Each issue carries an
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
Godparents and Sponsors
What Is Expected of Them Today?
Have you ever wondered why some people
have very involved godparents and sponsors, while others don't even
know theirs? Perhaps part of the problem is that many godparents
and sponsors were chosen for the wrong reasons, or because those
same people don't really know what they're supposed to do! Do you?
This Update will help us to better understand these roles.
Most of us at some point have to choose
either a godparent for our children or a sponsor for ourselves,
but how do we choose these people? Or you yourself may someday be
asked to be a godparent or sponsor. What is expected of a sponsor
or godparent today?
Take for example Julie and John, a happy,
"thirtysomething" couple who have just had their first child. They're
really into their Catholic faith, so they're excited to have their
baby baptized. A big family celebration is planned, but John and
Julie are wondering about godparents. What about John's sister and
her husband who helped Julie out so much during her pregnancy? It
would be a great way to thank thembut they don't practice
their faith. Or how about Julie's best friend, Mary, who is actively
involved in a young Catholic adult program, even though Mary's husband
is a devout practicing Protestant? Will this be all right with the
Or take Kevin, an eighth-grader who will
be confirmed at the end of the school year. He has asked his cool
older brother, Mark, who goes to college 300 miles away, to be his
Confirmation sponsor. Mark, who looks like he just stepped out of
the latest teen TV show, knows how much Kevin idolizes him, but
he feels a bit uneasy about being a sponsor. Mark respects Kevin's
faith and his decision to be confirmed, but he really hasn't gone
to church or practiced his faith these last few years. Should Mark
be honest with Kevin, and "just say no"? Should he not say anything
and just accept? Or should Mark accept, but take a new, more serious
look at his own faith?
Adults going through the Rite of Christian
Initiation of Adults (RCIA) may have the same questions. In reality,
a lot of Catholics are confused over the difference between a godparent
and a sponsor. Let's look at the role of godparents first, then
examine the purpose of a sponsor, and finally we'll look at what
all of this means for your family, parish or RCIA.
Godparents for Infant Baptism
How to choose godparents
This is a big day for your family, and
you want to do the right thing. Choosing godparents is a decision
not to be taken lightly. Too often parents want to honor a special
friend, repay a favor, or encourage a nonrelative to have a closer
relationship with their child. While all of these motives are well
intentioned, they are not ideal. If you want to be happy about your
decision, consider the following.
Above all, a godparent serves a special
role for one to be baptized, whether it be a child or an adult.
Godparents are to represent the Christian Catholic community, the
Church. They are to assist in the preparation of adult candidates
for Baptism and to be supportive of them afterwards. When it comes
to infant Baptism, godparents are to assist the child's parents
in raising their child in our Catholic faith, so that the child
may profess and live it as an adult.
Thus if we remember a few basic things
about Baptismit gives a person both a new and special status
as a child of God and it makes a person a member of the Body of
Christ, the Churchthen what you are looking for are godparents
who can truly represent that Christian community. Basically this
means you want at least one active and committed Catholic. The Catechism
of the Catholic Church states "...the godfather and godmother...
must be firm believers, able and ready to help the newly baptizedchild
or adulton the road of Christian life" (#1255). This is the
Church's way of saying that being a godparent is truly a ministry
in the Church, and not simply an honor.
In fact the whole Church community or
parish bears some responsibility for the development and nurturing
of the grace given your child at Baptism. Much of this will come
later in parish religious education and even classes for you on
What does this mean for our friends John
and Julie that we mentioned above? As much as Julie and John appreciate
all the help that John's sister and brother-in-law have given them,
this is not a good motive for having them be godparents. Rather,
John and Julie should choose a firm believer, someone who is truly
committed to the Catholic faith in which their new baby will be
baptized. Thus, Julie's best friend, Mary, so active in her faith,
is a perfect choice. But what about Mary's husband who is not Catholic,
since John and Julie want a married couple to be godparents? The
Church has a solution for this too!
Since Mary is a practicing Catholic,
and a perfect choice as a godmother, she will be the officially
designated godparent, while her husbanda great Christian
and committed to his own faithcan serve as an official witness.
This is fully in line with canon law (see #874). Only one godparent
is necessary, although both a godfather and a godmother are preferred.
So while Mary's husbanda witnesswill set an example,
it will be Mary's duty as godmother to share specifics of
the Catholic faith.
To ensure that a godparent is capable
of this, Church law also insists that this person be at least
16 years old (for maturity's sake), fully initiated (having
received Confirmation and Eucharist), be someone other than the
legal parents and one who leads a life in harmony with the
All this may seem like quite a bit, but
the purpose is to ensure that the rich and beautiful faith of the
Church is passed on to your child in the most loving and authentic
way possible. Hopefully you know by now that the task of choosing
godparents is one which should be performed with much prayer, careful
thought and with greatest concern for the precious spiritual life
of your child.
at your best
If you think that the role of parents in choosing
godparents is a serious one, so is the role of being a godparent.
Being chosen is an honor, and says a lot about the parents' perception
I remember how excited and humbled I was when my brother
and sister-in-law asked me to be the godfather for their first baby.
Even though I'm a priest, I had to consider the investment of time
and energy it would require of me. So remember not to rush into
anything too quickly here! Make sure that you have the time,
the willingness and the faith to live out this sacred
A vocation is a calling, an appeal to live something
out in your life. These parents are calling you to be something
special for their child: to set an example, help teach their child
about the Catholic faith, have a lifelong relationship of prayer,
faith sharing and love. Before accepting this invitation, take some
time to pray and reflect on your ability to do this.
You should ask, "Can I share my faith unashamedly?
Do I live close enough to really get to know my godchild? Am I an
active member of my local Catholic parish?" If you are from another
parish, you'll probably be asked for a letter from your home parish
attesting to your active faith in the Church. If you're an active
Catholic, getting such a letter from your pastor will be easy. If
you're not, maybe you need to question your fitness to serve as
a godparent at this time. But if you are able to say yes to these
questions and if your faith makes you ready to accept this honorable
vocation, here are a few helpful hints to assist you in being the
best godparent that you can be:
Prepare with the parents. In most parishes,
the parents will be required to attend a Baptism preparation class
to reflect on many of the things mentioned in this article. If you're
able, you should be there too! Your willingness to be with the parents
now says a lot about your willingness to be present to your godchild
in the future.
Be there on the "big day:" Be available
for the Baptism ceremony. This may even mean missing less important
events. Besides saying, "We are," when the priest asks if you are
ready to assist the parents in raising the child in the practice
of the faith, you will have the opportunity to clothe the child
in the white baptismal garment, and to light the baptismal candle.
Take seriously the profound yet beautiful words: "Parents and godparents,
this light has been entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly."
You may also be asked to write a touching intercession for the Prayers
of the Faithful on behalf of your godchild. Later at a family party,
you could make a toast or say a meaningful prayer for your godchild
and your role in his or her life.
Don't forget the "big day"! Hopefully
you will always remember your godchild's biological birthday, but
don't forget this "birthday" into the Body of Christ. Make a phone
call or send a card. Better yet, suggest having a get-together to
honor this day each year. Bring out and light the baptismal candle,
recalling the Light of Christ burning in the heart and soul of your
godchild. Or, create a photo album to be shared with your godchild
when he or she gets older.
Pray for your godchild. Keep your godchild
in your daily prayers. The constant prayer of godparents never hurt
anyone! On occasion, take time to celebrate Eucharist together,
for it is, after all, the source and summit of our faith lives.
Share the faith that's been shared
with you. When your godchild is young, introduce him or her
to a children's edition of the Bible. Teach about his or her patron
or name saint. Attend and offer encouragement at the child's first
Communion or share your own faith story as our godchild approaches
Confirmation. Continue your lifelong relationship by participating
in your godchild's wedding. Remember, being a godparent is about
more than an infant Baptism ceremony!
Sponsors for Confirmation
FOR CONFIRMATION CANDIDATES
How to choose a sponsor
Confirmation can be a great experience, and hopefully
you've thought a lot about what this sacrament means, and how the
Holy Spirit will affect your life. You'll be required to have a
sponsorsomeone who will guide you and share the story of faith
with you. A good sponsor will make this process a little easier
and even more fun.
If all has gone as planned, the best person will be
one of your baptismal godparents. The Catechism (#1311) and
canon law (#892-893) both tell us that you need a sponsor. Having
one of your godparents helps us to see how Baptism and Confirmation
are connected. Sadly, by the time they get to Confirmation, many
young people no longer know their godparents, or they're no longer
good role models. Or maybe they just live too far away. These young
people will need to choose a new sponsor.
Some advice to the candidates: You're looking for
someone you trust, whose faith you admire and who will be there
for you. The requirements mentioned for godparents earlier also
apply to sponsors: that they be confirmed Catholics, at least
16 years old (for maturity) and practicing members of the
Church, while not being your parents. This means you can choose
a relative, friend or someone from your parish as your sponsor.
Remember Kevin and his brother Mark of uncertain faith that we mentioned
earlier? Let's see how all this applies to them.
As much as Kevin admires his brother, Kevin shouldn't
choose Mark as a sponsor. And Mark shouldn't accept either. He isn't
a bad person, but Mark has some faith issues he needs to work out
first. Right now, Kevin needs someone who is active in church, can
share why faith is important to him and who lives close enough to
help Kevin with his preparation. So in choosing a sponsor, Kevin
needs to take all these things seriously. So do you! Pray about
it, and when you think you have the right person, ask him or her
to help you grow in faith by being your sponsor!
at your best
If you have been chosen to be a Confirmation sponsor,
congratulations! This person sees in you a profound faith commitment,
finds trust and knows you are someone who will care about them and
their faith. Sounds impressive, doesn't it? It's not all that complicated,
but it does take time, a caring heart and a listening ear. If you're
a practicing, mature Catholic, don't get too worried. Here are a
few suggestions on how to be the best possible sponsor for your
Be a living model of faith. At least
a part of what this young person admires in you is your faith! If
the way you practice your faith is not what it should be, "get it
together," so to speak! If you honestly can't, this is understandable,
but maybe you should decline the invitation to be a sponsor. Your
life doesn't have to become artificially saintly, but your faith
should be authentic and sincere.
Pray for your candidate and yourself.
As candidates decide to be confirmed, they need spiritual strength.
Your prayers for them are important, but don't forget to pray for
yourself also, that you can share why you value and practice your
Catholicism. Attend Mass together, or even have the courage to come
to Reconciliation together.
Give of your time and share your gifts.
You'll be asked to spend time together on various activities.
This may mean preparing lessons or even working on a Christian service
project. You could also share your own experiences or write a letter
of encouragement. Let your unique God-given talents and gifts shine!
Offer a gift of spiritual significancea new Bible, rosary
or book about our faith or about the saint the candidate has chosen
for a Confirmation namebut be creative and relevant!
Don't miss the ceremony. Participating
in the ceremony is the easiest part of being a sponsor. Your basic
job will be to place your hand on your candidate's shoulder, and
tell the bishop your candidate's Confirmation name. You're there
to be a support, but your role on Confirmation day is only beginning.
Don't forget this newly confirmed
Catholic. After Confirmation day, remember birthdays and this
anniversary. Send a card or make a phone call. Continue to worship
together, or from time tori time do some Christian service. Put
those "Gifts of the Spirit" into practice.
Godparents and Sponsors for
Almost everything that's been said in the previous
section about seeking a godparent for a child applies to the Rite
of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA)to those making the
decision to come into the Church as an adult. The same already mentioned
requirements also apply here. There are some differences, however.
If you are a catechumen seeking full initiation into the Catholic
ChurchBaptism, Confirmation and Eucharistyour godparent(s)
for Baptism at the Easter Vigil should also be your sponsor(s) for
Confirmation on that same night.
However, if you are a candidate for Confirmation or
a candidate for full initiation into the Catholic Church through
a Profession of Faith (for confirmed Protestants becoming Catholic),
you'll need to choose a sponsor. Even if you were baptized Catholic,
your godparents might not be suitable sponsors at this point: You
must decide on the basis of things we've said previously. If you
weren't baptized as a Catholic, you need to find someone who is
Catholic to be your sponsor in the RCIA process.
You want to look for someone who will share his or
her faith, teach you the basics of Catholicism and be willing to
pray and "walk" with you weekly during the RCIA process. If you
don't know anyone like this, the RCIA coordinator in your parish
can provide you with the opportunity to meet such people who would
be more than willing to be a companion on your spiritual journey.
There is one other thing to consider here. Often a
person in RCIA will want a spouse or a sibling to be godparent and/or
sponsor. While there is nothing wrong with this, and no one would
deny you the right to choose them, you might want to consider a
few things. First, since you are entering a new faith community,
having a new person serve in this roleor at least as a second
godparent or cosponsormight help you adjust more easily. You
would now have a different contact to introduce you to the family
of the Church.
Second, spouses and siblings, for one reason or another,
may sometimes be hesitant to talk about sensitive spiritual questions.
Many people find having a new spiritual friend or fellow "walker
on the journey" to be truly helpful as they make their way to the
Easter sacraments. Sometimes it's just nice to have someone else
to talk to. The bonds of friendship and trust in such a relationship
can be rewarding for you, your spouse and your family!
Finally, make sure that your godparent/sponsor has
the time and ability to be with you. For the RCIA to be as meaningful
as it can be, you need someone to be with you week after week. If
someone far away is special to you, invite that person to be present
at the Easter Vigil to celebrate this most special night, but choose
a different person as your sponsorsomeone who can be with
you not only on this night, but at all the other events also.
Godparents and sponsors, the previous sections will
help you better understand your role and responsibilities. Working
with adults will require more personal commitment to faith sharing.
You must also be willing to sacrifice of your time, but I have yet
to meet a person who has found being an RCIA sponsor unrewarding.