One of the best experiences I’ve had as a godparent has been forming and training other godparents and sponsors. The stories of friendships and responsibilities lived out have been gentle and significant reminders of how serious this ministry is.
It isn’t the degrees, certificates, or initials behind a name that are evidence of a sincere sponsor or godparent, but how we live our faith in practical ways as disciples day by day. Being an attentive and prayerful companion on the faith journey may well be the secret of godparenting and sponsoring.
What is a godparent?
Canon law lists specific requirements for godparents. A godparent must be:
- fully initiated
- at least 16 years of age
- living a life of faith in accord with the responsibilities undertaken
Your diocese may have additional requirements.
There is a distinct difference between a sponsor and a godparent. There are no requirements for the sponsors of catechumens listed in canon law, but your diocese may have polices for sponsors.
Ritually, the godparent first appears at the Rite of Election (RCIA 118-125). Within the rite, godparents offer testimony about their elect. The person who has been the catechumen’s sponsor may, if qualified, also be the godparent. The relationship of godparent is an ongoing, permanent relationship while that of sponsor is temporary, lasting only for the evangelization-precatechumenate and catechumenate periods.
The transition between two different persons (when a sponsor does not continue as a godparent through the next periods and rites) is a matter of both discernment and recognition of the importance and difference of each role.
How to support godparents in your parish
So what does formation of sponsors and godparents look like in parish life? During the evangelization-precatechumenate period, many inquirers will share stories and perhaps even bring with them the persons who have helped them grow in faith. Those companions may be willing and eager to grow in faith as they accompany their friend.
That is our opportunity to get to know the sponsors, discerning with them their own faith path and providing for them the formation and encouragement to strengthen their own involvement in the life of the church. If you discern the friend of the inquirer does not have all the gifts they need to be a sponsor, you can also provide a parish sponsor to accompany the seeker as well.
Both sponsors and godparents often experience a true deepening of faith and can grow in awe of how God’s grace is working in the life of the person whom they accompany. The sacred art of accompaniment is building both a relationship with a person and a bridge to connect each other to God and the life of faith in an intention and deep manner.
Even though the role of the sponsor is temporary, the bond formed between the catechumen and sponsor might continue. That happened to me with a university student for whom I was a sponsor. She and her fiancé asked my husband and me to be their companion couple for them during their time of preparation for marriage and the first few years after their marriage. Being a sponsor, like being a godparent, can be a gift that keeps on giving. God is good!
How are you forming sponsors and godparents in your parish? What else might they need in the coming year? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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