Kendra Tierney

Keeping Good Friday From Going Badly

Q: We are relatively new Catholics and I’m wondering how you would suggest observing Good Friday. I have four kids from 3-12. I’m not sure if I should send them to school and preschool, or if we should try to attend all the services offered that day at our parish, or what. I’m not sure what would be appropriate for all of them and for me.

A: Welcome! I think figuring out how to observe Good Friday is a challenge for all of us, for ourselves as well as for our children. There are many days in the year, and many feast days on the liturgical calendar, and this is the only one on which I really REALLY try to keep the awareness of it at the forefront of our minds from when we wake up to when we go to sleep. It can be exhausting, but it’s just one day of the year, so I think it’s worth the effort.

For more detailed explanations of how we observe Lent and Holy Week and the entire liturgical year, see my blog or my book, but here are my top three priorities:

  1. We fast. Good Friday is a day of required fasting and abstinence. Children under 18 are not bound by the fasting rules, and children under 14 are not bound by the abstinence rules. However, in our family, we have found it works well to have fasting and abstinence be part of our family culture, and something that we all do together. So, on abstinence days we all eat meat-free together, and on fasting days we all (except babies and young toddlers) avoid snacks between meals and eat a half-breakfast and a half-lunch. Yes, it requires a lot of reminders about why you can’t have another bowl of cereal or why you can’t have a snack or why we can’t stop at that drive through . . . because it’s Good Friday! But actually that’s a big part of the beauty of fasting! It’s a natural reminder of the day.
  2. We avoid our usual occupations. On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, we are required to attend Mass and “to abstain from those works and affairs which hinder the worship to be rendered to God” (Can. 1274). Good Friday is NOT a holy day of obligation as it is the only day of the year on which Mass is not offered (there is also no Mass for Holy Saturday, but the Easter Vigil is celebrated on Saturday night). But we make a point of avoiding our usual occupations as much as possible. We take the day off of school. My husband tries to work from home, or to be home by noon. The kids and I don’t do any but the most necessary daily chores. Not doing what we usually do all day is another way to keep us aware of the day, and allows us to fill our time with devotions particular to the day.
  3. We keep quiet and occupied. Quiet is subjective, of course, when kids are involved, but on this one day, I really do try to keep our home quiet, and my kids and myself occupied with meaningful things to do. I especially focus on this from noon to three, the hours that Jesus hung on the cross. Exactly what we do will depend a lot on personal circumstances in a particular year, of course. Over the course of the day, we usually spend time reading the story of the Passion in the Bible, saying the Rosary, going for a walk, visiting church for some part of the services offered during the day, venerating the cross, and doing the Stations of the Cross. We will also sometimes do a family project of some sort, or quiet coloring pages, or listen to classical music composed for the day, or watch a religious movie.

It’s important to remember is that (aside from fasting and abstinence) there are not hard and fast rules for the day. There is a long a beautiful history of tradition to guide our choices, but it’s up to us to choose what will work for our family and circumstances. Have a blessed triduum!

Kendra Tierney is a wife and a mother of nine children from little to teenager. She's a homeschooler and a regular schooler, and an enthusiastic amateur experimenter in the domestic arts. She writes the award-winning Catholic mommy blog Catholic All Year, is a contributor to the Blessed Is She and Take Up and Read Ministries, and is the voice of liturgical living at Endow Ministries. She is the author of A Little Book about Confession for Children, the Traditional Catholic Prayers for Awesome Catholic Kids series of prayer books, and the Catholic All Year Compendium: Liturgical Living for Real Life.