Whoever is chosen as Godfather or Godmother for a Baptism or a Confirmation, is called on to undertake a truly valuable and important task. Very often, in the modern world, we lose sight of the true value of this role, but it shouldn’t be this way. When the parents of a new-born child choose a Godfather or Godmother for his or her Baptism, they should bear in mind that, beyond the relationship of friendship that binds them to this person, it is essential that it is someone who has the necessary requisites to support their child over their entire lifetime. Because this is what a Godfather or a Godmother should do: walk alongside the young faithful, as Jesus himself would do, offering him or her spiritual support and a model of Christian life that could inspire him and help him at all times.
So, it isn’t just a person who is attached to the child to be baptised, or confirmed at a Confirmation. It’s essential to understand that the task of the Godfather and Godmother is not just to accompany them to the altar or offer favours to the guests. Baptism is a declaration of the young faithful in the womb being entered into the Church, whilst a Confirmation ‘confirms’ his or her participation in the life of the Christian community. Two such solemn occasions cannot be entrusted to people who are less than suitable for the role.
The timing for choosing the Godfather and Godmother for a Baptism and Confirmation is crucial. He or she will also have to support the family in organising the ceremony and in the choice of dress, of the gifts and favours, and everything else that makes this day as special and unforgettable as it deserves to be.
Who is the Godfather and who is the Godmother?
The Godfather and the Godmother for a Baptism are figures who accompany their godson or goddaughter to the altar and take responsibility for accompanying them in their growth as humans and as Christians. If the baptism is of a child, the Godfather or Godmother also have the task of pronouncing the baptismal promises wherever it takes place.
On the occasion of the Confirmation, usually a Godfather or Godmother accompanies the Confirmed, and supports the young faithful in their ‘confirmation’ as a member of the Church.
What are the requirements of the Godfather and of the Godmother?
The requirements to play the role of Godmother or Godfather are indicated in a very precise way by canon 874, as regards Baptism, and by canon 93 of the Code of Canon Law, for Confirmation.
Mainly, they are as follows:
- They are designated by the same baptism or by the parents or by those who take their place or, failing that, by the parish priest or the minister, and have the attitude and intention of exercising this office;
- The Godfather or the Mother for the Confirmation must have completed by the age of sixteen, unless another age has been established by the diocesan Bishop, or the parish priest or the minister does not seem opportune, for a just cause, to admit the exception;
- They must be a Catholic, have already received confirmation, the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist and lead a life in conformity with the faith and the assignments they assume;
- They are not enshrined by any canonical penalty lawfully imposed or declared;
- They are not the father or mother of the baptized.
People who are only civilly married, cohabiting, divorced, separated, but cohabiting with another partner should not be chosen. In such cases it is always better to contact the parish priest to assess the situation.
At a baptism, there can be either a single Godfather or a single Godmother or a Godfather and Godmother together. Two Godfathers or two Godmothers are not permitted. Of course there is a certain amount of elasticity in this regard, on the part of many parish priests. In addition, to be able to act as Godfather or Godmother, it is necessary to ask personally for authorisation (Documento di idonei dei padrini) from the Parish Priest of the Parish in which at the moment they are domiciled.
What are the tasks and duties of a Godfather and Godmother?
The Godfather or the Godmother must be guides, mentors and teachers. They must be people to whom the parents would entrust their child with blind trust in the event of need or necessity. The Godfather or Godmother must be prepared to take care of the child if the parents die, but above all, they must support and encourage them. Together, the parents and Godfather or Godmother form a spiritual family, linked by faith and love, who work together for the physical and material well-being of the little boy or girl. The moral duties of a Godfather and Godmother go hand in hand with those of their religious duties, so they must have the honesty to recognise whether or not they are worthy of such a responsibility, based on their own life choices and Church attendance.
How to choose a Godfather and Godmother
The person must be chosen on the basis of a living and proven faith that makes them suitable to teach the child about their pride and resolution in being Christians, and one day, to understand what a Christian marriage is. The individuals, who will usually be chosen as Godmother and Godfather by the parents, but perhaps also by the parish priest himself, will have to become a model for life and Christianity for their Godchild. For this reason, it is essential that he or she participates actively in the religious life and activities of the parish, receives the Eucharist regularly, so as to set an example for the boy or girl to become a responsible adult and a devout Christian. Pope Francis said: “You will help these children grow well if you give them the Word of God, and the Gospel of Jesus.” The Godfather and Godmother must go further and set a good example.
What should you give as a gift if you are the Godfather or Godmother?
The Godfather and Godmother have a duty to give a beautiful gift to their godchild, something that lasts over time and also serves as a symbol of the bond being created with them. We should never lose sight of the fact that the real gift, the most important one expected from these figures, is that of Faith, compared to which no gold, silver or jewel is worth more. However, a golden chain, or a sacred medal can be a precious memory of the baptism or confirmation in the years to come.
Advice for godparents
- Stay close to your godchildren. You will support them on a fundamental step in their existence, you cannot abandon them immediately afterwards.
- Celebrate your faith regularly, live your life according to the Church. Take your godchildren to Mass and explain the sacraments to them. Make them feel part of the great family of the Faith.
- Always remember that what you are taking on is a commitment that lasts forever, a job made from love, of being a constant presence in the life of someone else, to care and support them through difficult times.