From the Pastor
January 21, 2018
The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Third Sunday after the Epiphany
Baptism and Confirmation Sponsor Requirements
On January 8th we celebrated the Feast of our Lord's Baptism, wherein John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. This is a good opportunity to relate what the specific requirements are for sponsors for the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation required by Holy Mother Church.
Under ideal circumstances, all children baptized in the Catholic Church would be born to or adopted by a couple in a canonical/sacramental Catholic Marriage. Yet whether a child is born to a mother and father canonically married in the Catholic Church, or to a couple married outside the Church, or to a man and woman not married at all, the ability for a child to receive a Catholic baptism is based on whether there is a founded hope that the child will be raised Catholic, and that the receiving of the sacrament is truly desired by the parent(s). The “irregular” marital status of a child’s parents is not held against the child. However, the Church declares who can be admitted as a sponsor (a.k.a.: a godparent) based on external qualifications. Regardless of how “good” or “worthy” someone is purported to be by the parents (or anyone else for that matter), if they do not meet the basic criteria expressed in the universal law of the Church as explained below, they cannot be admitted to the role of sponsor.
Hopefully all prospective sponsors are indeed “good people,” who are sterling Catholics, but the judgment of an individual’s goodness and the state of their soul is reserved to God alone. No human being can judge another’s soul or interior worthiness. Thus, even if in the opinion of everyone who knows them, that a particular individual is a terrible human being and a poor example of what a Catholic should be, should they meet the objective canonical requirements, they may be admitted to the role of sponsor; while someone who may be universally recognized as a wonderful, lovely person but has not been confirmed or is married outside the Church, they cannot be admitted to the role of sponsor. On the surface this may seem quite unfair; some may believe so, but no one else can assume the role of judge other than the good and merciful God. Over hundreds of years, the Church has found no other legitimate and fair system to ascertain the qualifications for sponsors. It is safe to assume that none will be found.
While most people are honest and would not seek to deceive the Church, there are some who do lack scruples and will lie about their sacramental status, attempting to portray themselves as qualified sponsors. In some cases, people are simply unaware of their canonical status, and may honestly – but mistakenly – believe that they have received all their Sacraments. Therefore, the Diocese of Rockville Centre requires that all prospective sponsors meet with their pastor and attest before God and him (and sign the form) that they are indeed qualified for the role.
(Taken from Canon 874 of the Code of Canon Law of the Catholic Church)
To be admitted to the role of sponsor, a person must:
1. Be designated by the one to be baptized, by the parents or the one who takes their place or, in their absence, by the pastor or minister and is to have the qualifications and intention of performing this role.
2. Have completed the sixteenth year, unless a different age has been established by the diocesan bishop or it seems to the pastor or minister that an exception is to be made for a just cause.
3. Be a Catholic who has been baptized, confirmed, and has already received the sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist and leads a life in harmony with the faith and the role to be undertaken. (i.e.: attends Mass; frequents the sacrament of confession/reconciliation, etc.)
4. Not be bound by any canonical penalty legitimately imposed or declared.
5. Not be the father or the mother of the one to be baptized. (Adoptive and foster parents cannot be sponsors for their children, as they take the place of the biological parents.)
A validly baptized person who belongs to a non-Catholic ecclesial community (a Protestant denomination) may not be admitted except as a witness (“Christian Witness”) to baptism and together with a Catholic sponsor. Members of the Orthodox Church are permitted to be sponsors for baptism and confirmation in the Catholic Church, provided they are not otherwise impeded (e.g. in a non-canonical marriage)
Those who are not baptized can neither be sponsors nor canonical witnesses to baptism. The sponsor has to be able to make the Profession of Faith, declaring that he/she believes (and lives) what the Catholic Church believes.
If a potential sponsor is married, they must be in a marriage recognized as canonical in the Catholic Church. If a potential sponsor is not married, he/she is to be living a life of chastity in accord with his/her state in life. (i.e.: is not engaged in sexual relations outside the sacrament of Holy Matrimony.) Thus for example, a Catholic who is married to a non-Catholic outside the Church and is raising his/her children in a non-Catholic faith is obviously not eligible to be a sponsor for Baptism or Confirmation.
Only one sponsor (“godparent”) is necessary, but if there are two (no more than two are permitted), they must be one male and one female. As in the order of nature, where a mother and father unite in the marital embrace to bring new life into this world, so it is in the supernatural order of grace: one male and one female sponsor. Accordingly, two sponsors of the same sex are never permitted.
Please keep in mind that the primary purpose of a sponsor is not to honor that particular person. It is for the purpose of guidance in and the nourishing of the holy Catholic Faith for the individual to be baptized and/or confirmed; and a specific, personal connection to the greater Church – the mystical Body of Christ.
More information on this matter is on our parish website. Follow the link for Organizations and click on Sacramental Prep.
In Jesus and Mary,
Monsignor James F. Pereda