I always look forward to meeting with people who would like to have their child baptized. One of the first things I ask them is if they have already chosen potential godparents. Some families already have a clear idea of who they would like to ask while for others, the decision takes some time to make.
The role of godparent has its origins in the role of the sponsor in the catechumenate in the early Church. The catechumenate was a time of preparation and study for someone who wanted to join the Church.
The role of the sponsor then was to attest to the integrity of the person, oftentimes an adult, seeking admission into the Church as well as to assist him during the catechumenate in preparing for the sacrament of Baptism. For young children, these sponsors would also make the Profession of Faith in the child’s name and accept the responsibility of instructing the child in the faith, especially if the parents were negligent in this duty.
Around the year 800 AD, when infant baptism was truly the norm, these sponsors became known as “patrinus,” or “godfather.” Because of this shift in terminology, we usually identify the sponsor of a child for baptism as the godparent — godmother or godfather.
The responsibilities of the godparents should not be taken lightly. These include: 1) Giving one’s time to his or her godchild to talk to about the bigger questions of life – questions about hope, faith and love. 2) Modeling and encouraging his or her godchild to develop Christian values.3) Helping one’s godchild to learn more about the Christian faith, through their church and in other ways. This can include going to church with them, and helping them learn how to pray.
Needless to say, the role of the godparent is one of great responsibility. Yet it is also one which is deeply rewarding.