Sponsors and godparents in the Christian initiation process

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.

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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!

Your turn

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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See also these related articles:

  1. Q&A: Can directors of the catechumenate be godparents of their catechumens?
  2. Q&A: What do we do if the pastor won’t celebrate the scrutinies?
  3. Q&A: Proxies for the scrutinies
  4. Sponsors and godparents in the Christian initiation process
  5. Be sure your RCIA sponsors have what it takes

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Comments

  1. We have always used the two interchangeably BUT as our understanding of the RCIA process grows, we are looking to put together a Sponsorship Team that would be available to accompany the seeker up to the Rite of Election. To that end, we are developing a kind of ‘school’ that will be open to anyone interested so that we can demonstrate both the need and the amazing opportunities for those who wish to grow in The Faith.

    • Hello!
      Thank you for your creativity and service to your community. The idea of helping form current and potential sponsors and godparents is great! I am sure that growing in their relationship with God and with the life of the Church will help each participant become an even better disciple and companion in the initiation process. The discernment of gifts for the ministries of accompaniment is an awesome process in itself! God bless.

  2. While I could attest to all stated by the author and/or describe the challenges of recruiting parish sponsors, I’d like to instead highlight the “what comes after?” phase. It is critical in my opinion to get the neophytes immediately engaged in parish ministries. We suggest one ministry that supports the Liturgy and one other that supports the community. We hold a Time, Talent and Treasure session during the Mystagogy period to explore opportunities and match with their desires or perceived skills. Oftentimes they first enter a ministry in which their sponsor is active. In this way we truly develop the potential for long term spiritual growth.

    • Hello, Bruce. Thank you for your comments. I understand that the Time, Talent and Treasure -type sessions are usually delegated to the Mystagogy period. By that time the godparents/sponsors and team members as well as some members and ministry leaders of the parish have gotten to know them and can help with their discernment of gifts for service and witnessing in the parish and the wider community

      We have found that the process of involvement in parish life during the Catechumenate period has been especially helpful in having both catechumens and candidates feel more connected and become better known in the community during their formation. In addition to meeting and accompanying other members of the parish in a chosen activity, they also get to share in a conversation with the larger group about what their experiences have meant for them in their faith formation and growth. That’s part of what we read in # 75.2 and # 75.4 — both in getting to know members of the community and in having opportunities to work actively with others to witness. They learn from their sponsors, godparents and others in the community as well and may feel more ready to take on active participation in the mission of the Church as lived out by committed parish members.
      Thank you for your commitment to Initiation ministry and the life of your parish! God bless.

      • I understand. Our biggest challenge is two fold. First, a reasonable number of sponsors are family members from out of town or belong to another parish. Second, we operate on that old 80/20 rule where volunteer sponsors are also deeply involved in other ministries. Now where we make a difference is with Annulments and Marriage Prep. My wife and I are our parish’s sole Annulment Field Associates as well as one of several Marriage Sponsor Couples. In that role we are intimately involved with over half of Catechumens and Candidates. This year out of 15 adults we have six Annulment cases and two Marriage prep. We also have three folks joining via Google Classroom due to their work or college schedules. Been like this for years now. Then we have another 21 who are mostly Hispanic in the 7-15 age group. There we have yet another challenge of “documentation fear”.

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