The Catholic Catechism tells us "Baptism is a sacrament of the faith. But faith needs the community of believers. It is only within the faith of the Church that each of the faithful can believe. For all the baptized, faith must grow after Baptism" (n. 1253).
It goes on to say, "For the grace of Baptism to unfold, parents' help is important. So too is the role of godmother and godfather, who must be firm believers, able and ready to help the newly baptized - child or adult - on the road of Christian life.
"Their task is a truly ecclesial function. The whole ecclesial community bears some responsibility for the development and safeguarding of the grace given at Baptism" (n. 1255).
Let's read the above short statements again and reflect on their meaning. They clearly give us the role of the whole Church in the faith of each individual member. Without the mutual support and strength of our brothers and sisters in our Church community, faith would be difficult, if not impossible.
COMMUNITY OF BELIEVERS
Christianity is not an individualistic religion. We go to church on Sunday and celebrate the sacred mysteries of Christ's death and resurrection with a community of believers. Within that community of believers, our faith can develop and deepen. Without it, faith may shrink and die.
"Godparents" is the term used for the Baptism of infants. For adults, sponsors accompany catechumens preparing for Baptism.
The idea of sponsors originated in the early Church. Becoming Christian was a serious business and the Church couldn't afford to have members who might betray their sisters and brothers to save their own skin.
They had to prove that they were living good lives and were truly sincere in their commitment to become Christian. To do this, they asked Christians who knew them well to vouch for them before the community. These sponsors journeyed with the catechumen during their years of preparation, helping them grow in their understanding and practice of the faith.
WITNESS TO FAITH
By their personal, individual attention to those preparing for Baptism, today's sponsors are called upon to do likewise. They do this by responding to individual concerns and questions that catechumens may have. They are above all a clear witness to the faith.
Sponsors are the representatives of the Church community. Therefore, the Catechism tells us, they have an ecclesial function - that is, an official Church role. This was the intent and benefit in re-establishing the RCIA.
What are the qualifications for sponsors/godparents? Godparents are chosen to become, spiritually, part of the family of the child they are sponsoring. They are asked to join the parents in professing the faith of the believing Church. Therefore, they should be mature enough to assume this role, having themselves received the sacraments and free to carry out their role.
The Catechism tells us that they must be "firm believers, able and ready to help the newly baptized on the road of Christian life."
Therefore, they must be practising Catholics, have a deep faith and knowledge of Scripture and Church teaching. Otherwise, they cannot truly carry out the function given them.
They should take the baptismal preparation with the parents. If diocesan regulations permit it, a Christian of another denomination may be allowed to be one of the godparents as a Christian witness.
The Christian example of godparents should continue throughout life. Godparents/sponsors must be chosen carefully and, in turn, they must seriously consider whether they are able to carry out their obligations.
In addition, the whole Church community has the privilege of helping new members. That is why we celebrate Baptism at a Sunday Mass. By their participation, the Church community shows their joy and support as these children/adults are born again with water and the Holy Spirit.
But you say, "It was my parents who raised me in the Christian faith, not my godparents."
VILLAGE TO RAISE A CHILD
Parents do have the prime responsibility but as the saying goes "It takes a village to raise a child." So too it takes the whole Church community to foster the faith in its members. This is true especially today when there are so many competing views drawing young and old alike.
Admittedly, in our highly mobile society, it is more difficult to maintain connections but that does not make it any less important. So, rather than being obsolete, godparents and the whole Church community may be more vital than ever in helping keep the faith alive in this generation.