In the Catholic tradition, sponsors – more commonly known as godparents – play a big role in baptisms. So what exactly are they for and who can be one? Can non-Catholics even be a godparent? Let me answer these questions and discuss the role of godparents and the requirements to be one in this article.
A non-Catholic can’t be a godparent or sponsor. To be a sponsor, one should be a confirmed Catholic who has already received the Eucharist, preferably someone who leads a life of faith. A baptized, non-Catholic may only be a “witness”, granted there’s a Catholic sponsor who meets all the requirements to be a sponsor.
So what are the other requirements to be a godparent at a Catholic baptism? Can non-Catholics even be chosen to be one? Continue reading to find out.
What are the Requirements to be a Godparent?
Adults will choose their own godparents or sponsors. For infants, their parents or guardians will be the ones to do so. But in their absence, the pastor or minister may take on this role. Keep in mind that there should only be one male sponsor or one female sponsor or one of each gender for each baptism candidate.
Now, before you start choosing godparents, you should first know the requirements for one. These can all be found in the Code of Canon Law (#874), which states:
- At least 16 years of age, “unless the diocesan bishop has established another age, or the pastor or minister has granted an exception for a just cause”
- A Catholic who has received the sacrament of baptism
- A Catholic who has received the sacrament of confirmation
- A Catholic who has received the sacrament of Holy Eucharist
- Not bound by any canonical penalty
- Not the father or mother of the one getting baptized
- If married, one’s marriage should be in accordance with the laws of the Catholic Church
- A Catholic who leads a life of faith in harmony with the Catholic Church. Someone who is living in a way that shows one’s faith is strong enough to fulfill the responsibilities that come with being a sponsor
Who Cannot Be a Godparent?
The Code of Canon Law clearly states that godparents should be Catholic, which makes sense because the candidate is getting baptized in the Catholic Church. It’s just like when you want to help develop your child’s skill in tennis. You’d probably want to get a private coach, right? But you wouldn’t want just anyone to do the job. You want an excellent tennis coach and not a basketball coach.
So what if you want a non-Catholic to be a godparent? Well, unfortunately, this is not possible. The Catholic Church’s guidelines on choosing sponsors are clear. They should be a Catholic who has received the three sacraments of initiation, which are baptism, confirmation, and the Holy Eucharist.
This is because designating a non-Catholic individual as a godparent of a Catholic child will put him/her in an awkward position of taking part in rituals and practices, which may go against the individual’s beliefs. Just think of how uncomfortable it is for someone who is committed to another religion to sit through the sacrament of baptism and a liturgical celebration that he/she may not believe in.
That said, the Code of Canon Law states that baptized individuals who are not members of the Catholic Church may not participate in the sacrament of baptism. But they may serve as a witness only if there’s already an individual who meets all the requirements to be a sponsor.
What is the Role of a Godparent?
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1255): “For the grace of Baptism to unfold, the parents’ help is important. So too is the role of the godfather and godmother, who must be firm believers, able and ready to help the newly baptized – child or adult on the road of Christian life. Their task is a truly ecclesial function. The whole ecclesial community bears some responsibility for the development and safeguarding of the grace given at Baptism.”
So, along with the parents or guardians, the godparents or sponsors will present the child or adult for baptism and help him/her to live the Christian way. They have the responsibility to pass on the practices and teachings of the Catholic Church, helping the baptized to build his/her relationship with Jesus Christ and make him/her understand the beliefs, prayers, rituals, and practices that come with it.
To help you understand this better, here’s what the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults (#189) says about sponsors for baptism:
“Whenever a person is baptized, as an infant, as a child, or as an adult, there should be at least one person present who will act as sponsor for the one being baptized. The sponsor, commonly referred to as one’s godmother or godfather, accepts the responsibility of helping the person grow in the Catholic faith. One who acts as a sponsor for an infant or child agrees to help the parents teach their child about the faith and how to live as a practicing Catholic. One who acts as a sponsor for an adult agrees to encourage and support the person, pray with and for the person, and offer whatever help, information, or support is needed while the person is preparing to enter the Church and then is living out the rest of his or her life as a practicing Catholic.”
So contrary to what many believe, Catholic godparents or sponsors are not “replacement parents”. Furthermore, their role isn’t about friendship. So we don’t choose them to honor our close friends and favorite relatives or to create a permanent relationship with someone we know. That said, godparents or sponsors have a responsibility to a child that’s similar to that of a coach. Just as it’s unfair to ask a basketball player to coach tennis, it won’t be reasonable to have an individual who is not committed to the Catholic faith take part in the spiritual coaching of an individual.