How Our “Holy Week of Darkness” Makes Our Kids Light up for Christ

Preparing for Easter by spending the week in candlelight

In the Easter Vigil Mass, the pinnacle of the Church’s liturgy, one of my favorite moments is the singing of the Exultet. This ancient prayer poetically weaves through salvation history and gives due attention to all the moments of darkness through which the light of Christ shined.

With particular liturgical poignancy this chant is sung, and the Paschal candle is the only source of light. The effect on the senses is significant, and when one is attentive to the words of the prayer, and its deep meaning, it is one of the finest moments of mystagogia of which I am aware. We fully become immersed in the mystery of Christ through the light of this candle. Here are some of my favorite lines from the chant:

O truly blessed night,

worthy alone to know the time and hour

when Christ rose from the underworld!

This is the night

of which it is written:

The night shall be as bright as day,

dazzling is the night for me,

and full of gladness.

For my family, attendance at the Easter Vigil is not a logistical possibility.  Believe me, I’d love to take them and be that perfect Catholic family whose kids sit still and calm and prayerfully. But I’m realistic, and I know it would be a disaster, so we’re waiting until they grow up. However, for the past four years we’ve been preparing them for the joy of the light of the Paschal candle. Here’s how.

My wife, being the genius that she is, suggested four years ago that we could try spending Holy Week in candlelight as a special sacrifice to prepare our hearts for Easter. Immediately, I jumped on the idea. At the time I was preparing for my first Easter Vigil as a director of religious education and had been closely studying the Easter Vigil liturgy. I realized that living in relative darkness for a whole week would make that final moment when the Paschal candle stood as the lone light in a pitch-black church all the more meaningful. Even more, when the baptized faithful in the Church were given their own candles, and the light from the Paschal candle would slowly descend into the entire church, it would be so much more powerful after having lived through nights of darkness.

Since 2012, we’ve had a beautiful Holy Week. We leave the computer off, only use our cell phones for alarm clocks, and watch nearly no television. (Since we have kids and they are little, we let them watch religious programming that week but limit their screen time.) What do we do with our time? We sit and talk. Play games. Laugh. Tell stories. Pray. Go to bed early!

But it’s not only that we spend our evenings differently … we have to plan our whole week differently. All the dishes and housework have to be done during daylight hours. We keep the house neater, and more than anything else, we’re purposeful about the way we spend our time.

Our children are now getting old enough (at ages four, three and two) to begin anticipating our “Holy Week of Darkness” (copyright pending). They got excited to pick out candles this year and are very excited about spending a week of special family time, prayer and bonding.

I know it’s a long way off at this point, but I’d bet anything that the first time we determine our kids are ready to attend an Easter Vigil, they’re going to experience the lighting of the Paschal candle and, eventually, the flood of light throughout the church, and have a deep, mystical connection with what’s happening.

Until then, we’ll keep the lights off, and we’ll be praying for all the other families who have their own traditions for this most holy of seasons.

Luke Arredondo and his wife, Elena, live in Tallahassee, FL, with their daughters Faustina, Chiara and Therese. His family relocated recently from New Orleans after he earned his MA at Notre Dame Seminary, studying under Dr. Brant Pitre and Dr. Nathan Eubank. He is currently enrolled in a PhD program in religion, ethics and philosophy at Florida State University. Find him at www.lukearredondo.com.