THE HISTORY OF GODPARENTING
1. Godparents, godfathers, godmothers, sureties, sponsors, it is their duty to make a profession of faith during the baptismal ceremony for the one to be baptized, when necessary; and thereafter, to assume perpetual guardianship over the baptized and instruct them in the obligations of the Christian life, to insure fulfilment of baptismal vows. This obligation binds only when parents neglect to do their duty or die. Owing to the spiritual relationship which is created, the Church makes definite requirements by law for this honourable office. (The New Catholic Dictionary; page 407; Copyright 1929.)
2. Sponsor, latin for "sponsor," a person of either sex who speaks for the one to be baptized during the ceremony and after Baptism assumes spiritual guardianship over the subject. A sponsor must be baptized, fourteen years of age, and, at the font, must physically hold, touch, or receive the candidate. Parents, heretics, schismatics, and excommunicated are excluded. The sponsor contracts spiritual relationship with the godchild. (The New Catholic Dictionary; page 919; Copyright 1929.)
3. The above references were quoted from a 1929 Catholic Dictionary. Since those days, there have been minor changes regarding the role of godparents. It is hoped that this course will answer all your questions regarding choosing or becoming a godparent.
A GODPARENT VERSUS A SPONSOR
4. What is the origin of godparenting? It is a tradition in the Sacrament of Baptism that goes back as far as the early days of the Catholic Church. In those days, conversions came in two ways. In the first instance, whole families were received into the Church through the Sacrament of Baptism after they had been instructed and prepared by a friend or someone appointed by the Church. In the second instance, individuals were instructed and prepared by a friend or someone appointed by the Church.
5. During those days, the first four centuries, the Catholic Church was under intense persecution by the Roman Empire. To avoid persecution and the infiltration of pagans into the Church, every person who was received into the Church was required to have a sponsor. This sponsor performed two roles.
5.1 First of all, he protected the Church by authenticating the sincerity of the convert.
5.2 Secondly, as a catechist, he supported the person as a candidate into the Church.
6. During the first centuries, emphasis was placed on the baptism of adults. That all changed when the Council of Trent, (1545 - 1563) affirmed that Adam's disobedience not only transfused physical death to the individuals, but also, that all were born afflicted with a sin that is the "death of the soul." "Because of this certainty of faith, the Church baptizes for the remission of sins even tiny infants who have not committed personal sin." (C.C.C. # 403; Council of Trent: DS 1514)
7. In harmony with this new Decree and in consideration of the inability of an infant to speak for himself, more than ever, it became necessary to appoint a godparent who would make the Profession of Faith in the child's name. This same person would also be responsible for instructing the child in the faith, especially if the parents failed in their parental duty.
8. Originally, godparents were called "sponsores," "offerentes," "susceptores," "fidejussores," and "patrini." These titles emphasized that the godparent had been adopted by the Christian parents to protect the faith of their child. Today, the godparent's role has been adapted to the needs of the Church.
THE OBLIGATION TO EVANGELIZE
9. Both words, "godparent" and "sponsor" mean the same. They are interchangeable. According to Catholic tradition, while the sponsor of a child for the Sacrament of Baptism is referred to as a "godparent," "godmother," or "godfather," the proper term to use is "sponsor."
TO QUALIFY AS A GODPARENT
10. Why do we need godparents? The Catholic Church teaches us that "the care for catechesis" (instruction in the Catholic faith) under the direction of lawful ecclesiastical authority, extends to all members of the Church, to each according to his or her role. (Canon 774.1)
11. Before all others, parents are bound to form their children, by word and example, in faith and in christian living. The same obligation binds godparents and those who take the place of parents. (Canon 774.2)
DISQUALIFYING AS A GODPARENT
12. Not everyone qualifies to be a godparent. The Catholic Church provides a detailed guideline that must be obeyed. "To be admitted to undertake the office of sponsor, a person must:" (Canon 874.1)
12.1 "be appointed by the candidate for baptism, or by the parents or whoever stands in their place, or failing these, by the parish priest or the minister; to be appointed the person must be suitable for this role and have the intention of fulfilling it;" (Canon 874.1.1)
12.2 "be not less than sixteen years of age, unless a different age has been stipulated by the diocesan Bishop, or unless the parish priest or the minister considers that there is a just reason for an exception to be made;" (Canon 874.1.2)
12.3 "be a catholic who has been confirmed and has received the blessed Eucharist, and who lives a life of faith which befits the role to be undertaken;" (Canon 874.1.3)
12.4 "not labour under a canonical penalty, whether imposed or declared;" (Canon 874.1.4)
12.5 "not be either the father or the mother of the person to be baptised." (Canon 874.1.5)
12.6 "A baptised person who belongs to a non-catholic ecclesial community may be admitted only in company with a catholic sponsor, and then simply as a witness to the baptism." (Canon 874.2)
THE NUMBER OF GODPARENTS
13. What follows is a list of personal characteristics that disqualify a person as a godparent:
13.1 the person has no intention of fulfilling his obligations as a godparent.
13.2 the person is younger than the age that has been stipulated by the diocesan Bishop, usually age 16.
13.3 the person is not a Catholic.
13.4 the person has not received the Sacrament of Baptism in the Catholic faith.
13.5 the person has not received the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Catholic faith.
13.6 the person has not received the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist in the Catholic faith.
13.7 the person is not living his faith in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church. (Example: The person has not been at Mass for 2, 5 or 10 years. The person employs birth control methods.)
13.8 the person belongs to a religious Order (preventing him/her from making this commitment).
13.9 the person is the spouse of the one seeking Baptism.
13.10 the person is a biological or adoptive father or mother of the child.
13.11 the person has incurred an official excommunication or "latae sententiae," by the very commission of the offense. (Example: involved in one or more abortions.)
13.12 the person is a member of a condemned society.
13.13 the person is a public sinner. (Example: Prostitution, living common-law.)
13.14 the person is a heretic. "Heresy is the obstinate post- baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same." (C.C.C. # 2089)
13.15 the person belongs to a schism. "Schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him." (C.C.C. # 2089)
13.16 the person is involved in a mix-marriage and believes his/her children should choose their own religion when they grow up.
13.17 the person believes that all religions are equal or that other religions are equal to the Catholic Church.
13.18 the person is involved in an invalid marriage. (Example: Justice of the Peace, marriage outside the Church.)
13.19 the person is not registered with a parish, not belonging to any specific faith community.
THE ROLE OF THE GODPARENT
14. How many godparents can a child have? According to the instructions of the Catholic Church, "One sponsor, male or female, is sufficient; but there may be two, one of each sex." (Canon 873) No one can have more than two godparents, nor can anyone have two godparents of the same sex.
A MISCONCEPTIONS: ADOPTION
15. "In so far as possible, a person being baptised is to be assigned a sponsor. In the case of an adult baptism, the sponsor's role is to assist the person in christian initiation. In the case of an infant baptism, the role is together with the parents to present the child for baptism, and to help it to live a christian life befitting the baptised and faithfully to fulfil the duties inherent in baptism." (Canon 872)
16. In both cases, the principal responsibility of a godparent is to give witness to the Catholic faith by his words and actions. When it concerns a child, he must be ready to accept the responsibility of being a part of the godchild's life for the remaining of his/her life.
17. A godparent must have his eyes fixed on the Lord, believing that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. [Jn. 14:6] Not only must he believe it, he must be prepared to share his belief with his godchild.
18. Within reason, a godparent must be available to his godchild on a continuous basis. He must have a special interest in the spiritual growth of the child.
19. When called upon to profess the Catholic faith on behalf of the infant, the godparent must believe in what he is professing.
A MISCONCEPTIONS: GIFT-GIVERS
20.The first obligation of the godparent is to support the parent of the godchild with the religious upbringing of the child.
21. Does that mean that a godparent has to adopt his godchild should the parents die? Unless the parents have indicated this in their Last Will (Last Testament) that in case of their death or total disability, the godparents are to obtain full custody of their children, (should they wish to have custody) the godparents have no custodial rights over their godchildren. This matter should be discussed in details between the parents of a child and the godparent(s) to ensure that no surprises will be written in a Last Will.
22. While some godparents may not object to obtaining the custody of their godchild in the event of parental death, in some cases, such may not be possible. As a general rule, when a number of children from the same family are involved, the Courts do not desire to separate the children who are striving to cope with the loss of their parents. As such, all the children may be placed together with one godparent or none at all.
THE GODPARENT AT CONFIRMATION
23. Godparents should not be expected to be gift-givers. Some parents expect godparents to buy their children gifts on their birthdays, at Christmas, etc... When the Catholic Church saw the need for godparents in the early days of its history, it never intended them to be used as gift-givers. The greatest gifts that a godparent can give to a child is love, prayers and their continuous presence as a Christian model of faith.
WHO CHOOSES THE GODPARENT?
24. "Candidates for Confirmation, as for Baptism, fittingly seek the spiritual help of a sponsor. To emphasize the unity of the two sacraments, it is appropriate that this be one of the baptismal godparents. [Cf. OC Introduction 5; 6; CIC, Canon 893.1, 2]" (C.C.C. # 1311)
25. This message is repeated in the following Canon Laws. "As far as possible the person to be confirmed is to have a sponsor. The sponsor's function is to take care that the person confirmed behaves as a true witness of Christ and faithfully fulfils the duties inherent in this sacrament." (Canon 892)
26. "A person who would undertake the office of sponsor must fulfil the conditions mentioned in canon 874." (Canon 893.1) "It is desirable that the sponsor chosen be the one who undertook this role at baptism." (Canon 893.2)
CHOOSING A GODPARENT
27. The parents of a child to be baptized have the Christian obligation to choose godparent(s) that are sincere in their lifetime commitment. While the parents choose the godparent(s), the Church has the final say when it comes to assessing the suitability of a chosen godparent. In a case where the Church determines that a candidate is not suitable for godparent, the parents must choose another person(s) who meets the requirements that have been established by the Catholic Church.
28. The choosing of a godparent is not the responsibility of the young child. Considering all the conditions that apply, it is impossible for a young child to know which relatives or friends qualify or do not qualify as godparents. It is not uncommon to hear that parents have left their children to choose a relative that they loved, only to learn that the chosen relative was disqualified by the Church. To ensure that the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation are a time of joy rather than a time of tears, parents should fulfill their responsibilities as expected by the Church. To pass on the responsibility of such a task to a child is not realistic.
TWINS OR TRIPLETS
29. Now the time has come to choose a godparent. What should the parent be looking for? When it comes to choosing a godparent, there are some who may strongly recommend relatives (including grandparents). Others may recommend a long-term friend. Both choices have their advantages and disadvantages. What is more important is to choose someone who:
29.1 can be trusted to maintain a long term relationship with the child;
29.2 is a practicing Catholic with a deep faith;
29.3 knows Catholic doctrines and understands the Sacrament of Baptism.
29.4 enjoys a prayer life;
29.5 is spiritual in his words and actions;
29.6 is prepared to guide the godchild towards salvation;
29.7 enjoys stability in his life;
29.8 has a high moral character;
29.9 enjoys patience and can relate to a child;
29.10 would be an exemplary model role.
30. While the choice of a good friend as a godparent is appropriate, sometimes friendships come to an end, leaving the godchild without an active godparent. Friends sometimes fade away after having moved to another city or out of the country. There is no guarantee that a friend will be able to maintain a twenty year commitment. While one may be properly disposed today, changes may occur tomorrow because of marriage, employment, health, etc...
31. Many parents choose family members as godparents, their decision being based on a sense of obligation. Some do it as an "exchange." "You be my child's godparent today and I will be your child's godparent tomorrow." Such a way of choosing a godparent frequently results in having a godparent who has little or no faith at all and who does not even belong to a Church.
32. Some people object to choosing a family member as a godparent because family members already enjoy a relationship with the child. They are concerned that the appointment of a relative may obscure their role as a godparent. Contrary to this belief, children who enjoy an aunt or uncle as godparent, they clearly distinguish their godparent from their other aunts and uncles.
33. Some parents, seeking gift-givers, choose godparents who are financially rich, but spiritually poor. Godparents should be spiritually rich, their financial status being unimportant.
34. In choosing a godparent, the parent should review the past of the candidates, their past being a reflection of what can be expected in the future. As a general rule, he who has not gone to Church for five years, he will not change overnight, nor persist in his faith.
CHOOSING A CHRISTIAN NAME
35. My friend had twins! How is this going to affect her choice of godparents? First of all, it should be understood that a godparent can have more than one godchild. In other words, different children can enjoy the same godparent.
36. Therefore, in the case of twins or triplets, each child is entitled to his/her own godparent(s) to a maximum of two, or the children can all share the same godparent(s). In a case of twins who have their own godparents, the parents will have to find between two and four godparents, a maximum of two for each child. In the case of triplets who have their own godparents, the parents will have to find between three and six godparents, a maximum of two for each child. In the case of twins or triplets who share the same godparents, the parents will only be required to find one or two godparents.
THE AFFIRMATION OF THE GODPARENT
37. The Catholic teaching regarding choosing a name for a newborn states that, "Parents, sponsors and parish priests are to take care that a name is not given which is foreign to christian sentiment." (Canon 855) "In Baptism... the Christian receives his name in the Church. This can be the name of a saint, that is, of a disciple who has lived a life of exemplary fidelity to the Lord. The patron saint provides a model of charity; we are assured of his intercession. The "baptismal name" can also express a Christian mystery or Christian virtue. "Parents, sponsors, and the pastor are to see that a name is not given which is foreign to Christian sentiment." (C.C.C. # 2156)
38. To ensure that parents do not choose ridiculous names for their children, when such is being done, the priest is directed to guide the parents towards the adoption of the names of saints. In cases where the parent persists on using a questionable name, the priest may add the name of a saint to the one that the parent insists upon using.
SUBSTITUTING THE GODPARENT
39. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that baptism is a Sacrament of faith. "Baptism is the sacrament of faith. [Cf. Mk. 16:16] But faith needs the community of believers. It is only within the faith of the Church that each of the faithful can believe. The faith required for Baptism is not a perfect and mature faith, but a beginning that is called to develop. The catechumen or the godparent is asked: "What do you ask of God's Church?" The response is: 'Faith!'" (C.C.C. # 1253)
40. In the absence of the parents, the godparents are obligated to instruct their godchildren in matters of faith and morals. The absence of the parents may be voluntarily or involuntarily. Voluntarily is defined as a loss of faith or simply the parent's neglect of the parental role to raise the child(ren) in the faith. Involuntarily is defined as being prevented from raising the child(ren) in the faith due to death, severe disability, or even long-term psychological or psychiatric illness.
41. For these reasons and possibly more, it is required that godparents be firm believers in the teachings of the Catholic faith to ensure that they will be able to walk the faith with their godchildren as affirmed during the Sacrament of Baptism.
IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY
42. As sad as it is to say, from time to time clerics are asked how one should go about replacing a godparent. Had serious thought been given to the original choice of a godparent, ninety percent of these situations would be avoided.
43. The relationship between a godparent and godchild may come to an end as a result of some of the following reasons:
43.1 the death of the godparent;
43.2 conflict between the godparent and the parent of the child;
43.3 the godparent moving away;
43.4 the godparent no longer wanting to be part of the life of the child, etc...
44. Officially, the title of godparent cannot be taken away from a person and assigned to someone else. The following are two reasons for this final decision:
44.1 During the Sacrament of Baptism, the godparent acted as a witness to the Baptism of the child. Should Church records ever be destroyed by fire, the godparent is a witness to the fact that on a certain date and at a certain place, a certain child was baptized in the faith by a certain priest in the presence of his/her parents in accordance with the baptismal formula of the Catholic Church.
44.2 In the isolated areas of some countries, the Baptismal Certificate is the only proof of citizenship of the child. Such a document includes the date and place of birth, the name of the parents, the godparents and the priest who administered the Sacrament. To amend such a document would be a forgery.
45. In cases where the friendship between the godparent and godchild has come to an end, the parent can simply ask someone else to be involved in the child's life. If the child has not been confirmed as of yet, that person can be chosen as the child's godparent when the Sacrament of Confirmation is administered.
46. Some parents have suggested that by having their child re- baptized, they would be able to appoint a new godparent? According to the teaching of the Catholic Church, a person can only receive the Sacrament Baptism once in his/her lifetime. "Incorporated into Christ by Baptism, the person baptized is configured to Christ. Baptism seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark (character) of his belonging to Christ. No sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents Baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation. [Cf. Rom 8:29; Council of Trent (1547): DS 1609-1619] Given once for all, Baptism cannot be repeated." (C.C.C. # 1272)
47. Nor can a child be re-confirmed to change a godparent. "Like Baptism which it completes, Confirmation is given only once, for it too imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual mark, the 'character,' which is the sign that Jesus Christ has marked a Christian with the seal of his Spirit by clothing him with power from on high so that he may be his witness." [Cf. Council Of Trent (1547) DS 1609; Lk 24:48-49] (C.C.C. # 1304)
IN THE ABSENCE OF A GODPARENT
48. In the case of an emergency, such as the imminent death of an infant, no godparent is required for the Sacrament of Baptism to administered. The urgency of the matter does not permit a delay in order to appoint a godparent.
THE SEPARATED EASTERN CHURCHES
49. In a situation where there is no godparent available during the administration of the Sacrament of Baptism, the person administering the Sacrament should see to it that there is at least one witness present who can prove that the Sacrament was administered.
50. "Whoever administers baptism is to take care that if there is not a sponsor present, there is at least one witness who can prove that the baptism was conferred." (Canon 875)
51. "Because of the close communion between the Catholic Church and the separated Eastern Churches..., it is permissible for a member of one of the latter to act as a godparent, together with a Catholic godparent, at the baptism of a Catholic infant or adult so long as there is a provision for the Catholic education of the person being baptized, and it is clear that the godparent is a suitable one. A Catholic is not forbidden to stand as godparent in an Orthodox church, if he is invited. In this case, the duty of providing for the Christian education of the baptized person binds in the first place the godparent who belongs to the Church in which the child is baptized." (Directory for the application of the Decisions of Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican concerning Ecumenical Matters, # 48)
A GODPARENT AND A WITNESS
52. "With the exception already dealt with above (n. 51) it is not permissible for a member of a separated community to act as godparent in the liturgical and canonical sense at Baptism or Confirmation. The reason is that a godparent is not merely undertaking his responsibility for the Christian education of the person baptized or confirmed as a relation or friend - he is also, as a representative of a community of faith, standing as a sponsor for the faith of the candidate. Equally, a Catholic cannot fulfill this function for a member of a separated community. However, because of ties of blood of friendship, a Christian of another communion, since he has faith in Christ, can be admitted with a Catholic godparent as a Christian witness of the baptism. In comparable circumstances a Catholic can do the same for a member of a separated community. In these cases the responsibility for the Christian education of the candidate belongs of itself to the godparent who is a member of the Church in which the candidate is baptized. Pastors should explain carefully to the faithful the evangelical and ecumenical reasons for this regulation, so that all misunderstanding of it may be prevented." (Directory for the application of the Decisions of Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican concerning Ecumenical Matters, # 57)
53. In answer to the many inquiries that the clerics receive, asking if Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Seventh Day Adventist or United Church friends and relatives may act as a godparent at the Baptism of their child, the answer is "No!" The non-Catholic may be appointed as a witness, providing there is a Catholic person who has been appointed as godparent. In such a case, where there is a non-Catholic witness, there can only be one Catholic godparent.
54. As an example, let us suppose that Mrs. Smith wants Mrs. Jones, a Lutheran, as the godparent of her infant daughter who will be baptized in the Catholic Church. Mrs. Smith may only appoint Mrs. Jones as a witness, providing that she appoints someone else who is Catholic as godfather to the child. If Mrs. Smith wants Mr. Jones as a witness, then she must appoint a Catholic godmother to the child. The combination of godparent and witness must be male and female.
55. This restriction ensures that whoever is appointed as godparent, that person will be able to represent and attest to the beliefs of the Catholic Church, the community of faith in which the child is being baptized.
This completed the course "The Role Of Godparents." Now that you are familiar with the Catholic Church teachings regarding choosing or becoming a godparent, it is hoped that you will share your newly gained knowledge with other members of your parish. May the Spirit of Jesus be with you as you continue your spiritual journey in the truth.
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