Sunday, July 31, 2011

Godparents: A Primer on What's Required

First-time Catholic parents usually struggle with this issue: who do we choose to be the Godparent(s) of our child(ren)? This is something my wife and I both grappled with when our son, Robert, was born. This is natural; we want the best for our children and above all else the best should be given in founding a solid Christian upbringing. As a Catholic parent this is paramount to me personally; everything else in the world will waste and fail but faith and your soul is forever. Really what we're talking about here is an formation for eternity! Why wouldn't you take this into careful consideration?

What is the role of the Godparent? It can be summarised this way: to support the parents in the Christian-religious (Catholic) upbringing of the Godchild. The Godparent - also referred to as a "sponsor" - models Christian behaviour to the Godchild and acts as a witness to the Catholic-Christian faith. The role of the Godparent is outlined in the Code of Canon Law this way:
"Insofar as possible, a person to be baptized is to be given a sponsor who assists an adult in Christian initiation or together with the parents presents an infant for baptism. A sponsor also helps the baptised person to lead a Christian life in keeping with baptism and to fulfill faithfully the obligations inherent in it." - Can. 872, CIC
This makes it very clear: the role of the Godparent(s) is not "ceremonial" or symbolic; the Godparents are selected for a purpose, to - as cited above - "help the baptised person to lead a Christian life in keeping with baptism to fulfill faithfully the obligations inherent in it". But what are these "obligations inherent" in baptism? These obligations are found within the baptismal promises:

- to reject Satan, his works and all of his empty promises;
- to believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of Heaven and Earth;
- to believe in Jesus Christ, his (God's) only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father;
- to believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting; and
- to believe that God, the all-powerful Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has given us a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and forgiven all our sins and that he may also keep us faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ for ever and ever.

... and furthermore in the precepts of the Church (emphasis added):
The precepts of the Church are set in the context of a moral life bound to and nourished by liturgical life. The obligatory character of these positive laws decreed by the pastoral authorities is meant to guarantee to the faithful the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbour: 
The first precept ("You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor") requires the faithful to sanctify the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord as well as the principal liturgical feasts honoring the mysteries of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints; in the first place, by participating in the Eucharistic celebration, in which the Christian community is gathered, and by resting from those works and activities which could impede such a sanctification of these days. 
The second precept ("You shall confess your sins at least once a year") ensures preparation for the Eucharist by the reception of the sacrament of reconciliation, which continues Baptism's work of conversion and forgiveness. 
The third precept ("You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season") guarantees as a minimum the reception of the Lord's Body and Blood in connection with the Paschal feasts, the origin and center of the Christian liturgy. 
The fourth precept ("You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church") ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts and help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart. 
The fifth precept ("You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church") means that the faithful are obliged to assist with the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability. 
The faithful also have the duty of providing for the material needs of the Church, each according to his own abilities. 
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 2041-2043
And then there are the canonical requirements for the Godparent(s); if the person(s) you want to be the Godparent of your child don't fulfil these criteria, then you can forget about it:
Can. 874 §1. To be permitted to take on the function of sponsor a person must: 
1/ be designated by the one to be baptised, by the parents or the person who takes their place, or in their absence by the pastor or minister and have the aptitude and intention of fulfilling this function; 
2/ have completed the sixteenth year of age, unless the diocesan bishop has established another age, or the pastor or minister has granted an exception for a just cause; 
3/ be a Catholic who has been confirmed and has already received the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist and who leads a life of faith in keeping with the function to be taken on; 
4/ not be bound by any canonical penalty legitimately imposed or declared; 
5/ not be the father or mother of the one to be baptised.
But what if you know someone who's a non-Catholic, but is a really good Christian role model, and a good, devout and righteous person? Can they be a Godparent? Fortunately canon law provides an answer for this question as well:
874 §2. A baptized person who belongs to a non-Catholic ecclesial community is not to participate except together with a Catholic sponsor and then only as a witness of the baptism.
Note: Non-Catholic ecclesial communities are - essentially - churches that were born out of the Protestant Reformation, namely the Anglican Church; Western Churches that are not in full communion with the See of Rome.

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So there you have the fundamental requirements for Godparents in the sacrament of Baptism and in helping form the faith of your child. Do you know a Catholic that could help raise your child to understand and abide by these precepts? Writing this blog has certainly made me realise the shortcomings of my own Godparent-hood; there is much more I need to be doing for both my Godson and the family of my Godson.

A Godparent acts as a person of Christ for your child; you and your child should clearly see Christ in this sponsor. Give your child the best sponsor you can muster to mind and remind this sponsor of the responsibility they have towards your child; this is the God-given right of your child.

"...Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God." - Mark 10:14b

I hope you have found the information in this entry as edifying as I have.

Pax vobiscum.


  1. This is great, but what do you do when you have choosen a Godparent for your child thinking this person is a devout Catholic, he/she accpets, and is told by us the reasons he/she was picked, and now he is moving in with his girlfriend! He himself is divorced and in the process of annuling his previous marriage. He was divorced, went to confession, was allowed to take communion, was serving in the church, and now this. What should we do?

  2. Shoot me an email (top right corner below the banner); I can offer you some advice more directly that way... and there may be some additional questions I would need to ask you before I can advise you on what to do.

    God bless.


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