I confess, I was barely aware of Holy Week before my mission. I had heard of Good Friday, Maundy Thursday, Ash Wednesday. But growing up in Utah, I was completely unaware of Holy Week’s deep significance to much of the Christian world. All that changed in Loja, Ecuador. For Holy Week, but especially Good Friday, everything shut down. Black sheets covered the storefronts. My companion and I walked the empty streets, visiting investigators, looking for someone to teach.

We stopped by a florist shop where several family members had been taught a few discussions.

“We’re just stopping by to say hello,” we said. “Happy Good Friday.”

The investigator corrected us, kindly but firmly: “Good Friday is good, but it’s not happy. It’s a sad day, it’s the day our Lord Jesus Christ died. It is not happy.”

I felt embarrassed; I should have known better. I was uncertain of how to behave during Holy Week in this very devout Catholic city. But I should have realized that Good Friday wouldn’t be a happy day; that would be Easter. Easter I knew. In my home ward, each Easter the choir sang the entire Sacrament Meeting, except for one or two brief talks. It was a day of celebrating the Resurrection, a joyful day. Mormons might not do Good Friday, I thought, but we definitely celebrate Easter.

Except not. My companion and I sat through an entire Sacrament Meeting in our little branch with talks on TITHING. I was appalled, in the well-meaning but self-righteous way that missionaries, especially new missionaries, can have.

“Mormons believe in Easter!!!” I wanted to shout. I nudged my companion. “Can we do something?” I whispered. “We need to talk about the Savior on Easter Sunday!” She agreed. We asked the branch president if we could have a minute, and sang a couple of Easter hymns a’capella.

I’m not sure how well it went over. Because, for the members in that branch, not making a big deal about Holy Week or Easter was a reaction to ubiquitous Catholicism. “We partake of the Sacrament each week,” the branch president said. “We don’t need all the trappings of the Catholic Church. We remember Jesus Christ with every Sacrament.” The members wanted to be distinctly Mormon, definitely not Catholic, and for them, not making a big deal about Easter Sunday was an important way of defining themselves.

Although it bothered me at the time, I have come to realize that their reaction to Easter Sunday was just another manifestation of the indifference to Holy Week I had experienced my entire life. Mine was naive, theirs deliberate. And now that I understand Holy Week better in theory, I find myself wishing I could be back in Ecuador, eating the Good Friday meal, walking down streets shrouded in black, experiencing that faith with a greater degree of appreciation than I had as a missionary.

I have a bit of “holy envy” over Holy Week, and I see from the posts around the Bloggernacle that I am not alone. Here are some of my favorites:

“Good Friday” by Christina Rosetti--part of a series of Holy Week poetry posted by Kristine at BCC

Pictures of an Austrian Good Friday, also at BCC

The classic “Parable of the Three Trees,” posted by Russell Arben Fox at Times and Seasons

Rebecca quotes Elder Wirthlin on Good Friday at FMH

Amira writes about visiting the stations of the cross for “Mournful Friday” (from 2005)

Easter poem by John Updike
, posted at Times and Seasons in 2005. Truly a must-read.

Fascinating analysis by Nate Oman at Times and Seasons speculating about why Mormons don’t celebrate Holy Week (2007)

“In Christ Shall All Be Made Alive”
— from the LDS Newsroom
Tell me about your experiences with Holy Week, in your family, or as you interact with other Christian friends.

March 19, 2008
March 24, 2008


  1. nanajan

    March 22, 2008

    Thank you for this insightful post. I must admit to being mostly unaware of Holy Week. I would like to make Maundy Thursday and Good Friday more meaningful in my personal life and the life of my family. I’m not sure yet how to do this, but I will ponder on what we might do next year to commemorate this important week and not just worry about what the Easter bunny will bring.

  2. Maralise

    March 22, 2008

    I loved the links Em. It’s so fascinating to see how others view this week.

  3. eljee

    March 22, 2008

    My experiences with Holy Week have come mainly through music. I’m an organist by profession and a history of the organ is basically a musical history of the Christian church since the Middle Ages. When I worked in a Presbyterian Church, I played for Palm Sunday, Easter, and other services associated with the week. In and out of school, I’ve learned plenty of chorale (hymn) based literature and studied the significance of the music in relation to the liturgical year. While at BYU, I sang in both the St. John and St. Matthew Passions of Bach, performing both of them on separate Good Fridays at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake. I love Holy Week!

    Last year I came across the book “A Christ-Centered Easter” by Janet and Joe Hales, which is basically a collection of ideas on how to observe an LDS-oriented Holy Week with your family. Last year we did a full-fledged Holy Week, with activites almost every day. We started by acting out the Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday. We read appropriate scriptures every day that week and sang appropriate hymns and Primary songs with our children. The highlight was the Jerusalem Dinner we had on Thursday night to commemorate the Last Supper. There are instructions and recipes for a full-fledged Passover meal, but since our children are very young, we opted for a simpler activity re-enacting a typical meal during Jesus’ lifetime. Our children LOVED it! This year, with Easter coming so early, we didn’t do an entire Holy Week, but we did do our Jerusalem Dinner last night and will probably make that a yearly tradition.

  4. i.m.p.

    March 22, 2008

    i found this post via feminist mormon housewives. as a convert to the LDS church from catholocism, i appreciate your sensitivity to the importance of Holy Week to members of other christian faiths; in my childhood, Holy Week, and the preceding Lenten Season, was a beautiful time – my church published a journal called Lenten Reflections, and the adult, children, and handbell choirs practiced for the lengthy Holy Week masses, especially the Easter Mass. Meaning absolutely no offense, and not meaning it critically, i felt quite sad my first Easter Season as an LDS. Church on easter sunday did not include talks relevant to the day as I had expected, and i felt quite empty and longed for the preparatory season and the focus on Christ as redeemer specific to the day designated as the “official” referential holiday of His Resurrection. i came to learn that the Easter Sunday program varied by ward. still, your perspective is valuable and i do believe that being aware of, interested in, and valuing the perspectives of those investigating, and those not investigating but in the community you are serving, can be an individual’s greatest strength in communicating the message of the LDS Church. it builds bridges. And yes – when i lived in utah, i attended Easter Mass at St. Madeleine’s almost every year – what a lovely cathedral. thanks again.
    best regards,

  5. Emily M.

    March 23, 2008

    Thanks everyone for your comments (Mara, I knew you’d like the links 😉 ). Nanajan, we had a Savior-centered FHE this week, but did not do much on any other day. As my kids get older, though, I’d love to incorporate eljee’s fabulous ideas. I think my kids would enjoy a Jerusalem dinner, or experiencing a Passover.
    IMP, thanks so much for your comments. I can see how the absence of Holy Week as a Mormon would be saddening. I took a world religion class at BYU from a man who used to be a Presbyterian minister, and he discussed in class how he missed the Holy Season and the traditional Christian calendar as well. Even though we do not honor Holy Week as other faiths do (and I think Nate Oman’s post, linked above, does a good job of explaining why that might be), I believe it’s important for us to learn about and respect the traditions of other faiths, particularly when they center around the Savior. As you say, that kind of respect builds bridges.

  6. Dalene

    March 23, 2008

    Excellent post Emily. I really had no idea because this wasn’t something taught in my home, either, but I hope to try some of these ideas as well. (You know, because teenagers are so open to stuff like that *wink*). Seriously though, I do see the value and I want to help my kids be more aware and more prepared. Thanks!

  7. imp

    March 23, 2008

    thank you, emily – and i realize i didn’t even thank you for your well written and thoughtful post. 🙂

  8. Jennie W.

    March 24, 2008

    I went to mail something at the post office on Friday and the guy in line in front of me said to the clerk, “I can’t believe you have to work on Good Friday!” The clerk just said something about separation of church and state, but I thought it was odd that the guy would assume that Good Friday was such a big deal. I guess it should be. It’s not like there’s way too much Jesus in everyone’s life, and we don’t need to be reminded of Him. I think it would be nice to play Holy Week up a bit more in our church. Kind of like the advent.

  9. Barbara

    March 24, 2008

    Yesterday (Easter Sunday) the first speaker in my ward discussed Thanksgiving and read several scriptures from the Book of Mormon. She never acknowledged that it was Easter. The second speaker, an Iranian convert from Islam, discussed personal revelation. He’s a humble, delightful man, and he told faith-promoting stories, but not necessarily Easter. I sat there in dismay. I too had “holy week envy” and wished someone had discussed Easter. I teach at a Catholic school and Easter is a VERY big deal. Last Wednesday morning a former student passed me in the hallway and said, “Dr. Bishop–you’re going to church today aren’t you? It’s Holy Week.” I thanked her for the reminder and attended Mass a few hours later. The entire service was devoted to expressions of gratitude for the atonement. In our ward, we have members whose husbands come once or twice a year. I was embarrassed that their biannual attendance was marked by complete indifference to the holy day we supposedly celebrate. We CAN do better. I’m sure of it. We believe that “if there is anything lovely or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” I find much that is lovely, of good report and praiseworthy in the practice and celebration of Easter in Catholicism. We need to seek after that which is true and right in other religions so that we can better celebrate Christ. Thanks for your thoughtful post Emily.

  10. Angie

    March 24, 2008

    I have had lovely Christ-centered Church experiences on Easter, and I have had years when nothing was done to even acknowledge the day. Once, when I was estranged from the Church, my family talked me into attending Easter services. The topic of the day was Joseph Smith, and that helped to solidify my misconception that Mormons weren’t really Christian. I don’t know why those oversights happen here in America. Do leaders forget to check the calendar when scheduling speakers and lessons?

    We have done the passover dinner as a family. I love the idea of expanding that to a week of traditions. I need to check out that book.

  11. Adri

    March 24, 2008

    Thanks for the links. Last year was the most Christ-centered Easter I’d ever experienced. I had made a commitment on January 1st to read “Jesus The Christ” before Easter. As it was approaching, I decided to “save” the chapters about the last week of Christ’s life to read on the corresponding days leading up to Easter. It was particularly wonderful to wake up Easter morning and read about the Resurrection.

  12. Emily M.

    March 24, 2008

    Thanks, everyone who responded today! It’s great to read your thoughts. I also agree with Barbara that there is much “lovely, of good report, and praiseworthy” in the practice of Easter in Catholicism. And I have never been to an American Easter Sacrament meeting that did not focus on Easter in some way… I think it must be a matter of not looking at the calendar and connecting the dots. Maybe it seems too obvious to do this, but it might be nice to get a First Presidency letter encouraging wards to focus on the Savior in our Sacrament meetings. It just makes me sad to read stories like Barbara’s and Angie’s, where people come to church on Easter expecting to hear about the Savior and leave disappointed.

    I also love what Adri said about making it a goal to read Jesus the Christ before Easter. I think each of us has a personal responsibility to bring the Savior to our Easter, and your idea, as well as others mentioned here, have given me inspiration for next year.

  13. Abigail

    March 24, 2008

    This completely describes for me also how I felt yesterday. Not once during sacrament, sunday school or relief society was Christ’s atonement mentioned. Yes we sang the right songs, but besides that it was not mentioned and I wondered why we, Latter-Day Saints, don’t focus on the real reason for Easter. But I plan to change that in my family, next year my daughter will be old enough to understand a bit more, so I will definately start there. Thank you for telling a bit about Good Friday and having links that will help me come up with ideas to make Easter and holy week more meaningful in my family!

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