From Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, the Church walks together through the holiest week of the year. Filled to the brim with beautiful, solemn liturgies, we pray united as the Body of Christ, remembering the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus.
Families with children are strongly encouraged to take part in as many of the Holy Week liturgies as possible. You can also enter into Holy Week through your prayer and activities at home. Together, you can learn about the events of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the Institution of the Eucharist, the Way of the Cross, his Crucifixion and burial, and the waiting at the tomb for him to rise to new life on Easter Sunday. These true stories are the foundation of our faith, and children are never too young to immerse themselves in the Paschal Mystery with the Universal Church.
Two tools that families can use to pray during the quiet waiting of Holy Week are reading the Bible and looking at holy artwork; both methods are accessible to all ages and can be shared together. Listening to the story while gazing at a holy image is a method of prayer that can be used to help even the youngest of children to think about the events of Holy Week, growing in understanding of the saving work of Jesus.
To enter more deeply into the stories, families can use the ancient prayer method of Lectio Divina (Divine Reading) to slow down and really reflect on Scripture as it is read. The steps of Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio, and Contemplatio (Read, Meditate, Pray, and Contemplate) may sound fancy, but really are just a way to prompt prayer, which leads to enriching discussion and/or journaling. You can even simplify the steps to Read, Think, Pray, Listen. Lectio Divina can lead to meaningful conversations and rich prayer for both kids and adults.
In this post, I’d really like to focus in on Visio Divina (Divine Seeing), which is a slow, prayerful examination of a work of art as a tool for lifting the heart and mind to God and his mysteries. Children (and adults) tend to learn better when presented with a visual of something we are trying to study, and the same is true when reading the Bible. Combining Sacred Scripture and sacred art can create a perfect environment for prayer.
The steps of Visio Divina are modeled after the traditional Lectio Divina steps. With children, this really just means using good, open-ended questions while looking at a piece of art.
In the first step, Visio, look at the image and slowly examine the content. Look for details, and notice what stands out. Ask the child to identify what story the image is telling and what they think is happening.
In the Meditatio step, we meditate on the image. Here we invite the child to make a connection to the story happening in the art. They could imagine being present in the events. Older kids might also think about the use of expressions, colors, and symbolism in the artwork and what each might mean.
Next is the Oratio step, where we pray with the image. Help the child use the story to dialogue with God about what can be seen in the image and what they think. Help the child ask the Lord to reveal what he wants them to understand through the artwork.
Finally, in the Contemplatio step, we contemplate the image. Contemplation is a gift of God, but we can open ourselves up to it by quietly examining the image again. Through those moments of silence, we can note what God taught us through our time of prayer with this art.
Art to use for Visio Divina can be found in a variety of places, from online galleries of public domain art to supporting the work of modern Catholic artists. You can also use the steps of Visio Divina to pray with the art and architecture of your parish church. (You might need to do this either before or after Holy Week, since sacred images are traditionally covered as a sign of reverence for Christ’s Passion.) Take time with your family to look closer at the stained-glass windows, statues and mosaics, and the Stations of the Cross. With the eyes of faith, we can allow the beauty around us to lift our hearts and minds to prayer during Holy Week and all throughout the year.
• Use the artwork collection provided [8.5x11 | 11x17] as a family during Holy Week. Choose a few to look at, perhaps one each day from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. You can pull them up on your computer screen or smart TV, or even send them to your local office store and have them printed inexpensively. (All the artwork featured in this post is in the public domain and permissible to print.)
• The artwork can be hung up as decoration during this sacred time, and it also can be used as a springboard for family prayer. Use the discussion questions below to get your kids talking about the artwork and how it helps them come to know Jesus more. Pay special attention to representations of and connections to the Eucharist in the pieces of art, whether in depictions of the Last Supper, images of Jesus’ sacrifice at the Crucifixion, or the triumph of the Resurrection.
• Print a Holy Week Journal [English | Spanish] for each member of your family and read the Gospel passage together each day. See if you can match a piece of art to the message of each story. In the journal, use the space and prompts to write, draw, and pray about the sacred events of the Paschal Mystery that we remember: Jesus’ Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension.
Here are some questions to help you discuss any piece of artwork together as a family:
• What do you notice as you observe this piece of art? What sticks out to you?
• Who is present in this image? What is taking place?
• Can you connect this art to a story from the Bible? What details did the artist include?
• Where is the focal point of the art? Are there any details happening in the background?
• Which colors stand out to you? Do you think they symbolize anything important?
• What do you notice about the expression of the people? What can you guess about their emotions, thoughts, or actions?
• How does this piece of art make you feel? What questions does this art make you want to ask?
• What can we talk to Jesus about as we reflect on this artwork?
These children’s books are wonderful resources for helping tell the story of Holy Week and its significance:
• Peter and Jesus by a Charcoal Fire, by Maura Roan McKeegan, Emmaus Road Publishing
• 15 Minute Stations of the Cross for Kids, by Jared Dees
• Stations of the Cross Cards, from Catholic Family Crate
• The Tale of Three Trees: A Traditional Folktale, by Angela Elwell Hunt and Tim Jonke, David C. Cook Publishing
If you would like to improve the skill of using Visio Divina for personal prayer, the book Looking at a Masterpiece by Madeleine Stebbins is a wonderful tool. Filled with over forty full-color, high-quality images of sacred art, this book offers instruction on how to discover not only beauty but also truth and goodness within artwork. There is also a children’s version from the same author called Let’s Look at a Masterpiece that can help you lead conversations with your kids.