Being chosen as a Godparent is often a source of great honor for the man and woman who are selected by the mother and father of a child to be baptized. More than merely an honorary title, the role of Godparent carries a spiritual responsibility as well.
Because of this spiritual reality, there are requirements that each godparent must fulfill before they can be permitted to fulfill this role.
Note: The title “godparent” is used interchangeably with the term “sponsor” in the Official Law of the Catholic Church.
Where Do These Rules Come From?
These requirements come from the Code of Canon Law, the governing document of the clergy and laypersons Roman Catholic Church; as such, a priest is not permitted to deviate in any way from them.
Godparents are bound to form their godchild(ren), by word and example, in faith and christian living.¹
In the Code of Canon Law, which is the rule that governs all Catholics (clergy and laypersons), paragraph 774 insists on the importance of formation in what the Catholic Church believes. This is called catechetical instruction.
Not only are bishops, priests, and deacons required to perform the serious duty of teaching what we believe as Catholics, but also “all members of the Church, to each according to his or her role.”
The Code places parents and godparents at the top of this obligation, indicating that there is a binding obligation to teach by word and example not only what we believe, but how how we live what we believe.
As such, both parents and godparents must be open to this serious commitment. Let’s look deeper at what the Catholic Church requires of a godparent (also called a sponsor) for baptism.
Canon 872: “…In the case of an infant baptism, the role [of the godparent] is together with the parents to present the child for baptism, and to help it to live a christian life befitting the baptized and faithfully to fulfill the duties inherent in baptism.”
As mentioned above, godparents assist the parents in presenting the child to be baptized, and aid the child specifically in living a christian life. The godparent also assists the parents in fulfilling the duties of Christian parents.
Canon 873: One sponsor, male or female, is sufficient; but there may be two, one of each sex.
Because the godparents are a kind of spiritual model christian parenthood, there can only be one godparent of each sex. This reflects the notion in the book of Genesis in the bible that it is the complementarity of male and female that constitute the human family. The godparents witness this complementarity even as spiritual parents.
The priest is not permitted to change this rule and allow multiple godparents of the same sex (for example: two godfathers, or two godmothers.)
Canon 874: The General Requirements for Godparents
§1 To be admitted to undertake the office of sponsor, a person must:
1° be appointed by the candidate for baptism, or by the parents or whoever stands in their place, or failing these, by the parish priest or the minister; to be appointed the person must be suitable for this role and have the intention of fulfilling it;
This states that ordinarily the candidate (in the case of an adult to be baptized) or parents/guardians of the child to be baptized pick the godparent. If they do not, the parish priest (or deacon doing the baptism – or in the case of an emergency anyone performing the baptism) choose a godparent.
Important: The Canon states that the person chosen must a) have the intention of fulfilling the role of godparent and b) be suitable to fulfill it. The next two sentences state what suitability entails:
2° be not less than sixteen years of age, unless a different age has been stipulated by the diocesan Bishop, or unless the parish priest or the minister considers that there is a just reason for an exception to be made;
- The Catholic Church requires that a godparent be 16 or older.
- The bishop of a diocese can change this age limitation, as can a parish priest. But, because of the next sentence, the parish priest cannot make an exception since in most dioceses of our province, the sacrament of Confirmation occurs after the age of 16.
3° be a catholic who has been confirmed and has received the blessed Eucharist, and who lives a life of faith which befits the role to be undertaken;
- The Catholic Church says that it is mandatory for a godparent to have received the Sacrament of Confirmation. This is because we believe that a godparent must himself/herself have been fully initiated into the Catholic Church and have the fullness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit guiding his or her practice of the Catholic faith and the role of godparent.
- The godparent must live a life of faith, meaning that they are:
- regular attendants at Mass, at least Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation
- receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation at least once a year
- active in living the Christian lifestyle, preferably involved in their parish in some way.
- not a cause of moral scandal to others
4° not labour under a canonical penalty, whether imposed or declared;
- The godparent, if they are a Catholic and married, must have entered into the sacrament of marriage validly and in a way that is recognized by the Catholic Church:
- A Catholic who is civilly divorced and remarried civilly or in another ecclesial community (i.e., a divorced Catholic who then goes to another minister of a different church than the Catholic Church to attempt marriage to another) is not suitable to be a godparent.
- A Catholic who is in a merely civil marriage (Justice of the Peace), whose marriage has not been convalidated (recognized as sacramental in the Catholic Church) is not suitable to be a godparent.
- A Catholic who has stopped going to the Catholic Church and has joined another faith community is not suitable to be a godparent, since they cannot provide suitable formation in the Catholic faith. (Remember, the spiritual duties of the godparent are specifically tied to catechetical instruction and witness specifically to life as a Catholic Christian.) See subsection 2 below.
5° not be either the father or the mother of the person to be baptized.
- The godparent cannot be the father or mother of the person to be baptized, since the role of parent is of a different and more serious spiritual nature. The godparent is meant to assist the parents in living their Catholic faith.
§2 A baptized person who belongs to a non-catholic ecclesial community may be admitted only in company with a catholic sponsor, and then simply as a witness to the baptism.
- A person who has been baptized as a Christian in another faith community may not be a godparent because the duties of a godparent require instruction in the Catholic faith by word and deed. This cannot be met by someone who is not a Catholic.
- Note: While a Christian of another denomination may not be a godparent, the Church permits them to be a witness to the baptism, although they are not bound by any of the obligations of a godparent. A Christian Witness can only be admitted with another godparent who does fulfill the obligations required.
- Important: A baptized Catholic who has stopped going to the Catholic Church, even if he or she may have been confirmed, cannot be a Christian witness because once one has been baptized as a Catholic, they are still bound by the requirements of the Catholic faith, even if they do not identify as such.
Again, these regulations are not particular to St. James and St. Philip Catholic Churches, but are required of every Catholic Church parish throughout the world. While there may have been clergy who have deviated from these requirements, they do so at great danger to their souls. A priest cannot change church law according to his own whim, or as a kind of “special favor” to a family.
We sincerely hope that this provides helpful information If there are any questions, please use the contact information to get in touch with your respective parish.
For More Information:
Baptism Sponsors in The Code of Canon Law
Baptism in The Catechism of the Catholic Church
A Handout on Baptism,U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
The Role of Godparents, The Catholic Education Resource Center