GODPARENTS FOR BAPTISM
FR. PAWEŁ ROZPIĄTKOWSKI
How to find godparents for one’s child? This question is often asked by parents who cannot find suitable candidates in their families. Some of them do not meet necessary criteria because of their life choices, and others do not simply want to
First the law. Because this is the fundament. The ancient institution of godparents, so important in the case of the sacrament of the holy baptism, and today bringing many people a lot of trouble, the law of the Church, which lavishes sacraments from Christ’s will, says in the following way:
Canon law 874 - §1. In order to be allowed to receive the role of a godparent, one must:
1) Be chosen by a person receiving baptism or by his parents, or by a person who is in charge of them, and when there are not such people, by a parish priest or a minister of baptism, and has qualifications needed for it and an intention of fulfilling this duty;
2) Be 16 years old, or if a diocesan bishop decided about a different age or a parish priest or a minister of baptism think that a right reason recommends agreement for an exception;
3) Be a Catholic, confirmand and have the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist received and lead his life according to faith and in accordance with the function which he or she is to fulfill;
4) Be free from any canonical punishment, either unsanctioned or declared and according to the law;
5) Not be a father or a mother of the person receiving baptism.
These provisions prove that the role of a godmother or a godfather cannot be given to somebody who has not received the sacrament of confirmation or a catholic living in a non-sacramental relation, or a catholic who avoids the Church and does not take any sacraments.
- But we do not live in the XIX century – a woman nearly shouted at me on the phone – says Fr. Zbigniew, a worker of one of diocesan curia whose daughter had returned from a parish office. She was angry because a parish priest had not given her a certificate which entitles to become a godmother. He had not given it to her, because he couldn’t. It does not depend on his will. He had not done it because the daughter of that angry woman, who had been looking for an appeal body in the curia, lives in a non-sacramental relation. Such or similar situations, usually unpleasant, often ending with insults and even threats, are in a bag of experiences of nearly all priests working in pastoral ministry. These are more frequent experiences - for such and such changes of social attitudes. For, parents sometimes have a problem with finding a godmother or a godfather among their friends or relatives for their child. One person has not got the sacrament of confirmation because of his/her neglect. One person chose a non – sacramental life, another person has not attended the church for years. What to do in this situation?- It happens – Fr. Michał, a priest of a parish of five-thousand people,. Says – that people put off baptism for the time until a brother or a sister reaches the age of 18 and receives the sacrament of confirmation. Sometimes it is a year, but in our parish it happened that this moment was awaited for 5 years. – Ask one of your acquaintances – once I advised. – After all, it does not have to be your relative – I was trying to convince. – But who will agree to it? – they asked.
However, there are those who agree to it. Mrs. Dorota and Mr. Edward have been married for over 30 years. They belong to a community ‘Home Church’ about which their neighbours know. They agreed to become godparents for their neighbours’ daughter. Their neighbours had a problem to find somebody among their relatives, who would be a suitable candidate, because everyone has an obstacle, or are poor in religious practices. Nobody, because of complicated life, met requirements put forward by the ecclesiastical canonic law. They were asked as the last resort because their child had already been in the second year. Obviously – it is the First Holy Communion.
We can often read about such situations in forums in Internet. People look for advice among internet acquaintances. ‘Dear parents – we read in one of forums – I start thinking about baptism of my child and I have a problem. I am the so-called practicing Catholic woman, go to church, etc. So, I want to have my son baptized. As far as I have read about baptism, godparents must have a certificate from their parish about the lack of any objections to become godparents. But in my family and among my acquaintances, apart me, my mum, her brother, one of my friends with her husband go to church… and that’s all. So, whom shall I choose for godparents in this situation?’ Or, in another discussion in the forum.trójmiasto.pl: ‘As a family we have all completed formalities of the wedding and sacraments. Unfortunately, ‘looking around’ at the family and friends, I cannot see any person whom I would like to have as a godparent for my child. Practically, there are no people who would really live according to the teaching of the Church and would be able to support the child. When I read it, it sounds like admitting of an old bigot. No matter how funny it would sound, the fact is the fact. What do we do in such a situation? We want to have our child baptized but whom shall we choose for a godparent if there is a lack of ‘qualified’ people?
Upbringing in faith
What can one do in the above situations? Surely, one must not look for somebody in the family in a stubborn way. One must not try to ‘settle the issue’ or enforce a solution, but look for candidates who guarantee not only the presence in the church, a gift, completed card for a confession, but also such people who will help parents bring up their children in faith. Despite appearances, it is possible. – When I ask during a pre-baptism catechesis, and I usually do it, why we need godparents at all – says Fr. Tomasz, a parish priest of a municipal parish of seven thousand people, there is usually an answer that ‘when a tragedy happens and parents die, then godparents take over the duty of bringing up a child’. Maybe when death rate used to be higher in the past, and children became orphans, there was such a need. Today, at least in our conditions, there is not such a need, whereas, there is an urgent need that godparents should focus on the role for which this institution in the Church was assigned - Fr. Tomasz concludes.
What role is it? It is concealed in one question and one answer, which during a baptism liturgy is addressed to godparents directly: ‘And, you, godparents, are you ready to help parents in fulfilling their duties?’ – a priest asks and he usually hears the answer: ‘Yes, we are ready’, although there is often suspicion that this: ‘Yes, we are ready’ means: Yes, we are ready to give presents on the occasion of baptism, birthday, name day. The First Holy Communion, rarely on the occasion of the sacrament of confirmation or wedding. Later the role of godparents, understood in this way, end here. However, it concerns upbringing in faith to which a child’s parents have committed themselves before.
Godparents are an ecclesiastical institution, strictly connected with faith. Fathers of the Church already mentioned such people whose task was to present faith to children, and take care about developing of this grain into a big tree, protecting baptized children against dangers for their faith. It is worth noting that this institution appeared when the Christians were still a small group living in culture which was hostile to them. A baptized person and this gift of faith were endangered from the pagans, so there was a necessity that godparents should be strong in faith, so that they could fulfill their role.
One can say that today this institution is somehow analogue. In many spheres – it is visible on the occasion of Christmas – there is a struggle for maintaining Christian symbols, which is a struggle for Christian character of culture, so there is a bigger need that godparents should fulfill their role. In the context of contemporary life, being a godparent can and should be mission. Therefore, in a situation when parents find it difficult to choose candidates for godparents, who would meet formal conditions required by law, there is a need for people who would be strong in their faith and would be ready to take up this mission. It needs predisposed members of religious movements and associations, who are known for being active in the church, often even neighbours strong in faith and looking for areas in which they could give a testimony. It is difficult to imagine a better occasion than readiness to be a godparent.