Dear Good People of Saint Mary,
I asked the folks in the front office what was the most frequently asked question or most common misunderstanding that they encounter in office day to day. Everyone – Mary, Lori and Chris – said that the most difficult issue had to do with the Church’s law on the requirements for Godparents/Sponsors for the sacraments, without a doubt. So, with our Confirmation class for adults coming up, I thought this might be a good time to review what the universal law of the Church is with regard to the selection of Godparents and sponsors to stand up for those who are preparing to receive sacraments.
First, we need to say that the parish doesn’t make up these rules, they are clearly required by the church’s universal Code of Canon Law. Sometimes I’m told by people that exceptions were made by someone in another parish far away; all I can say is that laws are sometimes broken, but that doesn’t make breaking the law a right by precedent – or permissible. The Code of Canon Law is a volume of laws which developed over time precisely when confronted with abuses in the Church that threatened the validity of the sacraments attempted. No one has the right to change these laws. Some margin is allowed, on occasion, for a diocesan bishop in a situation of pastoral need, danger of death or the like, but we are not permitted to change them.
It is interesting that the Code places the requirements of suitability firmly on the shoulders of the Godparents/Sponsors; not on the parents. Often children may be born into families with parents in an irregular marriage or circumstance where the parents can’t meet the requirements: the Church would never punish a child for the irregularity of parents’ situations. The Godparents/Sponsors should be chosen precisely because of their suitability. They are the ones who will make the profession of faith in place of the child (if the child is too young to make this sort of choice by themselves) and they are the ones who promise to stand in the place of parents where needed, to guarantee the well-being of that child or person they are sponsoring – both spiritually and physically. When I was a child I was very much aware that if something were to happen to my parents, that my Uncle Vince and Aunt Josephine were going to be in charge of my life and my formation in the faith.
Often today we find a very secular approach to the selection of Godparents/Sponsors, due to friendship, or some kind of family or professional tie. This is often to the detriment of the person being sponsored. Godparents/Sponsors must be selected according to the witness they, themselves, exhibit with regard to faithfulness, practicing faith, and living in the sacraments. For this reason, there are some things required, without exception of a Godparent/Sponsor:
- they must be living a life of faith according to the teachings of the Church, in the Catholic Church, regularly practicing the virtue of religion;
- they themselves must be fully initiated in the Church through Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Communion;
- they must promise to raise this child/support this person in the life of the sacraments;
- if they are married, they must be married according to the canonical form of the Catholic Church (Catholic rite, vows received by priest or deacon, witnessed by two persons);
- they must be 16 years of age.
By Canon Law, only one Godparent/Sponsor who meets these requirements is necessary. When two Catholics can’t be named, sometimes a second baptized person might be designated as a “Christian Witness.” Although this person has no canonical role in the sacrament, even if they aren’t Catholic, they may make a commitment to raise their Godchild in the Catholic faith. As such, any baptized person is eligible, except for an ex-Catholic. If a Godparent is unable to be present for the baptism, a proxy may stand in, in place of the Godparent, without meeting any requirement other than sharing in the intention of the Church for the newly-baptized. Hope this helps.
God bless you.