On Holy Saturday of my junior year of college, some friends and I decided to watch “The Return of the King” in the time between dinner and Easter Vigil at 11 p.m.

That night, as I stood outside in the dark, waiting for our candles to be lit by the Easter fire, I realized the “Lord of the Rings” franchise movie had put my emotions in exactly the right state to enter into the great drama of salvation history that the Easter Vigil bears witness to. The epic victory of light over darkness, the heroism required of each of the players in order to get there and the deep beauty of their journeys helped me to see the same reality played out in history and in my heart with new eyes.

This kind of thing happens to me a lot. Stories are a huge factor in my life in general but particularly in my prayer, and they are especially skilled at moving whatever is going on in prayer from my head to my heart. That is a crucial step because I’m a person, a body as well as a soul, a heart as well as a mind, and the more that the truth of who God is and how much he loves me penetrates every aspect of my being, the more I enter into a real and transforming relationship with him.

We are a few days out from the beginning of Holy Week when, as a Church, we enter into the center of our story. We remember not just with our minds but with our whole selves the ultimate drama of our redemption. We repeat our remembering regularly because the story of Christ’s love for us is the center of who we are. It takes work to really remember that story: to experience it in all of its drama and beauty, to allow it to permeate our experience and to know it deeply as our own personal history.

The Holy Week liturgies are meant to bring us into this story that is ours, and I have found them to be beautiful and helpful prayers. In addition to the liturgies, I always try to find some supplementary ways to make space for the story of salvation to happen in my heart: music, movies, books, activities, ways for the story to permeate my whole life. I do different things in different years depending on what is going on in my life and also on where my heart is moving me. Some of them are very specific to my personality and desires, some are broad practices offered by the Church. But whether or not you are drawn to the ones I am, hopefully they will spark some ideas for you of practical things that could help you experience our story in a new way.

  • “The Lord of the Rings.” When I have time for it (which is certainly not every year), I like to watch “The Fellowship of the Ring” on Holy Thursday, “The Two Towers” on Good Friday and “The Return of the King” on Holy Saturday. I do this in addition to the daily liturgies of the Triduum, not instead of them. For me, it’s one of the best ways to dispose my heart and emotions to the reality of the Paschal Mystery.
  • “The Last Battle” by C.S. Lewis. One year, I read the last book of the Narnia series during Holy Week. It’s short and an easy read, and like “The Lord of the Rings,” it helped orient my emotions and experience to what was happening during Holy Week.
  • Imaginative contemplation. St. Ignatius gave a very specific template for how to enter into Gospel passages with the use of the imagination. The idea is to make the story of Jesus part of your experience. That method of prayer has been hugely important in my life and can be a really helpful way of reflecting on the story we are praying through.
  • Working on a painting throughout Triduum. I’ve done this twice and really loved it. The end results are not impressive, but the process of making it throughout the week is very meditative and a good way for me to pray.
  • Writing poetry. It’s my standard mode for processing emotions and sometimes the act of finding the words for what has been happening in prayer can be, itself, a prayer for me.
  • Altars of repose. After the Holy Thursday liturgy, most churches will set up an altar of repose somewhere other than the Tabernacle and leave it open for personal prayer into the night. There is a tradition of going on a mini-pilgrimage to seven altars of repose during the course of the evening, which can be very beautiful. But sometimes I prefer staying at one for an hour or two after Mass. Remembering the Last Supper in the Holy Thursday liturgy moves very naturally into entering into the agony in the garden at the altar of repose.
  • Tenebrae is a service that can vary from place to place but is usually celebrated on the evening of Good Friday. It’s one of my favorite prayers of the year, the most haunting and visceral experience of Christ in the tomb.

So, whatever your Holy Week will look like — whether you are able to make a full retreat from the world into prayer or have to snatch moments of prayer from the midst of busy work schedule — I hope it will be a time for you to enter more deeply into the story of salvation and to experience that it is your story as well.

A story that begins and ends with being loved so much that you are worth dying for is going to be a pretty epic story. The more you live out the reality that this story of hope and redemption and impossibly heroic love is your story, the freer and stronger and happier and more yourself you are going to be. The more you will fall in love with the one who already loves you more than you can imagine. Because it is a love story, and you are the beloved.