“Jesus answered, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.’” (Jn 3:5)
Having a baby baptized is both an act of faith and a cultural affair. It is both a statement of trust in the goodness of God as well as a family event that can be faith-filled.
When a couple brings their little one home from the hospital, he or she is capable of very little. The baby does not talk, walk, eat with a fork, or brush his or her teeth. The parents need to teach all these things over the course of many years. In broad terms, the parents must introduce their son or daughter to their cultural heritage and social customs so that he or she grows up to be a well-adjusted individual. That’s the goal and the responsibility of the parents. Sharing faith with the child and introducing him or her into the social customs of the faith community are a part of this responsibility for the parents as well. To fail regarding faith formation is a serious reneging of parental responsibility.
But not everyone appreciates that fact. Society has tried to make the practice of religion a private affair, and some even leave the choice of religion up to the individual. We have a responsibility to share our cultural heritage with our children, which includes our religious heritage.
Parents are not alone in this task. They have the help of the godparents as well as the entire faith community, for all share in the mission of passing on the faith (cf. CCC 1255).
This is not always an easy task. Children have free will. But that free will can lead to a child rejecting not only the faith training a parent might offer, but the cultural training as well. In the end, the example offered and witnessed to by the adult faith community often sinks into the child’s heart. There, with the grace of God, Catholic adults are truly formed.
Is there a connection between the name of the person being baptized and a saint?
Canon Law states that “parents, sponsors, and the pastor are to take care that a name is not given which is foreign to Christian sentiment” (CIC, can. 855). Since this norm is stated in the negative, it can be interpreted in the narrowest sense possible. Thus, only a name which is “foreign to Christian sentiment” is to be avoided.
That doesn’t specifically say what name can be used, and this might well be because of cultural differences. It is quite common, for example in Hispanic cultures, to name a boy, Jesús. In an English-speaking culture, to give a boy such a name might seem odd or sacrilegious. It would be considered “foreign to Christian sentiment.”
The practice of selecting a saint’s name for a child was originally meant to offer the child the protective prayers and example of a patron saint. Today it seems, there is less devotion to patrons, at least when it comes to naming a child.
Perhaps a compromise between these two traditions might be to at least choose a recognizable saint’s name as a middle name if not a first name.
What is the role of godparents?
Godparents or sponsors for baptism should be chosen carefully. Their function is specified in Catholic law and choosing someone ought to be more than offering a compliment or reward to a friend or relative.
Church norms distinguish between sponsoring an adult and sponsoring an infant. The sponsor for an adult is to assist the person through his or her instructions (usually RCIA), to present the person for his or her reception into the Church, and then to assist him or her in Christian living.
The sponsor for an infant is to present the child for baptism along with the parents, and to assist the child to live a life befitting the baptismal dignity. This often is a supportive role, but could be a more direct role should the parents become incapacitated in their role as Christian parents. The sponsor is not required to adopt the child, but to see to his or her Christian upbringing (cf. CIC, can. 872).
To function as a sponsor for baptism, a person must be at least 16 years old; have received baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist; and be a practicing Catholic—one who participates in the Eucharist weekly, is not under any canonical penalty, and is living according to the norms of the Church (cf. CIC, can. 874). A non-Catholic may serve as a witness, but in that case, there must be at least one Catholic sponsor. Finally, the sponsors must be one man or one woman, or one of each (cf. CIC, can. 873).
The role of a godparent is a serious matter—not a social position, but a deeply religious one. Godparents play an important though supportive role in the life of a child, one which complements that of the parents. Often, children look to or need other adults in their lives, and godparents can be logical alternatives to the biological parent.
Is immersion more valid than sprinkling water over the head of the child?
There are three equally valid methods of baptizing: pouring water over the forehead, sprinkling water over the head, or total immersion. All methods have the same effect because the essence of baptism is not the form of the water rite, but the action of God who lovingly adopts the baptized person, offering him or her the possibility of eternal life.
There may be practical reasons for choosing one form over the others, but all are equally valid.
Do you have a question for Fr. Don? Email him at: [email protected]