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
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
52.-C. - QUALIFICATIONS.
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
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
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
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
D. - EFFECTS.
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