The Role of the Sponsor
(the following is taken from the General Introduction of the Rite of Christian Initiation, paragraphs 8-10)
8. It is a very ancient custom of the Church that adults are not admitted to baptism without godparents, members of the Christian community who will assist the candidates at least in the final preparation for baptism and after baptism will help them persevere in the faith and in their lives as Christians. In the baptism of children, as well, godparents are to be present in order to represent both the expanded spiritual family of the one to be baptized and the role of the Church as a mother. As occasion offers, godparents help the parents so that children will come to profess the faith and live up to it.
9. At least in the final rites of the catechumenate and in the actual celebration of baptism, the godparent is present to testify to the faith of the adult candidate or, together with the parents, to profess the Church's faith, in which the child is being baptized.
10. Therefore godparents, chosen by the catechumens or by the families of children to be baptized, must, in the judgment of the parish priest (pastor), be qualified to carry out the proper liturgical functions mentioned in no. 9.
- Godparents are persons, other than the parents of candidates, who are designated by the candidates themselves or by a candidate’s parents or whoever stands in the place of parents, or, in the absence of these, by the parish priest (pastor) or the minister of baptism. Each candidate may have either a godmother or a godfather or both a godmother and a godfather.
- Those designated must have the capability and intention of carrying out the responsibility of a godparent and be mature enough to do so. A person sixteen years of age is presumed to have the requisite maturity, but the diocesan bishop may have stipulated another age or the parish priest (pastor) or the minister may decide that there is a legitimate reason for allowing an exception.
- Those designated as godparents must have received the three sacraments of initiation, baptism, confirmation, and eucharist, and be living a life consistent with faith and with the responsibility of a godparent.
- Those designated as godparents must also be members of the Catholic Church and be canonically free to carry out this office. At the request of parents, a baptized and believing Christian not belonging to the Catholic Church may act as a Christian witness along with a Catholic godparent. In the case of separated Eastern Christians with whom we do not have full communion the special discipline for the Eastern Churches is to be respected.
Requirements of the Sponsors from the Code of Canon Law
Can. 872 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 baptized person to lead a Christian life in keeping with baptism and to fulfill faithfully the obligations inherent in it.
Can. 873 There is to be only one male sponsor or one female sponsor or one of each.
Can. 874 §1. To be permitted to take on the function of sponsor a person must:
1/ be designated by the one to be baptized, 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 baptized.
§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.
Some Questions and Answers:
Can a Catholic ever be a "Christian Witness?"
No. The Catholic must meet all the requirements for Catholics, even if the other godparent is Catholic.
Can a Catholic be a Christian witness at a non-Catholic baptism?
Yes. Just as a baptized non-Catholic can be a witness with a Catholic at a Catholic baptism, a Catholic can be a witness with a baptized non-Catholic at a non-Catholic baptism.
Can an unbaptized person be a godparent?
No. Because the sponsor or Christian witness renews the promises made at their own baptism, an unbaptized person cannot be permitted to be the godparent.
Can the godparents be changed at a later date?
No. Although other changes can be authorized for the baptismal register, this one is not permitted in the Diocese of Rockville Centre (somewhat analogous to changing the best man and maid of honor in the marriage register).
Can there be a proxy for the godparent?
Yes. Proxies for the godparents are acceptable when the sponsors cannot be physically present on the day of the baptism. The name of the designated sponsor is entered in the register. The name of the proxy is entered under the name of the sponsor with the remark proxy.
Can a catechumen be a sponsor?
No. Those who are unbaptized may not sponsor a person into the Catholic Church.