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Scott P. Richert

Reader Question: What Does a Godfather Do?

By August 26, 2010

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Using our Questions About Catholicism form, Tom Chan asks a very common question:

What does one do to prepare himself to be a godfather? I'm converting to Catholicism and named godfather to my newborn niece. What are my duties, roles, and what do I need to do?

The simple answer is: Be a good Christian. No, I'm not being glib. At the baptism of an infant, the godparents are asked, "What do you ask of God's Church?" They reply for the child: "Faith!"

That is why the best way for a man to fulfill his duties as a godfather is to grow in the Faith himself. Tom is on the right path already, as he comes into the fullness of the Christian Faith by uniting himself to the Catholic Church.

But the duties of godparents do not end with the baptism. The godparents, the current Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 1255) states, must be "able and ready to help the newly baptized . . . on the road of Christian life." That is why they must themselves be "firm believers." Therefore, the 1983 Code of Canon Law (Canon 874, Section 3) requires a godmother or a godfather to be "a Catholic who has been confirmed and has already received the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist and who leads a life of faith in keeping with the function to be taken on."

Being a godfather or godmother is a duty that lasts more than a day; it lasts a lifetime. As the child grows, the godparents should do what they can to ensure that the child receives a proper education in the Catholic Faith, to help (in the words of Canon 872 of the Code of Canon Law) "the baptized person to lead a Christian life in keeping with baptism and to fulfill faithfully the obligations inherent in it."

How the godparents do that will be different in every case. When the parents themselves are raising their child up properly in the Faith, the role of the godparent may be confined more to prayer for the child and providing the child with religious items and books, particularly on the anniversary of their baptism. Godparents should try, as well, to be present at important spiritual milestones in their godchildren's lives, such as First Communion, Confirmation, marriage, and ordination.

Should the parents or the child fall away from the Faith, however, the role of the godparents should be more active, gently trying to ensure that the child does continue "to lead a Christian life" and to grow in the Faith. Obviously, this can be a very touchy situation, especially when it is the parents who have fallen away. In such circumstances, do not hesitate to discuss the situation with your parish priest and to ask for his advice on how best to continue to fulfill your duties.

If you have a question that you would like to be featured as part of our Reader Questions series, you can use our submission form. If you would like the question answered privately, please send me an e-mail. Be sure to put "QUESTION" in the subject line, and please note whether you'd like me to address it privately or on the Catholicism blog.

August 27, 2010 at 11:12 am
(1) Lee says:

In the present Rite of Baptism, it is the parents who are asked : “What do you ask of God’s Church for N.?” The godparents are asked: “Are you ready to help the parents of this child in their duty as Christian parents?” How practically they will help the parents will vary according to needs and circumstances. Surely the example of a godparent truly living the Faith is a good start.

February 21, 2011 at 8:57 am
(2) patti says:

Just wondering if it is possible to change godparents after the baptism of an infant has already occurred. I have the unfortunate situation that the godparents of my 17 month old are not speaking to my husband and me in spite of our attempts to resolve, forgive and make peace, if for nothing else but the sake of our child. I am saddened but want my child to have the presence of a godmother and father in her life.

March 22, 2012 at 9:10 pm
(3) Alezmendi says:

In other words, continue the structure established by the Church to indoctrinate helpless and innocent minds into an antiquated and morally questionable establishment in the cynical effort to grow the customer base of the Catholic church. And let’s call the church it what it is, a business.

Start it from birth, and a child will often need more than the lifetime allotted to them to overcome the brainwashing. Indoctrination is a lesson the Catholic Church has learned and followed well enough to keep a ridiculous myth alive for two millenia.

Pretty impressive that they’ve managed to even to build in a failsafe should the parents wise up. Just get the Godfather or Godmother to step in and try and bring the child back as a customer.

March 22, 2012 at 9:36 pm
(4) Scott P. Richert says:

You know, you’re right, Alezmendi! It’s all pretty pathetic, isn’t it?

Though perhaps not quite as pathetic as a fellow who has nothing better to do on a beautiful March night than to leave trolling comments on a post that’s a year-and-a-half old. But hey—thanks for stopping by!

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