“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”- Proverbs 22:6
This is the cutest future-priest photo you will find online. Have you been saying your rosary for vocations? Your prayers may have been directed to this little guy. This is my Godson, and obviously I’m a very proud Godfather.
When my Godson gets older, he will feel unencumbered from exploring his vocation. After seeing him try to play mass with his toys, his parents provided him with a makeshift mass playkit. He loves taking it upon himself to glorify God the best way his two year-old mind knows. His love for the liturgy came natural just from sufficient exposure at daily mass. His parents didn’t have to work hard to foster such enthusiasm, but simply allow his childlike eyes to take in the mystery of all that occurs in the sanctuary.
Romano Guardini describes the liturgy as having a sense of “playfulness” in The Spirit of the Liturgy. Aside from worship in and of itself, there is no practical purpose of liturgy, yet it is full of beauty and meaning. One sees such “playfulness” in art itself. A child, at play, “does not want to do anything but to exercise its youthful powers, pour forth its life in an aimless series of movements, words and actions, and by this to develop and to realize itself more fully”. The link between being one who administers the Sacraments and a child exploring life is beautifully described by Guardini in this “Supernatural childhood before God”.
One then finds greater meaning in the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar in the Extraordinary Form where the priest prays “I will go unto the altar of the Lord who gives joy to my youth”. Thus fostering vocations in the next generation of priests begins not at a Come and See weekend , or even when one is enrolled in altar boy training, but as early as toddler-hood. My Godson’s family, like many other Catholic families, serve as an example where a child’s enthrallment with the liturgy starts well prior to altar-boy age simply through exposure. He is a 2-year old fully active participant at mass! And furthermore not only enjoys imitating the strong role models in his life, such as the local parish priest, but encounters life with Christlike joy, as if conforming himself to the Lord, even in the manger.
Allowing a child to discover joy in the liturgy by having visibility to the actions up close, rather than distant behind the class of a crying room, or segregated through “children’s liturgies”, or even through distractions is the first step in developing a greater appreciation of the prayer life of the Church. Early exposure, with God’s help, can give a head start to solving the apparent vocation shortage in the Church today.