Index Catholic Church Godparents and Sponsors

Godparents and Sponsors

The role of the Godparent for Baptism is rooted in the role of the Sponsor in the Catechumenate, which originated in the early church.

Recall that, until the year 313, the Church was under the persecution of the Roman Empire and had to be cautious in conducting its affairs so as to prevent pagan infiltration and persecution.

Also, until the Middles Ages, the Sacraments of Initiation - Baptism, Holy Eucharst and Confirmation - were administered at the same time and as soon as possible. The role of the sponsor then was to attest to the integrity of the person, oftentimes an adult, seeking admission into the Church as well as to assist her/him during the catechumenate in preparing for these sacraments and in living a Christian life. For infants, these sponsors would also make the Profession of Faith in the child's name and accept the responsibility of instructing the child in the faith, especially if the parents failed in the duty.

About the year 800 when infant baptism was truly the norm, these sponsors were called 'Godfather' or 'Godmother', but the technical term remains Sponsor.

According to the Church Law,

'Insofar as possible, one to be baptised is to be given a sponsor who is to assist an adult in Christian initiation, or, together with the parents, to present an infant at baptism, and who will help the baptised to lead a Christian life in harmony with baptism, and to fulfil faithfully the obligations connected with it' (No. 872).

This statement clearly reflects the historical roots of the role of sponsor.

A sponsor must be chosen by the person to be baptised, or by the parents or guardians of a child. The sponsor must normally have completed their sixteenth year, S/he must be a Catholic who has received the sacraments of Holy Eucharist and Confirmation, and 'leads a life in harmony with the faith and the role to be undertaken." Moreover, the sponsor cannot be impeded by some canonical penalty. Ideally, this sponsor at baptism should also be the sponsor at Confirmation.

Please note: The mother and father of a child cannot serve as sponsors.

Strictly speaking, a person only needs one sponsor for baptism - male or female, but they may have two sponsors, one male and one female. Here the Code of Canon Law want to eliminate the practice of having numerous sponsors, as has occurred in some cultures.

Here we should pause to clarify who qualifies as a Catholic Godparent. A Catholic who does not practice the faith by regularly attending Mass or who is in an invalid marriage (e.g. not according to the Catholic Church) disqualifies herself/himself from being a godparent. Moreover, if a person is Catholic, but antagonistic to the faith, i.e. has the attitude "I am Catholic, but....,"and would not be a good example and witness to the faith also disqualifies herself/himself. If a person is not striving to fulfil his/her own obligations of baptism and confirmation, s/he will not fulfil the responsibilities of helping another do so.

Parents need to find good practicing Catholics for godparents. Good friends are also appropriate, but sometimes friendships wane, leaving the godchild without an active godparent. Godparents should be faithful individuals who are ready to accept the responsibility of being part of a godchild's life for the rest of his/her life. Be careful not to invite friends or family just because they are friends or family. E.g. One from the mother's side, one from the father's. For sure they may make wonderful aunts and uncles, but this in not what baptism is about. If your child were ill would you go to the auntie or the doctor? Would you go to the butcher, who is a wonderful butcher, or the doctor? Each person has a role, but in their own field. A sponsor has a role, which is different to a friend or relative.

What if someone would like to have a faithful Protestant friend as a sponsor? Technically, only Catholics can be godparents or sponsors. A Christian who is not a Catholic, whether Orthodox or Protestant, however, may be a 'Christian Witness' to the baptism along with the Catholic godparent. The reason for this distinction and restriction is that the godparents not only is taking responsibility for the religious education and spiritual formation of the baptised person, but also is representing the Church, the community of faith, into which the person is being baptised. A Christan who is not Catholic, although perhaps a very holy Christian, cannot fully attest to the beliefs of the Catholic Church. Likewise, A Catholic can only be a Christian witness for someone who is baptised into another Christian Denomination.

So, you may have a 'Christian Witness', but it must be someone who can show that they are recognised by their own faith as a faithful Christian, e.g. a letter from their pastor, plus, of course a godparent.

The notes below should be read by the parents, who should make sure that the godparents do so as well.

What are the responsibilities of a Godparent

A godparent is regarded as a patron saint on earth, who prays for the newly baptised, looks after them spiritually and gives them guidance.

The Catholic Church sees Baptism as an entry into the Kingdom of God, and entry into the Church

The role of the godparents is to:

       ♦    Assist the parents in their duty of bringing up the child in the Faith and
            practice of the Church

       ♦    Pray for their godchild

       ♦    Talk to the Godchild about God and encourage him/her in the Christian Faith.

       ♦    Lead him/her, by their example and the quality of life they lead, towards a
            Christian way of life.

       ♦    Encourage him/her in their membership of the local church.

       ♦    Help him/her to keep the promises made on their behalf at the Baptism
            Service until s/he can make these promises for themselves at Confirmation.

Note: The Church affirms that the parents have the Prime Role in bringing up their children in the Faith.
(This is brought out in the blessing for the Father at the conclusion of the Rite).

Godparents are to ASSIST.

There is a common misunderstanding that Godparents have a legal responsibility, e.g if anything happens to the parents. Their responsibility is only to assist the parents or guardians in the Faith.

During the Baptism Rite the Parents and Godparents (P and G) will be asked:

At the start of the Rite:

'Are you willing to support these parents in the role as Christian parents?'

Later on: The celebrant speaks to the P and G in these words:

'Dear P and G: you have come here to present this child for baptism.

By water and the Holy Spirit s/he is to receive the gift of new life from God, who is love.

On your part, you must make it your constant care to bring him(her) up in the practice of the faith.

See that the divine life which God gives him (her) is kept safe from the poison of sin, to grow always stronger in his (her) heart.

If your faith makes you ready to accept this responsibility, renew now the vows of your own baptism.

Reject sin, profess your faith in Christ Jesus. This is the faith of the Church. This is the faith in which this child is about to be baptised.

The celebrant questions the P and G in the following or similar words.

Celebrant: Do you reject Satan?

P and G: I do.

Celebrant: And all his works?

P and G: I do.

Celebrant: And all his empty promises?

P and G: I do.

Next the celebrant asks for the threefold profession of faith from the P and G:

Celebrant: Do you believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth?

P and G: I do.

Celebrant: Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his 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?

P and G: I do.

Celebrant: Do you 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?

P and G: I do.

The celebrant and the congregation give their assent to this profession of faith:

Celebrant: This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church. We are proud to profess it, in Christ Jesus our Lord.

All: Amen.

Either the parents or godparents may hold the one to be baptised.
Godparents are to place a hand on or hold the one to be baptised at the moment of Baptism.
Often it is the Godfather who is asked to light the Baptismal Candle from the Easter Candle.

The Church thanks you for undertaking this most important task.


© Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church 2018
A parish of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark.
CIO Registered Incorporated Charity Number 1173050.