(A new document, with 10 pages of information related to the role of a godparent, has been added to the website in February, 2002.
To view the document, click on "The Role of the Godparent.")
Q. 1 I have been asked to be the sponsor (godmother) of my nephew who was born last week. What kind of commitment am I being asked and how long will this commitment last?
A. 1 According to Canon Law # 774 §2, "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."
According to Canon Law # 872, "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."
According to Canon Law # 873, "one sponsor, male or female, is sufficient; but there may be two, one of each sex."
According to Canon Law # 874 §1, "to be admitted to undertake the office of sponsor, a person must:
Canon 874 §1.1 "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 §1.2 "be not less than 16 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 §1.3 "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 §1.4 "not labour under a canonical penalty, whether imposed or declared;"
Canon 874 §1.5 "not be either the father or the mother of the person to be baptised."
Q. 2 To be a sponsor, must the person be Catholic?
A. 2 According to Canon Law # 874 §2, "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."
Q. 3 If I commit myself as Sponsor to the Sacrament of Baptism, must I also commit myself as Sponsor to the Sacrament of Confirmation?
A. 3 According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (C.C.C.) # 1311, "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. [OC Introduction 5; 6; CIC, Can. 893 ## 1- 2.]"
According to Canon Law # 892, "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."
According to Canon Law # 893 §1, "a person who would undertake the office of sponsor must fulfil the conditions mentioned in Canon Law # 874." (see above)
According to Canon Law # 893 §2, "it is desirable that the sponsor chosen be the one who undertook this role at baptism."
Q. 4 In other words, if I understand it clearly, parents and godparents co-share the responsibility of the spiritual growth of the infant.
A. 4 The parents and godparents of newly baptised infants bear the main responsibility for their spiritual growth and the safeguarding of the grace that the infants receive during the Sacrament of Baptism. (C.C.C. # 1255)
C.C.C. # 1255 "For the grace of Baptism to unfold, the parents' help is important. So too is the role of the godfather and godmother, who must be firm believers, able and ready to help the newly baptized - child or adult on the road of Christian life. [CIC, cann. 872-874] Their task is a truly ecclesial function (officium). [SC 67.] The whole ecclesial community bears some responsibility for the development and safeguarding of the grace given at Baptism."
Q. 5 What is my role as far as the Christian name of the child is concerned?
A. 5 When a child is baptised, the parents, godparents (sponsors) and pastor should work together to ensure that the child receives a Christian name that expresses a Christian mystery or virtue. Names that express Christian mysteries can be the name of a saint who lived a great spiritual life and who enjoyed a very special relationship with the Lord Jesus. (C.C.C. # 2156, 2165)
C.C.C. 2156 "The sacrament of Baptism is conferred "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."[Mt 28:19.] In Baptism, the Lord's name sanctifies man, and 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."" [CIC, Can. 855.]
C.C.C. # 2165 "In Baptism, the Christian receives his name in the Church. Parents, godparents, and the pastor are to see that he be given a Christian name. The patron saint provides a model of charity and the assurance of his prayer."
Q. 6 What is expected of me during the ceremony of Baptism?
A. 6 Regarding speaking on behalf of the infant:
Because Baptism is the Sacrament of faith, when godparents speak on behalf of infants, they are asked what do they ask of God's Church? To this question, they answer, "Faith." (C.C.C. # 1253)
C.C.C. # 1253 Baptism is the sacrament of faith. 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!"
Regarding the white garment:
The white garment represents putting on Christ. Announcing that the believer has become a new creature, having been clothed with Christ, the Priest places the white garment on the new Christian. He then proclaims that this garment is the outward sign of the believer's Christian dignity. In the case of infants, with the help of the parents, godparents and friend, by their words and examples, it is proclaimed that the newly baptised child be allowed to bring that dignity unstained into the Heavenly eternal life.
Regarding the Candle:
Taking the Easter candle, the priest says, "Receive the light of Christ." Then, when an infant is involved, the father or the godfather lights the child's candle from the Easter candle. The priest tells the parents and godparents that they have been entrusted with this light so it will be kept burning brightly. Having been enlightened by Christ, the child is to always walk as a child of the light. The flame of faith which is in his heart is to be kept alive at all time so when the Lord comes, he will go out to meet Him with all the saints of the Heavenly Kingdom.