Godparents: What is Expected of Them Today?
Have you ever wondered why some people have very involved godparents, while others don’t even know theirs?
By William F. Wegher
Perhaps part of the problem is that many godparents were chosen for the wrong reasons, or because those same people don’t really know what they’re supposed to do! Most of us at some point have to choose a godparent for our children or may be asked to be a godparent for someone else’s child.
What is expected of a godparent today?
Choosing godparents is a decision not to be taken lightly. Too often, parents want to honor a special friend, repay a favor, or encourage a non-relative to have a closer relationship with their child. While all of these motives are well-intentioned, they are not ideal. If you want to be happy about your decision, consider the following.
Above all, a godparent serves a special role for the one to be baptized. Godparents are to represent the Christian Catholic community, the Church. When it comes to infant Baptism, godparents are to assist the child’s parents in raising their child in our Catholic faith, so that the child may profess and live it as an adult.
Thus, if we remember a few basic things about Baptism — it gives a person both a new and special status as a child of God and it makes a person a member of the Body of Christ, the Church — then what you are looking for are godparents who can truly represent that Christian community.
Basically, this means you want at least one active and committed Catholic. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states “…the godfather and godmother…must be firm believers, able and ready to help the newly baptized…on the road of Christian life” (1255). This is the Church’s way of saying that being a godparent is truly a ministry in the Church and not simply an honor.
In fact, the whole Church community or parish bears some responsibility for the development and nurturing of the grace given to your child at Baptism. Much of this will come later in parish religious education and even classes for you on Christian parenting. To ensure that a godparent is capable of this, Church law also insists that this person be at least 16 years old (for maturity’s sake), fully initiated (having received Confirmation and Eucharist), be someone older than the legal parents and one who leads a life in harmony with the Church.
All this may seem quite a bit, but the purpose is to ensure that the rich and beautiful faith of the Church is passed on to your child in the most loving and authentic way possible. Hopefully, you know by now that the task of choosing godparents is one which should be performed with much prayer, careful thought, and with the greatest concern for the precious spiritual life of your child.
If you think that the role of parents in choosing godparents is a serious one, so is the role of being a godparent. Being chosen is an honor and says a lot about the parents’ perception of you. Make sure that you have the time, the willingness, and the faith to live out this sacred vocation.
A vocation is a calling, an appeal to live something out in your life. These parents are calling you to be something special for their child: to set an example, help teach their child about the Catholic faith, have a lifelong relationship of prayer, faith sharing, and love. Before accepting this invitation, take some time to pray and reflect on your ability to do this.
You should ask, “Can I share my faith unashamedly? Do I live close enough to really get to know my godchild? Am I an active member of my local Catholic parish?” If you’re not, maybe you need to question your fitness to serve as a godparent at this time. But if you’re able to say yes to these questions and if your faith makes you ready to accept this honorable vocation, here are a few helpful hints to assist you in the being the best godparent that you can be.
1. Prepare with the parents
In most parishes, the parents will be required to attend Baptism preparation sessions. While you may not be required to attend these sessions, you might want to ask the parents to share with you some of this experience. Your willingness to support the parents now says a lot about your willingness to be present to your godchild in the future.
2. Be there on the “big day”
Be available for the Baptism ceremony. This may even mean missing less important events. Besides saying, “We are,” when the priest asks if you are ready to assist the parents in raising the child in the practice of the faith, you will have the opportunity to help clothe the child in the white baptismal garment, and to light the baptismal candle. Take seriously the profound yet beautiful words: “Parents and godparents, this light has been entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly.” Later, at a family party, you could make a toast or say a meaningful prayer for your godchild and your role in his or her life.
3. Don’t forget the “big day”!
Hopefully, you will always remember your godchild’s biological birthday, but don’t forget this birthday into the Body of Christ. Make a phone call or send a card. Better yet, suggest having a get-together to honor this day each year. Bring out and light the baptismal candle, recalling the Light of Christ burning in the heart and soul of your godchild. Or, create a photo album to be shared with your godchild when he or she gets older.
4. Pray for your godchild
Keep your godchild in your daily prayers. The constant prayer of godparents never hurt anyone! On occasion, take time to celebrate Eucharist together, for it is, after all, the source and summit of our faith life.
5. Share the faith that’s been shared with you
When your godchild is young, introduce him or her to a children’s edition of the Bible. Teach about his or her patron or name saint. Attend and offer encouragement at the child’s First Communion or share your own faith story as your godchild approaches Confirmation. Continue your lifelong relationship by participating in your godchild’s wedding. Remember, being a godparent is about more than an infant Baptism ceremony!