students draw a picture of the events of Holy Thursday. In the second panel, they draw Good Friday. The third panel is for Easter Sunday. This can be done on a single sheet of paper, then folded into thirds and creased. When opened again, the triptych will stand on its own as a real triptych does. This can be used to adorn a prayer space at school or home.

The triptych allows students an opportunity to consider the distinctions and connections between these three days. Each part of the Paschal Mystery is related to the others, yet each day has its own focus. Holy Thursday centers on the Last Supper where Jesus washed the Apostles’ feet and instituted the Eucharist. On Good Friday we remember Jesus’ passion and death which we see re-presented at every celebration of the Eucharist. Easter is the highest day in the Church’s liturgical year and the day we celebrate Christ’ Resurrection. It is, in a sense, the culmination of the other days of the Triduum.

The Triptych is a great way to open discussion of not only what historically happened on each day of the Triduum, but also how the Church remembers these events in her liturgies. These three days are different from any other day in the Church’s calendar. However, many students may not have experienced the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday, a Good Friday service, or the Easter vigil Mass. Sharing about these liturgies can help students enter more deeply into this holy time. Print your own Triduum Triptych to share with your students.

There are many ways to prepare students for the sorrow and joy of Holy Week. The death of Jesus on the cross can be a difficult concept, especially for younger students but for all of us too. Sharing in these experiences through the words and images of Jesus’ passion and Resurrection can help orient us to see the beauty in these events. Through it all we must remember that after Good Friday comes Easter Sunday. We should endeavor to show our students that Jesus’ suffering, like all suffering, has meaning and can be used by God for a greater good. Holy Week may seem like a sad and painful story but ultimately it is the story of God’s love for us.

Rachel Gleeson is a middle-school and high-school theology teacher and liturgy coordinator at a PreK-12 Catholic school in Wisconsin.