Schoenstatt Easter Experience for Families
Deeper Faith and Understanding of Paschal Mysteries
(mkf) Ten couples with 19 children - most of them kindergarten age or younger - enjoyed an Easter retreat for families in the House of the Family, Schoenstatt, April 19 -26, 2000. The first Holy Communion of one child on Holy Thursday, Stations of the Cross-nailing personal bonds to the cross (see Colossians 2:14)-, teaching about the symbols of the Easter ceremonies, common prayer and meditation provided a profound Easter experience for the participants: "Actually, we think we know about Jesus' suffering, death, and resurrection. It's the center of our faith. But honestly - we never took the time to really ponder about it. It was sure good to finally do this."
Ten families from the dioceses of Fulda, Hildesheim, Essen, Rottenburg-Stuttgart and Würzburg arrived on Wednesday, April 19, 2000, for a Schoenstatt Easter retreat for families. "We simply wanted to experience the Easter ceremonies in a more profound way - and together with our children."
Where are you staying?
On their arrival, the families were invited to build houses of cardboard as a way to become acquainted with each other. The disciples asked Jesus: "Where are you staying?" (John 1:38), to find who he was! These houses, then, were placed in the entrance hall. Each morning, the families met there for morning prayer, adding a specific symbol each day: a table on Holy Thursday, mindful of the meals, as Jesus chose the moment and symbols of a meal for the Eucharist; a cross on Good Friday, the Jubilee Sign on Saturday, and flowers as a sign of new life on Sunday. One toddler best understood the meaning of these houses - she hid her Easter candy in her family's house!
Each day, Schoenstatt Father Thomas Fluhr introduced the specific ceremony of the day - Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil. "It meant a lot to me to understand how the death penalty was seen in the Roman Empire, and how executions were done. We are used to thinking of Jesus being crucified - maybe too much so."
Families Making Well-Known Ceremonies and Rituals Their Own
What does the washing of the disciples' feet mean? Serving each other - so the adults were encouraged to do one hour of practical service for each other on Holy Thursday: doing dishes or house cleaning, helping with the children's program....
With enthusiasm, the families helped prepare the liturgical celebrations—thus making them their own. A special highlight was a child's first Holy Communion on Holy Thursday.
A makeshift cross of branches was carried for the stations of the cross on Good Friday from the House of the Families down to the shrine. Each couple had been invited to write a "bond" - according to Colossians 2:14 - including all the failures and problems Jesus should cancel, giving his salvation and redemption. These "letters of guilt and need for redemption" were placed in envelopes, sealed, and nailed to the cross. In the afternoon, during the liturgy of Good Friday, a crucifix was put onto the makeshift cross for the veneration of the cross. Each family, then, went forth and placed a red rose by the cross - parents and children together.
"Jesus was so close," said one man. "Children are so much more spontaneous," said a woman. "It touched me when my little one gently stroked Jesus, whispering: 'I'm here with you!'"
On Saturday, the families meditated on the crown of thorns, decorated Easter candles, and had time - like on the others days - for silent prayer and sharing, specially as a couple. Some dads and boys spent time collecting logs for the Easter fire. "We could have had a fire all night," one woman commented. "They brought so much!" Others prepared garlands and bouquets of flowers for the crucifix, and Easter candle.
The Easter fire was lit at 9:00 p.m., and then all processed around the house and to the house chapel for the Easter Vigil. After the baptism renewal, white magnolias were placed on the crown of thorns. Father Fluhr went to every family with a vessel containing holy water, inviting them to make the sign of the cross on each other's forehead.
On Monday after Easter - a public holiday in Germany - the families brought the cardboard houses to the shrine and placed their Easter candles in the houses. The Easter light they had received in Schoenstatt is to light their houses - and radiate beyond.
English edition: Joan Biemert, New Franken/WI, USA