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Baptism Without Godparents?

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Are godparents necessary for baptism? If so, what are the requirements for godparents, and what does the Church expect of them?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, when person-to-person interactions were limited, many infant baptisms were held in private—some with only the parents, the child and the minister. Though preferred, baptismal sponsors (godparents) are not necessary for a valid baptism—sometimes their presence is not possible, as in an emergency in a hospital or home setting.

REQUIREMENTS FOR BAPTISM

Baptism is the gateway to the sacramental life—the person is incorporated into Christ and the Church. For this reason, baptism is not to be hindered. What is required for a valid baptism is flowing water, either poured over the person or the person immersed in it, while speaking the formula: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

GODPARENTS’ LITURGICAL ROLE

By ancient tradition, however, the Rite of Baptism envisions the presence of godparents and addresses the sponsors’ role at several points. When present, the priest asks the godparents whether they are “ready to help the parents of this child in their duties.” The sponsors sign the child with the sign of the cross, the godmother places a white garment over the child and the godfather lights the baptismal candle from the Easter candle.

REQUIREMENTS FOR GODPARENTS

Neither the father nor mother may serve as a godparent, but the parents may choose the godparents: one male and one female who are each at least 16-years-old and already received the sacraments of baptism, communion and confirmation. In addition, the sponsor must be someone “who leads a life of faith in keeping with the function to be taken on” (Code of Canon Law, 874.1); in other words, the sponsor is to be a practicing Catholic.

A baptized non-Catholic Christian may participate. Christians from the Eastern Churches not in communion with the Holy See, such as Greek Orthodox, can fulfill the role of sponsor, but only in addition to a Catholic sponsor (Directory on Ecumenism, 1993). Christian members of another ecclesial community, such as a Baptist, can fulfill the role of “witness” to the baptism, in which case there would be one sponsor and one Christian witness (Code of Canon Law, 874.2.)

AN ENDURING ROLE

The role of godparents is an important and enduring one, and it is both an honor and a duty. Through example, exhortation and prayer, the sponsor is meant to assist the baptized in living a Christian life. It is the role of the sponsors, along with the parents, to help the baptized remain faithful to their baptismal promises.

Since the Church wishes to extend the grace of baptism to as many as possible, godparents are not essential. But whenever possible, at least one godparent should be chosen as a source of support and prayer for living out the Christian life.

Father David Endres is associate professor of Church history and historical theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary & School of Theology.

This article appeared in the July 2022 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.

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