As a child, Easter was a very different holiday compared to all the rest. The preparation took 40 days, beginning with Ash Wednesday.
Being a child who never wanted to be the center of attention, the Catholic ritual of receiving ashes was always an anxiety-filled experience. I always prayed that I would receive just a few ashes, since they remained a "badge of honor" for the entire day.
Back in sixth grade, one of the boys received such a mound of ashes that he was literally like a small volcano, dropping ash on his school papers. You could never wipe off the ashes, because they were blessed. I felt so sorry for him because naturally, when the nun's back was turned, the boys ridiculed him all day. That was 50 years ago, but every Ash Wednesday I still think about him.
During Holy Week, we spent most of our time in church. Leading up to this were the weekly Stations of the Cross which we prayed during school time. It was neat because the church would be empty except for we students, and it was so choreographed.
We stood here, we knelt there, we genuflected at this point and repeated the same response over and over again before going to the next station. I loved the ritual and still do today.
One thing I will never forget was the Adoration of the Cross. The priest would stand at the Communion rail and you stood in line to come up and kiss the feet of Jesus on this immense crucifix.
The reason it sticks in my mind so vividly is that when I was very young, the older people would actually come down the main aisle on their knees to adore the cross. Now, I haven't seen that practice done since I was a little kid, but that show of humility and devotion still haunts me today.
Of course, throughout Lent we give up something as a sacrifice. We always gave up candy and cookies. There was nary a Twinkie crumb to be found at our house.
I had an aunt who was a caffeine freak and inevitably gave up coffee every Lent. For about 30 the of the 40 days, she turned into a hideous monster until her husband fervently begged her to give up what she had given up as a corporal work of mercy for the survival of the rest of the family.
During Lent, our churches are rather drab, which makes Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday all the more magnificent with flowers and candles and the ringing of the bells. The most exciting thing is the music.
I don't know if this is still the practice on Good Friday, but at one time, there could be no organ music on that solemn day. There was no recessional and people left the church in complete silence. It was very somber and meditative.
When the choir rejoiced again in wonderful Latin Easter hymns, your soul would literally soar.
For me, Easter is a renewal of the soul and the spirit. May your Easter, too, be a joyous family occasion.