How to ruin Holy Week for your parents

This year, I had no trouble at all with Light Saber Sunday.
Normally, when you bring a bunch of kids to an extra-long Mass and give them each their very own blessed palm branch, that’s what you get:  furtive duels with blessed light sabers. Also blessed viking swords, blessed mustaches, blessed Harry Potter wands, blessed baby ticklers, blessed back scratchers, and blessed old-lady-in-front-of-us-neck-pokers, and of course blessed Wolverine knuckle blades.  At first you think your kid is miraculously giving the responses in ecclesiastical Latin — and then you realize he’s using the cover of the sign of peace to put a cutting curse on his little brother.  “Peace be with you!” – “Sectumsempra!”  No.
As I say, I managed to sidestep all that this year, with the simple method of having a three-year-old who really only visits the inside of the church as as courtesy. If by “courtesy” you mean she screams “I DON’T WANT JESUS!” loud enough to make the usher’s ears bleed, and then bolts out the door, to spend the rest of the hour eating grass and rolling around in the snow like a medieval pilgrim with an especially hardcore confessor.

But I’m pretty sure the rest of the little creeps were being palm branch Wolverine.

It’s far too late to change the culture of laxity and irreverent hooliganism in our family’s pew. But maybe at least I can get a little company in my misery? To that end, here are some tips, from my evil children to yours, about how to ruin this, the most holy time of the year.

Know your stuff . . . .until it counts.  You’ve probably spent the last several months doing some heavy-duty catechism, yes?  Your poor mother realizes that the sacraments aren’t going to prepare themselves, so you are actually getting regular religion lessons for once. You can reel off the corporal works of mercy without stopping for a breath. You can come up with the definition of imperfect contrition and transubstantiation and sanctifying grace without skipping a beat. You might even know that when the bell rings, you’re supposed to look at your bellybutton.

But just wait. Fr. Happy is going to ask the First Communion kids some questions, isn’t he? He’s going to wait until everyone’s quiet, and he’s going to demonstrate just how well-prepared the angelic tykes really are. He’ll go with something really basic, so as not to embarrass anyone.

“Who can tell me,” he will say, “Whoooooo can tell me . . .who made the world?”  And your kid will shoot up her hand like she’s volunteering for a tour of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. And when the priest chooses her, she will proudly say, “Odin! From the dead body of Ymir the Frost Giant!” High fives, pagan.

Learn all the wrong lessons.  On Holy Thursday, our kids watch The Ten Commandments while I finish up the cooking for Passover, which we celebrate on Holy Saturday before making Easter eggs. Okay, fine, that is a tiny bit confusing even for kids who have grown up thinking chopped liver is a sacramental.

But still, some things seem really clear.  Like that scene in The Ten Commandments, where the Hebrew slaves are dragging those big old stone blocks around in the hot, hot Egyptian sun, and just sweating and suffering and just having the ever loving tar whipped out of them by Edward G. Robinson? That’s kind of a striking scene, right? So my son is watching this, complete enrapt, eyes as big as saucers, clearly moved to the core at this spectacle of man’s inhumanity to man.

And then he speaks. “Boy,” he says, “Ohh, boy. I wish I had a whip.”

Just go ahead and throw up. Why the heck not? You just got a haircut, you cleaned your ears for once, your nails are trimmed, and your mother is pinning all her hopes on getting one single, lousy family portrait. Just one, that’s all she asks. She is just going to flat out beg you to pretend, for the tiniest fraction of a second, to be a decent human being — one who is not crossing his eyes, nor licking his sister, nor screaming, nor clutching any unseemly part of his anatomy.  Just really quick, guys! Here, under the lilac tree! Scoot in so all those old tires aren’t in the shot! Sweetie, get your braids out of your mouth! Honey, you’re holding the baby in front of your face, I can’t see you! No no no, don’t put her down in the mud. Yes, perfect, that’s perfect, now hold it —

Let it go.

And that’s why Jesus said, “Let the little children come unto Me.” Because He was afraid their parents were gonna deck them in this, the holiest time of the year.


A version of this post first ran in the National Catholic Register in 2014.

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7 thoughts on “How to ruin Holy Week for your parents”

  1. Some more ways to add courtesy of me and my siblings (the youngest is now 16):
    – Fanning each other/not-very-accidentally-poking each other in the face. It’s still warm enough in the Antipodes to make an old brick Church that is very full very hot, hence ‘fanning’
    – Loudly asking “CAN’T JESUS HURRY UP AN DIE?”
    – Pretending to exorcise each other with blessed woven palm crucifixes. Complete with fainting, all done in complete silence… or else.
    – Doing our best ‘Mr Bean in Church’ impressions for all the responses. 10 Points awarded for dagger stares and suppressed laughter. 50 points for getting a pained look of ‘Why God, must I suffer this way?’ from mother.
    – My brother actually pretended to be a puppy once in an effort to get taken outside. I don’t think I’ve ever seen two little old church ladies silently laugh so hard.

  2. Love your stuff, Simcha. It’s nice to know ours is not the only Messianic Catholic family that preps Passover while watching the Ten Commandments but we do it in Holy Thursday.

  3. I loved this the first time, and love it now with the updates.

    My kids were pretty naughty last Sunday too. We went to the extra wealthy parish because we overslept.

    The youngest two might have stabbed each other in the eyes with their palm branches had I let their animosity escalate. They have this rivalry over who gets to sit next to me which actually has nothing to do with me. They finally stopped hissing at each other and then Charlotte began loudly complaining that her (lovely pink tulle with roses) dress was itchy. She began to scratch herself all over like a monkey. An elderly man finally turned around and gave her such an evil, burning glare, that I had to roll my eyes at him. Charlotte’s bad attitude could all be traced to the cell phone she had slipped into her purse that I’d told her she *might* get when she’s a bit older, or has to walk to school. The pink pearl case I’d ordered for my phone was the wrong size, but fit the old phone perfectly. She’d slipped that case on it, and Just the mere idea of owning made her horrendous.

  4. My husband is being baptized/confirmed/receiving first communion at the Easter Vigil mass this year. This means that I have to have the whole family there for a Mass that starts at 8 p.m. and goes well over an hour. I have three boys-8,5, and 3 years–and a 5-month-old daughter. This parish is really small and I don’t think has had an adult convert in living memory, so they’re making a really big deal about it and including all the kids and all. This is very nice, except I think there will be lit candles involved and this is way past my children’s bedtimes.

    Any prayers anyone would like to send our way would be appreciated, because I’m pretty sure divine intervention is the only way we’re getting through this without a very public meltdown of some sort.

    1. Will pray!!

      I find that even the embarrassing memories of public humiliation add a little texture to the past that we can chuckle about.

    2. Well, I will pray for you, with perfect humility and no smugness at all, while our Easter vigil goes into its third hour. Fortunately or unfortunately our community seems to be good at making adult converts. I am not sponsoring or related to any of the incoming members, but I am lectoring (I used to think that it was an honor that the guy in charge of lectors keeps asking me to lector at the Easter vigil. Now I realized that he can’t get anybody else to do it! )

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