A Personal Holy Week Retreat 2018

"Alex Gilchrist needed a break from the pressures of life." So began a recent Wall Street Journal article about retreats "to dial down the tension" in our hectic lives.

A spiritual retreat is an intentional time away from the distractions of everyday life to experience a new awareness of the presence of God. We all have a need to periodically "get away," but we can't always physically do so. This article uses the activities of Holy Week to help you make a self-directed retreat — without leaving for a week or a weekend physically away.

Holy Week, which was first celebrated in the Middle Ages to follow the footsteps of Jesus during His Passion, is a wonderful backdrop for your personal retreat. From His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to His glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday, Holy Week is filled with opportunities for a closer encounter with God.

This retreat sets the stage for you with a short explanation of what Catholics believe historically happened on each day during of the week of Jesus' Passion, a link to the Gospel reading for the day, and a couple of questions you may use for reflection. Set aside a few minutes in quiet to read each day's entry as prayer. You may want to take advantage of the Masses and worship services at St. Louise as a time for this prayer; or feel free to pray on your own if you aren't able to get to church that day.

A common approach to such a self-directed retreat is a modified form of Ignatian Contemplation — you may wish to try this:

  • Read the introductory paragraph to give yourself some context for the Gospel.
  • Remind yourself that you are in God's presence — wherever you are.
  • Read slowly through the Gospel passage. Pick out any words or phrases that stand out to you and reflect briefly on them.
  • Read the passage again. This time imagine you are physically present in the story. What do you see? Smell? Hear? Feel? Allow your imagination to take you wherever it will in the story.
  • Consider the questions for reflection. Is one question particularly meaningful for you? Is one particularly difficult for you?
  • Conclude your retreat for the day by thanking God for this time together.

Use the links below to jump to a specific day of the retreat, or you can download a PDF of the entire week's retreat using the link on the right.

Jump to a specific day:

 


 

Palm Sunday (Mar 25)

At St. Louise

Regular Sunday Masses (Sat 5 PM, Sun 7, 9, 11 AM, 1 PM in Spanish, 6 PM). Come early for the Blessing of the Palms before each Mass (6 PM Mass with gather in the Parish Hall for a procession).

Background

Palm Sunday marks Jesus' triumphal entry into the holy city of Jerusalem. The day before, Saturday, Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead — which likely gathered significant attention throughout the region. On Sunday, he rides into Jerusalem seated on a donkey and "as he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road." [Luke 19:35]

There are several nuances to consider in this story. Jesus, an itinerant preacher and miracle worker as best anyone then knew, arrives in Jerusalem to a welcome appropriate to an earthly king. Or did he? Some Bible scholars point out that Jesus arrived on the back of a donkey, not a horse; a conquering king would have ridden a horse. It seems likely that the welcoming populace was almost exclusively the poor and disadvantaged; few of the wealthy or powerful were among the crowd. In Matthew's account of the entry, he says the entire city was "moved" — using the same Greek word he uses on Good Friday to document the earthquake that accompanied Jesus' death on the cross. He further points out that not all who participated in the welcoming knew who they were greeting; "the whole city ... asked, 'Who is this?'" [Matthew 21:10]

Note that the Gospel reading for today gives us an overview of the last half of the Holy Week events – roughly from Wednesday through Friday. The events of Palm Sunday are recounted a few chapters earlier in Mark 11:1-11.

Gospel

Mark 14:1-15:47

Questions for Reflection

  • How does Jesus' entry into Jerusalem to a king-like welcome compare to his actions (riding a donkey, weeping for Jerusalem's fate, purging the temple)?
  • Do you think the people knew who they were welcoming? Or were they "caught up in the moment" of excitement?
  • We bless palms on Palm Sunday. Only the Gospel of John mentions palms being waived in the procession. What do the palms mean?

Other Activities

  • On Sunday morning, Jesus traveled from Bethany to Jerusalem. It's a distance of about 2 miles. In Jerusalem, he received a hero's welcome. Consider taking a 2-mile walk while praying the rosary and contemplating the joyful mysteries.
  • Use your palm from Mass to make a simple cross and put it in a place of honor in your home through Easter. (You can find directions here: How to Make Palm Crosses)

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Monday of Holy Week (Mar 26)

At St. Louise

9 AM Mass

Background

After spending Sunday night in Bethany again, Jesus returns to Jerusalem in the morning. On the way, he curses a barren fig tree. The chief priests challenged His authority to teach in the temple courts: He answers by posing a dilemma that forces them to choose between the easy, hypocritical path and the dangerous, truthful path. [Matthew 21:18-27] Some Gospels place Jesus' purging the temple on Monday morning, some on the previous Sunday night.

Some Bible scholars suggest Monday as the tipping point when the chief priests decided they would look for a way to have Jesus removed. Perhaps the tipping point was the evidence of Jesus' popularity among the poor, perhaps it was the embarrassment of being publicly called to task by Jesus in the temple courts. In the Gospel reading for the day (which chronologically probably happened on Saturday), John says "the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many Jews were going over to Jesus." [John 12:10-11]

Gospel

John 12:1-11

Questions for Reflection

  • In the story of the cursing of the fig tree, Jesus rebukes a plant for not producing fruit; in the Gospel reading today, He rebukes Judas (apparently) for chastising Mary. What are the parallels between these two events? How do those parallels apply to my life?
  • When the chief priests question Jesus' authority, he presents them with an uncomfortable dilemma. When has Jesus presented me with an uncomfortable dilemma? How have I responded?
  • What do you think Jesus meant when he said, "you will always have the poor among you"? [John 12:8] What does this mean for my spiritual life?

Other Activities

A group Stations of the Cross is held at St. Louise Wednesday evenings at 6 to 6:30 PM, but you can always pray the Stations on your own or as a family. Consider praying the Stations of the Cross today while reflecting on the events of Holy Week.

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Tuesday of Holy Week (Mar 27)

At St. Louise

9 AM Communion Service

Background

Traditionally, Jesus' parables of Matthew 21:28-25:46 are placed as happening on Tuesday of Holy Week. Matthew chapter 22 records His direct encounters with the various leaders of Israel at that time: the Herodians (secular leadership), Sadducees (religious aristocrats), and Pharisees (religious middle class). Each group attempts to trap Jesus in error based on their own views of what was most important: Herodians taxes and politics, Sadducees resurrection, and Pharisees details in the Law. Jesus defeats their traps by showing the whole of God's plan is greater than any narrow view.

Gospel

John 13:21-33, 36-38

Questions for Reflection

  • In verse 21 of today's Gospel, Jesus announces that one of the twelve will betray Him; the disciples ask which one and Jesus says "the one to whom I give this piece of bread"; Jesus gives the bread to Judas and says go "quickly" — "but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him." What do you think of this apparent lack of understanding by the disciples? Are there times when you miss Jesus' message?
  • One of the unique aspects of the parables attributed to Jesus for today in Matthew 21 is different political or religious groups in Jerusalem attempt to trap him using in errors on specific narrow topics using "earthly" logic. Jesus defeats their attempts using broader realities of God's plan. Are there times when I have tried to "trap" Jesus in my own narrow boundaries? What has Jesus answered me about God's plan?

Other Activities

  • Consider the meaning of “Passover”: at it’s simplest, God “passed over” the houses of the Jews in Egypt that had a specific mark, the mark of the blood of the lamb, on their lintel. (There is much more to the story and the meaning, but we’re being simplistic here.) Consider cleaning and preparing your own front door (or porch, entry, stoop) to welcome guests.

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Wednesday of Holy Week (Mar 28)

At St. Louise

9 AM Mass, 6 PM Stations of the Cross (English)

Background

As the Gospel reading for today describes, we believe that Wednesday of Holy Week is the day Judas decided he was going to hand Jesus over to the authorities. In some traditions, it is known a "Spy Wednesday" — using the meaning of "spy" as "ambush, ambuscade, snare". The disciples prepare the room for the Passover meal, which will occur tomorrow.

Gospel

Matthew 26:14-25

Questions for Reflection

  • At the end of today's Gospel, in the midst of the Passover meal, Jesus reveals that one of the twelve will betray him. In verse 25, Judas, who has already decided to do so, asks "Surely not I, Rabbi?" When have I come to the Table of the Lord with reservations in my heart? How has Jesus offered me forgiveness?
  • All four Gospels show a person in Jesus driven to fulfill His Father's will at this point in the story. They differ slightly in detail and order, but Jesus is clearly on His way up the hill at Calvary. This can be a very sad time to contemplate, but Jesus, though distressed, is equally clear that his goal is the perfection of God's plan on earth. What joy can I find in the story for today?

Other Activities

  • Consider attending the Stations of the Cross tonight at St. Louise. Spend some time before the stations considering what Jesus was thinking and feeling BEFORE the first station.
  • If your children are old enough to understand the concepts, consider hiding "30 pieces of silver" (nickels, dime, and quarters) in a scavenger hunt. Discuss with them how Judas "ratted out" Jesus. If appropriate, discuss how we all betray Jesus because of our sinful nature — and how Jesus forgives us.

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Holy Thursday — Mass of the Lord's Supper (Mar 29)

At St. Louise

9 AM Prayer Service with school, 7 PM Mass of the Lord's Supper (bilingual), Eucharistic Adoration after Mass until midnight, Evening Prayer at midnight.

Background

What happened on Holy Thursday? As the National Catholic Register says in its 2013 blog post 10 Things You Need to Know About Holy Thursday, "an amazing amount of stuff!" Among the "stuff", Jesus washed the disciples' feet and established the priesthood, celebrated the highest Jewish holy day of the Passover meal — and established the Eucharist, was betrayed by Judas and stopped his disciples from embarking on a violent resistance, stymied the traditional religious authorities, and maneuvered the most powerful nation on earth (Rome) to do his will.

Gospel

John 13:1-15

Questions for Reflection

  • In verse 14 of today's Gospel, Jesus says "Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet." What does this mean for me? What opportunities do I have to "wash another's feet"?
  • John 13:1b says "Having loved His own who were in the world, He now showed them the full extent of his love." Have I said "thank you" to the Lord for the love He has shown me today?

Other Activities

Attend Mass today. Consider joining in Eucharistic Adoration for some quiet time with the Lord after Mass in the parish hall.

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Good Friday of the Lord's Passion (Mar 30)

At St. Louise

8:30 AM Morning Prayer, 9 AM Stations of the Cross (school), 3 PM Stations of the Cross (youth ministry), 6 PM Mass of the Lord's Passion (English), 8 PM Mass of the Lord's Passion (Spanish)

Background

The crucifixion story is well known to all of us: Jesus praying in the garden and arrested; abandoned by his most loyal followers and on trial before the Jewish and Roman authorities; dying a painful and humiliating death on the cross.

Gospel

John 18:1-19:42

Questions for Reflection

  • In John 18:33 today, Pilate asks "What is truth?" then proceeds to knowingly condemn an innocent man. In what ways have I denied inconvenient truths or failed to recognize Christ before me?
  • In John 19:39, Joseph of Arimathea is accompanied by Nicodemus recovering Jesus' body. Earlier, in John 3:3, this same Nicodemus learns from Jesus that "no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." In what way have I been born again?

Other Activities

  • Hot cross buns are spiced sweet buns made with currents and marked with a sugar icing cross on top, and are traditionally eaten on Good Friday throughout the original British Empire. Make or buy some hot cross buns and eat them after dinner. Here's one recipe: Hot Cross Buns.
  • Consider also reading the other Gospel accounts of the crucifixion: Matthew 26:14-27:66, Mark 14:12-15:47, and Luke 22-23.
  • Today marks the first day of the Jewish Passover this year. Consider hosting your own Seder for your family or friends. There are many online resources to help you with this. One is: What is a Seder. Or, attend a community Seder: Eastside Torah Center (reservations usually required).
  • The Passover, which first happened over 3,000 years ago, has a long tradition of importance representing God’s love. The Last Supper was also Jesus’ celebration of the Passover meal (Matthew 17:1) — a Seder. Learn the prayer Jesus probably used to begin that meal (the most important of Jewish prayers) in Hebrew: She-ma Yis-ra-eil A-do-nai E-lo-hei-nu, A-do-nai e-chad! (Hear, O Israel: the LORD is our God, the LORD is one!).

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Holy Saturday (Mar 31)

At St. Louise

"The Church abstains strictly from the celebration of the sacrifice of the Mass" during the day of Holy Saturday. 2 PM Blessing of food baskets.

Background

The Apostle's Creed says Jesus "descended into hell" — the land of the dead. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him." On earth, the disciples mourned and rested on the Sabbath, the women prepared spices and ointments for burial the next day, and Roman soldiers guarded the tomb.

Questions for Reflection

  • Imagine the scene in hell when Jesus descended to free the just. Who did he meet? Do you think the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-4, Mark 9:1-6, and Luke 9:28-33) was a preview?
  • Imagine what the disciples felt. We know the story has a happy ending, but they didn't yet understand.

Other Activities

Spend today in quiet contemplation and preparation for tomorrow.

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Holy Saturday — Easter Vigil (Mar 31)

At St. Louise

8 PM Easter Vigil Mass

Background

The Easter Vigil is the solemnity of solemnities beginning after sunset on the evening before Easter Sunday. It begins with the service of light where the new Easter candle is blessed and lit to "light the world". The deacon makes the Easter Proclamation which tells the whole Easter mystery. Through the Liturgy of the Word, we "meditate on the wonderful works which the Lord God wrought for his people from the earliest times," then welcome "those new members reborn in Baptism," and, finally, celebrate the Eucharist that "commemorates of Christ's death and resurrection."

Gospel

Mark 16:1-7

Questions for Reflection

  • When the women in today’s Gospel see the young man in a white robe instead of Jesus’ body in the tomb, “they were utterly amazed.” That is filled with astonishment. When have I expected one thing, then been astonished – perhaps by an unexpected way my prayers were answered?
  • Today's Gospel ends with Jesus sending the women to "go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me." But Luke tells us "they did not believe the women" (Luke 24:11) — perhaps because of the depth of their grief. When have events in my life left me too numb to believe?

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Easter Day (Apr 1)

At St. Louise

7 (30 min early), 9, 11 AM, 1 (Spanish), 6 PM Mass

Background

"Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he is risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell is disciples." (Matthew 28:5-7)

Gospel

John 20:1-9

Questions for Reflection

  • In today's Gospel, "the disciple who had reached the tomb first" didn’t enter until after Peter. Are there times Christ has invited me to enter and I've hesitated?
  • Imagine what you might have felt and thought if you were with the disciples and Mary Magdalene "came running ... and said, they have taken the Lord..."

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Download the full retreat:

Holy Week Retreat 2018.PDF

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