Most sponsors want to do a good job, and they put a lot of effort into doing their ministry well. Besides the responsibilities, any good sponsor would want to know: “what kinds of gifts do I give my catechumens/candidates?” Before one gets their hands on a church goods catalog in search for a gift, let us take a step back and refresh ourselves on the what the Rite says.
Sponsors “accompany any candidate seeking admission as a catechumen.” (RCIA 10). It is important to highlight the word “any.” Sponsors are provided forany seeker—rather than the other way around. A seeker does not choose their own sponsor. The role of the sponsor is to help the seeker grow in their relationship with God.
Sponsors should give their person the gift of time and establish rapport before material gift giving. True, gift-giving is something from the heart! Gifts given are a way to celebrate the transformation and beginnings of new chapters, all we need to do is think about the Story of Creation and the Magi at the first Christmas.
What makes a good sponsor?
Sponsors are essentially those people who love being Catholic. These persons provide a gift of faith and presence to seekers as they get to know the living God through word, worship, witness and community (cf. RCIA 75). As Pope Francis would say, we do not need sponsors who are sourpusses (cf. Joy of the Gospel, 85).
Sponsors need to constantly give to their seekers by being examples of the kind of Christian described by Saint Francis: “Who a person is before God is who they are meant to be—nothing more, nothing less.” (cf. Writings of Saint Francis, Admonition 19). Seekers need to know that they are loved by God.
Liturgy is the heart of the RCIA
With this as a foundation, we can turn to the heart of the catechumenate, which is the rite itself. All catechumenate activity comes from and returns to the liturgy. Liturgy is the place where God gifts the seekers with an understanding of who God is and who the People of God are!
And the rites of the RCIA are truly milestones! Consider: After months of catechesis, conversations of discernment, experiences of doubt and trepidation, some laughter and tears, lots of “ah-ha” moments, we can be assured that the rites definitely mark the Spirit’s movement in the lives of seekers. So gift giving would be an appropriate gesture.
(However, it would be inappropriate to explain (any) gift’s significance during the celebration of the rite. Afterwards, more be appropriate. As Catholics, we are fortunate enough to have the use of the Catholic imagination and all things tactile—sacramentals one might say—that aid us in encountering the living God.)
Rite of Acceptance
In the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens, the first acceptance of the gospel, the signing of the sense with the cross, the official invitation to listen to the Word of God and the first dismissal are major actions of the rite.
Some gift suggestions:
- Consider gifting the seeker a cross—something for the wall or something to wear—maybe choosing one together and having a mystagogical reflection on the Rite itself afterwards. Marklin Candle Company has beautiful crosses created for catechumens that can be personalized.
- Another would be to give the person a Bible, if they don’t have one, or a seasonal resource (available from a variety of liturgical publishers) concerning the readings of the day. Many of these resources come with salient reflection questions.
- Another book resource that would be a great gift throughout the catechumenate is The Heart of Faith.
- Consider gifting a notebook or book containing favorite scripture quotes accompanied by a pithy reflection from members of the RCIA team, parishioners, etc.
- Consider writing a letter, or recording a video on your phone after the rite—maybe immediately after dropping off your seeker while you are still in your car— with something encouraging, an affirmation or a response on how you saw God acting in your seeker during the rite, while it is fresh in your mind.
No matter what you give, these gifts are very significant for those who are truly accepting Christ for the first time.
Rite of Sending to the Rite of Election/Rite of Election.
The Rite of Sending and the Rite of Election come with many emotions and lots of “to-dos.” The excitement of travelling to the cathedral, seeing many other seekers and seeing the Bishop is a thrill all in itself.
Some gift suggestions:
- Either in preparation before or afterwards, consider taking your Elect to a favorite “prayer spot”, maybe even taking a Saturday to drop by a local retreat center for an hour just “to be.” This does not have to be long or drawn out, but an opportunity to give your seeker an experience of quiet before the festivities of the Rite of Election.
- If they are a busy parent, consider babysitting or watching over kids so that they can “retreat” a little bit before the Rite of Election, or offer this sometime during the Lenten season.
- Another gift would be one centered around self-care—have you checked in with your Elect on how they are doing mentally, physically and spiritually, maybe consider a self-care package so as to be ready for the events leading up to Easter—these can be a gift card to their favorite coffee shop, or dare we mention, a gift certificate for a massage? The weeks leading up to Easter should be one of retreat, but let’s be honest, the secular calendar and everyday life can lead one to stress and anxiety. Therefore, adding another “thing to do” —one that is essentially life changing—can be part of the stress.
- At the Rite of Sending, a sponsor testifies to where God has been acting in the life of their seeker. Consider writing out your thoughts, and on nice paper, gifting them with your sentiments, and maybe some reflection questions they can journey with during this period of purification and enlightenment. This does not need to be framed, but let it be something worthy of how you have seen God in the life of your seeker. Then she or he can return to this from time to time in moments of doubt, when one needs a booster of faith.
- Offering one’s name and signing the Book of the Elect is a big deal in the Rite of Election: maybe consider having their name calligraphed and then framed. Or creating an acrostic poem of their name with words of encouragement, or again, where God has been alive in the seeker’s life. It can also be a time for you both to reflect on your own names, remembering that your name is holy as well and an icon of who you are as God’s beloved.
The Celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation
The greatest gift during the Vigil that the Neophytes receive is the gift of the Eucharist, the culmination of their formation (RCIA 217), and the food that will sustain them as Catholic Christians.
Whether or not the sponsor has been chosen to continue in the seeker’s life as a godparent, it does not mean that a sponsor drops everything and “forgets” their seeker, moving on to the next—if chosen. Together with the godparent, it would be great to team together and consider gifts that might be appropriate based on who the person is. I once heard of a godparent getting a papal blessing for their seeker—only to find out months that it was sandwiched between a pile of books forgotten and folded. So, before you consider purchasing the Catechism or a copy of the Vatican II documents or the Code of Canon Law, it is best to start small and slow, with what one already has and to keep it simple!
Some gift suggestions:
- As sponsors, the gift of mystagogical reflection should already be familiar and is an important gift to share with neophyte. Plus it is a reciprocal gift for both sponsor and neophyte (cf. RCIA 246).
- Rather than a small taper candle, a godparent can acquire (or make) a baptismal candle to be used at the Vigil, and then they can encourage its use subsequently each Sunday of Easter, at the anniversary of baptism and other important moments, as a reminder of the Light of Christ.
- Does the sponsor have a favorite spiritual book? Or subscribe to a prayer resource that they can share and subscribe for the neophyte?
- Now that the neophyte can participate fully in the celebration of the Mass, maybe consider having a Mass intention said for them and their families, and invite the family to take part in the celebration. Don’t forget to invite mystagogical reflection after the Mass over food and drink.
- Something unique would be to aggregate and collect the seeker’s reflections and put them into a scrapbook, or into a keepsake box for them to look over and see where they have been and where they are now. This could reflect the exercise of asking the Five Inquiry Questions.
Keep in Mind…
Keep in mind that these are suggestions and not all may be appropriate for every situation: Above all, pray for the person you are serving as a sponsor. As Jesus did, feed them and grow in relationship with your seeker—make meals together and visit with one another. Sponsors do not need to know everything, but are willing to say they don’t know, and if they don’t, they try to figure things out together with the RCIA team, etc.
There are many ways to celebrate the progress of faith for those in the RCIA process. Whatever happens, it should be prudent to mention that one should avoid seeing gift giving as a completion gift or a graduation gift, or a prize. Pope Francis even said “the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect…” The rituals symbolize and mark the progress of those in the RCIA and are gifts of the church because through the rites, we experience God’s grace.
In the end, the adage “it’s the thought that counts” still rings true. Be creative! Be prayerful! Your job as sponsor is not to impress with material things, but rather to ‘impress’/ imprint the love of God being made real for them. Pray to the Holy Spirit who gives us the gifts of the Spirit so that you can give gifts that are meaningful and can give neophytes, catechumens, and the Elect “a renewal of inspiration and of outlook.” (RCIA 247)
How have you found the best sponsors for your Catechumens? What guidance do you give them once they say “yes” to this responsibility? Share your thoughts in the comments below.