A Bit of Background
There was a time in the past where Christians were facing tremendous persecution from the Roman Empire, especially before the year 313 AD (313 AD was the year when the Edict of Milan declared the Roman Empire neutral towards religious views, in effect ending the persecution of Christians). Because of such persecution, it was necessary for Christians to be cautious of who they admitted into their community, as well as how they went about in their tasks. Also, at that time, the Sacraments of Initiation (i.e. baptism, holy Eucharist, and confirmation) were administered together (all one shot) instead of separately.
So, to watch their back and to filter out potential Roman nasties (spies or infiltrators - you wouldn't want a T-800 or T-1000 or T-X from the Terminator series kacauing right? Just kidding!) bent on exposing and getting them persecuted, Christians introduced the role of sponsors. The role of sponsor had several tasks:
1. To vouch for the adult being baptised (in other words, the sponsor testified that the bloke or the lass is a-ok and not a Roman nasty).
2. To assist the person during the catechumenate in preparing for the Sacraments of Initiation, and in living a Christian life.
3. To make the Profession of Faith in the child's name (in the case of infant baptism) and accept the responsibility of instructing the child in the faith, especially if the parents played hooky and did not do their duty in doing so.
Though nowadays we often identify the sponsor of a child for baptism as the godparent (godmother or godfather or sometimes, both), the actual term (betul-betul, original) remains "sponsor."
Sponsor - Some Preliminary Tots
Now that we have some background on "sponsors," we will need to look at some "undang-undang meriam - oops... undang-undang gereja." Canon Law (Can. 872) tells us "Insofar as possible, a person to be baptized is to be given a sponsor who assists an adult in Christian initiation or together with the parents presents an infant for baptism. A sponsor also helps the baptized person to lead a Christian life in keeping with baptism and to fulfill faithfully the obligations inherent in it. So whether you are a big buffalo or a small buffalo, you need a sponsor, not only to witness your baptism, but to "take care" or "jaga" you, in other words, to see that you are kuai kuai (乖乖) and be a good Catholic.
Canon Law (Can. 873) also reminds us "There is to be only one male sponsor or one female sponsor or one of each." The reason this is stated is because in some cultures, folks seem to think "the more the merrier," and they have so many sponsors. No need so many sponsors lah. One enough, but if you want 2 also can, just make sure one male and one female lah.
Criteria for the Responsibility. Don't Play Play.
So how do we determine who can become a sponsor? What sort of criteria should we look at? Once again, Canon Law (Can. 874 §1.) tells us:
To be permitted to take on the function of sponsor a person must:
1. Be designated by the one to be baptised, by the parents or the person who takes their place, or in their absence by the pastor or minister and have the aptitude and intention of fulfilling this function;
This basically means, either:
a. The one to be baptised OR
b. The parents or person acting as the parent OR
c. The pastor or minister
chooses a sponsor. The sponsor is not one simply or suka-suka assigned to the one to be baptised. The sponsor must be chosen carefully.
Also, note that the sponsor may be chosen, but he or she would still need to say "Yes" and accept being chosen, and not only that, he or she must have the right disposition to be chosen. If, for example, the sponsor feels that he or she has too many godchildren already, or for some other reason, the sponsor can still say "No" to being a sponsor. Don't play play... sponsor cannot be forced to be a sponsor one.
2. Have completed the sixteenth year of age, unless the diocesan bishop has established another age, or the pastor or minister has granted an exception for a just cause;
You must be at least 16 years old to be a sponsor, unless otherwise stated by the diocesan bishop, or the pastor or minister has good and valid reason to choose such a young of age sponsor.
3. 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;
Certainly not an easy criteria. Not only the sponsor needs to be baptised and confirmed as a Catholic, he or she also needs to live an exemplary life as a Catholic. Some examples of an exemplary life include: regularly attending Mass; regularly receiving Sacrament of Confession; good prayer life; active in church, especially in one or two church ministries; just some of the many examples.
4. Not be bound by any canonical penalty legitimately imposed or declared;
Canonical penalty includes a person who has been excommunicated from the church due to some serious reason; and may other penalties too numerous to discuss here. If you want to know more, see your parish priest and/or read up on BOOK VI : SANCTIONS IN THE CHURCH. Quite a lot to read, and may be a cure for insomnia for some, since the text is legal jargon and requires time and effort to understand well. Certainly not an easy read.
5. Not be the father or mother of the one to be baptized.
Your fudder and your mudder cannot be your sponsor. This also includes the legal guardian of the one being baptised. Go laa and find someone else. Surely can find one.
§2. A baptized person who belongs to a non-Catholic ecclesial community is not to participate except together with a Catholic sponsor and then only as a witness of the baptism.
Christians who are not Catholics cannot be a sponsor, since they are not of the same Catholic faith, and do not share the same Catholic understanding of confirmation, Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, and who leads a Catholic life of faith. These Christians can still be a witness to the baptism, no worries.
So you see, finding a sponsor for your child's baptism or the baptism of an adult (whether it is your spouse, a non-baptised parent, or some other adult) is not so easy. Being a sponsor is also not so easy or kacang (in other word, not a walk in the park). You are a sponsor not for fun, since you also need to walk the talk and show by good example. May we be careful who we choose as a sponsor, so that the child or adult being baptised would have a good companion to journey with, as he or she progresses in the Catholic faith.
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