A Fruitful Celebration of the Paschal Mystery March 25, 2024

Growing up in Belgium in the 1970s I remember that everything slowed down during Holy Week. Given the time that has passed I may romanticize things, but it was almost as if the whole country went on a grand retreat: Children were home from school. There were no festivities in the city. And many people were off from work. Even what we know as spring cleaning was known in Belgium as Easter Cleaning.

Good Friday in particular was observed with great devotion. Only fish was served in restaurants. Stations of the Cross were set up throughout the cities and people would walk these stations either alone or in groups. Some of the people who worked in my grandmother’s factory did not get Good Friday off from work. I have a vivid memory of my grandmother gathering all the workers at 3:00pm on Good Friday before the large crucifix that hung in the main building. There she led everyone in prayer. Being a Catholic country, all this was able to happen, at least some 50 years ago.

Today, celebrating Holy Week in Belgium has become counter Cultural. Carnival no longer ends on Mardi Gras but rather is celebrated throughout February and March. And the knowledge of what Holy Week is about has been lost to many people. A Belgian friend recently asked if participating in an Easter Egg toss was allowed for non-Catholics. Somehow, he equated celebrating Easter with tossing color-full eggs.

Celebrating the holiest week of the year should be done with a renewed commitment to the three disciplines of Lent. We undoubtedly started Lent on Ash Wednesday with great vigor but as the weeks went by our commitment to these disciplines may have slacked a bit. Holy Week is the time to commit ourselves anew and maybe even more vigorously.

Below are some suggestions for a fruitful celebration of the Paschal Mystery.

  1. If possible, take Holy Week or at least take the Triduum off from work. This is a great way of allowing yourself to slow down and make the celebration of the Paschal Mystery the center of these days. It may also help to turn off all electronic devices to avoid continual distractions.
  2. Carve out some time for personal prayer. Some people do this best in the quiet of their home or in the serenity of The Basilica. Others prefer a quiet walk or a visit to a nearby chapel. Since not everyone is comfortable with silent prayer you may want to get a prayer book. Or you may elect to pray morning prayer during Holy week, either by yourself, with your family, or at The Basilica.
  3. Make it a point to participate in all the liturgies of Holy Week. These liturgies are the most elaborate and the most meaningful liturgies of the entire liturgical year. They are filled with beautifully rich symbols. Some of them are only used during this week, e.g. the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday or the veneration of the Cross on Good Friday. There is also a sequence to these liturgies. In a way Holy Week, and especially the Sacred Triduum provides us with one extended liturgical experience starting on Palm Sunday of our Lord’s Passion and culminating in the Easter celebrations. If you have never attended all Holy Week liturgies, I sincerely recommend you do so this year. You will not regret it.
  4. When participating in the liturgies, do so with full heart, mind, and soul. You might elect to remove your watch once the liturgy begins, because as you know, the liturgy lasts as long as it needs to last. Also, it may be helpful not to schedule something after the liturgy. You don’t want to have to worry whether you will make it or not.
  5. Bring your family to the liturgies. We use so many beautiful symbols during these liturgies which readily speak to the symbolic and liturgical imagination even of the youngest among us.
  6. If you are not able to be present, maybe you can join us via livestream and please unite yourself in prayer with your sisters and brothers who are celebrating the liturgies of Holy Week at The Basilica.
  7. In all your prayers this week, make special mention of those who will be joining the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil as they are baptized, confirmed and will receive Holy Communion for the first time. They are our Easter gift to the Church.

The beautiful liturgies of Holy Week are prepared with great care to make sure that everyone who participates has a profound experience of the mystery of our Salvation as it was attained through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Be sure to participate fully in these liturgies and let yourself be refreshed and renewed in your faith.

A very Blessed Celebration of Holy Week!

The Lenten disciplines during Holy Week


During Holy Week you may want to pay even more attention to the discipline of fasting by carefully considering what you eat and drink and be moderate on both accounts. Good Friday, of course, is a day of fasting and abstinence, meaning that we abstain from eating meat and limit our meals to one full meal. You may also consider fasting from TV, radio, internet distractions, video games, etc. The purpose of this discipline is to avoid the many distractions in our lives that prevent us from paying attention to what is really important. During Holy Week we fast so we may be freed to focus on the Paschal Mystery


There are a couple of ways we can heighten our prayer experience during Holy Week. In addition to participating in the Holy Week services we can do a number of things at home. Not unlike during the Advent and Christmas season when we create a prayerful atmosphere in our homes with the advent wreath, the nativity set and the Christmas tree, during Lent and Holy Week we can create a prayerful atmosphere by emphasizing other religious symbols in our homes.

Maybe you can focus on your favorite cross or crucifix and burn a candle near it during this week. You can place the palms used on Palm Sunday behind that cross. You can place the Bible in more prominent and accessible location.

During Holy Week you could take the time to pray alone or with your family before the cross. You may want to read a passage of the Passion of Christ every day of the week and discuss the meaning with your family.

You may also want to think about all the symbols that are used during Holy Week and discuss them with your family. What is the meaning of the Washing of the Feet? Why do we venerate the Cross? What are the symbols used for baptism?


Holy Week, especially Holy Thursday, is a time to be very considerate about our sisters and brother who are in need. On Holy Thursday we follow the commandments of Jesus to Celebrate the Eucharist (The Synoptic Gospels) and to Wash Feet (the Gospel of St. John). These two commandments, the celebration of the Eucharist and our calling to live the Gospel is concretized in the Collection for the Needs of the Poor on Holy Thursday. That is the day when we bring the money we have saved in our coin banks to the church.

Principle Symbols Used During the triduum

Holy Thursday

The Washing of the Feet

This symbolic gesture that is only used once a year emphasizes our calling to service. Like Jesus bent down to wash the feet of his disciples, we are to bend down and serve anyone and everyone in need.

The Collection of the Gifts for the Poor

Though we are to care for the poor every day of our Christian lives, on Holy Thursday this profoundly Christian calling is emphasized by the collection for the poor which is part of the Mass.

The Celebration of the Eucharist

On this night, when we commemorate Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist and his command to do this in memory of Him we take great care in celebrating the Eucharist particularly well.

The Procession with the Blessed Sacrament

Because we do not celebrate the Eucharist on Holy Thursday we reserve the precious Body of Christ for the Celebration of Our Lord’s Passion the next day. At the end of Mass on Holy Thursday we bring the Blessed Sacrament to a place of repose where vigil is kept.

good Friday

The proclamation of the Passion

The center of our faith story is the passion narrative. The life of Jesus led to his condemnation, his torture and ultimately his death on the cross. On this day when we commemorate the death of Jesus we meditate on the last moments in Jesus’ life as they have been recounted in the Gospel of St. John.

The Prayers for the Needs of the World

On Good Friday we take our time to pray for the needs of the entire world. Where on Sundays and during weekday Masses we offer certain petitions, today we pray for everyone, ranging from the Holy Father to those who reject Christ.

The Veneration of the Cross

The cross, which is a tool of humiliation, torture and death is the instrument of salvation for us. By his death on the cross and his resurrection, Jesus forged the path of salvation for all of us. Because of this we venerate the wood of the cross on Good Friday. By kissing the cross we not only honor Jesus’ self-sacrifice but we also commit ourselves to live by that cross.

Holy Saturday

The Easter Fire:

This lighting of fires at the time of the summer and winter solstice as well as on the spring and fall equinox was a pre-Christian ritual celebrating the light that conquers the darkness. Christians hail Jesus as the Light of the World who once and for all conquered the darkness. During the Easter Vigil when we celebrate the Resurrection, we begin with this great symbol of light conquering darkness. 

The Easter Candle

The Easter Candle or the Christ Candle is the symbol of Christ the Light. It is lit from the Easter Fire and burns throughout the Easter Season. This Candle is also used during baptisms and during funeral. In both instances it symbolizes the resurrection in which we have part by virtue of our baptism. During the Easter Vigil, all who are present light their individual candles form the Easter Candle, symbolizing that we are to share the Light of Christ with the whole world.

The Baptismal Waters

Water is used for the sacrament of baptism because it symbolizes the three main aspects of baptism: water cleanses, water destroys, water gives life. Indeed, in baptism we are cleansed from all sins including original sin; in baptism we die with Christ to rise with him; in baptism we are birthed into the Church as we become new Christians.

The Sacred Chrism

The one characteristic of oil is that it penetrates our skin and makes our skin glow. Because of this oil has been used to symbolize the fact that in Confirmation the Holy Spirit penetrates our whole being and makes us luminous with his gifts.