Why are you having your child baptized?
This may sound like a meaningless question but the answer you have in your heart is critical. Is it because of family pressure? The grandparents would be shattered if we didn’t do this? Is it the family custom? My relatives expect it? NONE of these is the best answer.
The best answer is: that I wish my child to be developed in a good Catholic Christian faith community, and I will do my best to encourage and support that intention.
In presenting your child for baptism, you are promising to raise your child in the practice of the faith. In baptism your child will be born again, receive new life and become a member of the body of Christ. As a parent you provide your child with clothing, food, a loving home and nurturing relationship. In choosing to have your child baptized, you are promising to see that the divine life, which God is giving to your child, will grow stronger.
Parents are required to attend a preparation class in order to have their child baptized. Usually most Catholic Churches celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism once during the month. You should check with your local Catholic Church for specific information.
Qualifications for Godparents
The qualifications for Godparents are defined in the Code of Canon Law in Canons 872-874.
There can be no more than two sponsors for Baptism, one man and one woman. When circumstances warrant it, one of these sponsors may be replaced by a baptized non-Catholic Christian as a witness of the Baptism.
These qualifications include that the sponsor or Godparent be:
A confirmed Catholic who has received the Holy Eucharist, and is living a life befitting the role of sponsor,
One who is not under a canonical penalty,
One who is not a parent of the person being baptized,
One who is sixteen years of age.
Please note that only ONE sponsor is required for Baptism, who, of necessity must fulfill all of the canonical requirements for this role. If the desired qualified Godparent cannot be physically present at the ceremony, a proxy can stand in.
How to Choose Godparents
Choosing Godparents is a decision not to be taken lightly. Too often parents want to honor a special friend, repay a favor, or encourage a non-relative to have a closer relationship with their child. While all of these motives are well intentioned, they are not ideal.
A Godparent serves a special role for the one to be baptized. Godparents are to represent the Catholic Christian community, the Church. They are to assist the child’s parents in raising their child in our Catholic faith, so that the child may profess and live it as an adult. Since the Godparent represents the Christian community, you want at least one active and committed Catholic. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states “…the godfather and godmother… must be firm believers, able and ready to help the newly baptized – child or adult – on the road of Christian life.” (#1255) This is the Church’s way of saying that being a Godparent is truly a ministry in the Church, and not simply an honor. The task of choosing Godparents is one which should be performed with much prayer, careful thought and with greatest concern for the future spiritual life of your child.
Source: Catholic Update, Godparents & Sponsors, St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1997
Format of the Ceremony
The priest or minister of the ceremony will give you all the guidance you will need and will prompt you through the ceremony as well as explain the spiritual/theological purposes for the various actions. You should be present at least ten minutes before the ceremony starts. There is often more than one family having a child baptized.
Be sure all of the participants are present: parents, godparents, and the infant to be baptized. There are many symbols used in the ceremony: water, oils, candles, etc.
The Demise of Limbo
Growing up in the 1950s, many of us recall that unbaptized babies went to limbo. What is the Church’s position today?
During the 5th Century, Saint Augustine taught that because of original sin, unbaptized babies were condemned to the outer threshold of hell. Centuries later theologians opted for a middle ground between heaven and hell called Limbo. Limbo became a place of “natural happiness” in the hands of Saint Thomas Aquinas (13th Century). According to Aquinas, the only thing these children lacked was the vision of God. Within the past 50 years, theologians began to debate the theology of limbo saying that if God wants all people to be saved, there surely must be a way for innocent human beings to find their way to heaven.
The new Catechism of the Catholic Church “abolishes” limbo. The Church can only entrust children who have died without Baptism to God’s mercy, as it does when celebrating their funerals, Jesus’ tenderness towards children caused him to say: “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them.” (Mark 10:14). Our great, merciful God desires that all people should be saved. That allows us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. (#1261)
Catholic Church Teaching on Baptism
- Baptism is necessary before one can receive any other sacrament. It is the first sacrament of Christian initiation, which is completed with the sacraments of Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist.
- Baptism was instituted by Christ when he was baptized by St. John the Baptist and when he commanded his apostles to go and baptize all nations in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19).
- Baptism removes all sin: original sin and any other sins.
- Baptism makes us children of God, members of Christ, members of the Church, and heirs to the kingdom of heaven. This means that Baptism permanently relates us to God and is necessary for salvation; Baptism imprints an indelible character on the soul of the recipient and can be received only once.
- These effects are the fruits of sanctifying grace which is conferred through Baptism.
- Anyone not baptized may receive Baptism – adults and children.
- The essential rite of the sacrament of Baptism is celebrated by immersing the candidate three times in water or by pouring water over the head of the candidate while saying, “Name, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
- The ordinary celebrant of Baptism is a bishop, priest, or deacon, but in case of necessity anyone, man or woman, even one who is not baptized, can validly baptize by pouring water over the head of the candidate while saying the proper words quoted in #7 above.
- A candidate for Baptism must have at least one Godparent or sponsor.
- The water of Baptism symbolizes both death with Christ and life with him.
Source: Outlines of the Catholic Faith, The Leaflet Missal Company, 2000