Baptism Sponsors

Author: Nicolas Halligan, O.P.


A. Necessity

1. - Absolute baptism.

a) solemn. According to the most ancient custom of the Church no one may be solemnly baptized unless, insofar as it is possible, he has his own sponsor. This obligation is considered to be grave and only grave and reasonable causes excuse from its observance, e.g., the baptism would have to be conferred for a long time through lack of a sponsor. The obligation rests primarily upon the parents of the baptized. If an adult is being baptized, he can be instructed on the necessity of a sponsor and obtain some suitable person.

b) private. Even in private baptism a sponsor is to be employed if one can easily be had. This is not considered of grave obligation. If a sponsor was not used in the administration of private baptism, he is to be employed in the suppliance of the ceremonies (touching the one baptized at one of the principal acts), but in this case no spiritual relationship is contracted.

2. - Conditional baptism. When baptism is repeated conditionally, the same sponsor, to the extent possible, is employed as perhaps in the former baptism. In the event that the same sponsor is not available, there is no need for one in a conditional administration. When a baptism is repeated conditionally, neither the sponsor present at the former baptism nor the one at the later baptism contracts a spiritual relationship, unless the same sponsor was used for both.

51.-B. - NUMBER.

There should be only one sponsor (even though of a different sex from the person baptized), or at the most two, a man and a woman. If there is only one, it is expedient that the sponsor be of the same sex lest the matrimonial impediment be contracted. One sponsor suffices, two are permitted, more are prohibited, probably gravely. If the law (prohibitive but not invalidating) is violated despite the serious prohibition, all who have acted contract the obligation of sponsor, if the conditions for validity were observed.


The Church has always opposed the admission to the office of sponsor of those who are unwilling to perform their obligations in this role. To guarantee the presence of the required qualifications, the common law indicates the conditions that pertain to the valid and to the lawful assumption of the office. In doubt whether one can be admitted to the valid or lawful exercise of sponsorship, a pastor shall, if time allows, consult the Ordinary of the place where the baptism is to be administered. If, on the other hand, the proposed sponsor is known to be

unfit, the pastor must refuse to allow him to act. This should be done in a prudent and kind manner with an explanation of the laws of the Church in this matter. If the refusal will cause an extremely difficult situation, the pastor could allow the party to assist at the baptism without touching the infant at the time of the actual baptism, thus being constituted a mere witness.

53. - 1. - Validity. The qualifications for capability to act as sponsor are contained in canon 765.

a) fundamental requisites.

I. - baptism. Only those who have been validly baptized can function validly in an ecclesiastical office, such as that of baptismal sponsor.

II. - use of reason. Children (and the equivalent) who have not reached the use of reason cannot act as sponsor.

III. - intention. The sponsor should understand the nature of the obligation that is being assumed and should deliberately accept it. However, it is not necessary that the intention be to contract a spiritual relationship, as this necessarily arises as a consequence of acting as sponsor. It seems that an habitual intention suffices.

b) status. The one designated to act as sponsor should not belong to an heretical or schismatical sect, nor have been declared excommunicated by condemnatory or declaratory sentence, or infamous by law, or excluded from legal acts, nor be a deposed or degraded cleric. It is preferable to have no sponsor than to have a heretic act. No Catholic may act as sponsor in a non-Catholic baptism, either by himself or through a proxy.

c) kinship. The proposed sponsor may not be the father or mother or spouse of the one to be baptized (one can act as sponsor for the children of one's spouse by another marriage). It is the duty of the sponsor to watch over the moral and religious education of his spiritual child, when those upon whom the duty primarily rests fail. The incongruity of having both primary and secondary obligations resident in the same person is evident. Moreover, there is a certain lack of fitness in having one of the two consorts so intimately united in marriage as the spiritual parent of the other.

d) designation. The one acting as sponsor must have been designated by the one to be baptized or by his parents or guardians, or in the absence of these, by the minister of the sacrament. The designation is thus the prerogative of the parents, but the acceptance of the qualifications of the sponsor belongs to the minister. The selection is made prior to the ceremony and subsequent ratification is inefficacious. If for some reason, e.g., infancy, imbecility, the one to be baptized is unable to choose a sponsor, the parents or guardians should supply; should they fail to do so or select one who is unqualified, the minister should supply. Where it is extremely difficult to bar an unqualified sponsor, the minister may allow him to be present as a mere witness.

e) physical contact. In the act of baptism the sponsor personally or through a proxy is to hold or to touch physically the one to be baptized, or immediately to lift him or receive him from the baptismal font or from the hands of the minister. Ordinarily the godfather rests his hand on the shoulder or breast of the child held in the arms of the godmother at the time of the actual baptismal form.

f) proxy. For a proxy (procurator) to act it is necessary that he do so in the name and by the authority of some other determined person and thus his authority must be proved, i.e., certified by qualified witnesses or by a legitimate document, unless the intention of this person is known with certainty by the pastor who baptized. The latter should know these details in order to investigate whether the designated sponsor has the requisite qualifications. Thus one not present at a baptism could not be said to be acting as a sponsor merely on the basis that he would act if he knew of the baptism. In the absence of a very grave cause the admission of a non-Catholic to share in the ceremonies of baptism as proxy is gravely illicit, although valid, because the proxy assists actively in the ceremonies and is bound to give scandal. Catholics are forbidden to be sponsors, even by proxy, for one baptized in a heretical sect; likewise, they are forbidden to act as proxies for non-Catholics. A parent or a spouse may validly and lawfully act as proxy for a sponsor at baptism, although they themselves may not be the sponsor in the case. Age (except that necessary for the execution of the duty) and sex are immaterial in the choice of proxy. The name of the proxy as well as that of the principal or sponsor must be entered into the baptismal register.

54. - 2. - Lawfulness. The qualifications for acceptability to act as sponsor are contained in canon 766.

a) age. The one designated must have attained the fourteenth year of his age unless, in the judgment of the minister, there is a just cause for allowing a younger person, e.g., the absence of another suitable sponsor. One could act as sponsor at the commencement of the fourteenth year, i.e., immediately upon completion of the thirteenth year.

b) status. The one acting as sponsor must not be excommunicated or excluded from legal acts, or infamous by law on account of a notorious delict, nor under interdict or otherwise publicly criminal, nor infamous in fact. There is no question of a sentence in these cases. Such are e.g., the Masons militant Communists, those whose living in concubinage is notorious. Drunkards or those who have not made their Easter duty are not excluded from sponsorship by this prohibition.

c) knowledge. The sponsor's knowledge of the faith should include the principal mysteries, e.g., Trinity, Incarnation, the truths in the Apostles' Creed, which knowledge can be presumed in one who is in regular attendance at church. Such knowledge must obtain in order to instruct the godchild. Inability to recite the Apostles' Creed would not seem necessarily to prevent a person from being a sponsor, since it is possible that the rudimentary truths are known but not in such a form.

d) religious. The one selected should not be a novice or a professed in a religious institute, unless there is an urgent necessity and the expressed consent of at least the local superior is obtained. Presumed permission does not suffice, even if a real need exists. One who was a religious and later left that state is not affected by this prescription.

e) cleric. The person acting as sponsor should not be in sacred orders, unless expressed permission of his proper Ordinary is obtained. Those in minor orders are not excluded from sponsorship.


55. - 1. - Obligation. The obligation of the godparent is of itself grave. Where he is rendered incapable of exercising his office particularly due to civil law, he is excused from the obligation. Moral impossibility of fulfillment will counterbalance the serious duty arising from the ecclesiastical precept. If the child is being raised by Catholic parents, it is presumed that the necessary instruction is being provided, unless the contrary is demonstrated.

2. - Spiritual relationship.

a) This is a spiritual bond which by ecclesiastical law unites certain persons by reason of baptism. Only the minister and the sponsor contract the spiritual relationship with the one baptized. ( No relationship arises between minister and sponsor). It does not matter whether the administration of baptism is private or solemn, provided it is valid.

b) It seems that an infidel minister would not contract this relationship, because of his own lack of baptism. The proxy does not contract the bond, as a true proxy is neither designated to be a sponsor nor possesses the necessary intention. Strictly speaking, the minister is not excluded from being also a sponsor in the baptism, although distinct persons are indicated. Such sponsorship should be exercised through a proxy.

Taken from "The Adminstration of the Sacraments" by Nicolas Halligan, O.P., published by Alba House copyright (c) 1963.

Copyright (c) 1996 EWTN