The second patrons that the baptismal ritual directs us to are the Godparents. Godparents serve as earthly patrons for the baptized – they are meant to be, like our heavenly patrons, people who pray for us on a regular basis and give a witness and example to the beauty of faith by the way they live their lives. Usually two godparents are chosen for a child, one male and one female, in order to be a godparent one must be a baptized, confirmed and practicing Catholic – in other words, someone who is fully initiated into the Church and is active in their faith. The special bond and relationship between a person and their godparents is something important. Many people presume that godparents came into being during a time of high mortality rates when godparents would, in effect, agree to take on the care of a child if that child’s parents were to die. However, the practice of godparents is not rooted in that – it is rooted in the early persecution of the Church. During the persecutions of the Church during the time of the Roman Empire, Christians were subject to torture and death and it was not unusual for people, out of the hope of monetary gain or in trying to curry favor with higher authorities, to denounce Christians publicly. How was the Church then to know if someone was truly seeking to be baptized in order to follow Christ or simply to know who was really a Christian so they could be denounced later? The answer was godparents – a godparent was someone who vouched for the integrity and sincere desire of someone who wanted to be a Christian, the godparent was someone already known to be a faithful follower of Christ who would affirm that the person that was seeking admission to the Church wanted to follow the same path and was not a danger to the community. While that role of the godparent has disappeared into history, the gift of earthly patrons in the form of godparents, is something special indeed.
The final part of the beginning of the ritual of baptism is the acceptance of responsibility on the part of parents to raise their child in the practice of the faith. Three times during the baptismal ritual the parents are asked if they are ready to take on this responsibility. Being a Christian parent is a sacred vocation. Christian parenthood means taking on the responsibility of living out one’s own faith, especially through the Sunday Mass, and passing on the Catholic Faith to their children. It means ensuring a religious education and formation of the child through the home, as well as through either a Catholic school or religious education program. Being a Christian parent means ensuring that the home is truly a Catholic home where the faith is honored, celebrated and passed on.
Following these three initial parts of the baptismal ritual, a brief passage of scripture is read and petitions are prayed for the person about to be baptized as well those present and all the baptized. In our next article we will examine the second part of the introductory rituals.
(This article is part of a series of articles on The Sacraments which will appear in the bulletin over the course of this year.)