If you've been asked to become a godparent or are thinking of designating godparents to your child, you might be wondering, "What is the role of a godparent?" There is no singularly accepted set of godparent duties or rules, but there are many common guidelines and suggestions for godparents to adhere to.
Who Determines Godparent Responsibilities?
The modern role of being a godparent is commonly determined by each individual set of parents. The guardians of the baptized determine who they want to ask to be godparents to their child.
- Parents should have a solid explanation of what they expect from a godparent before asking anyone to take on the role.
- Potential godparents should talk with the parents to determine what roles and responsibilities they are comfortable with and capable of. Asking about godparent responsibilities for baptism and beyond can help create clear communication between both parties.
- Both parties should agree on the specific godparent duties, and if they don't, the parents should be free to choose new godparent candidates.
Religious Responsibilities of Godparents
Godmothers' and godfathers' responsibilities begin with their role in baptism. Because of where godparents got their start, most of the duties associated with this role are religious in nature.
Catholic Baptism Godparent Duties
In Catholic baptisms, godparents are typically referred to as sponsors. Their roles include reading the Profession of Faith on behalf of the baptized individual, and helping lead their godchild in their religious journey throughout life. For this specific ceremony, godparents must meet a few requirements:
- Has to be older than 16
- Must be a confirmed Catholic
- Should attend Mass regularly and practice the faith (in other words, be a practicing Catholic)
- Should contribute to the church financially and through actions
- At least one sponsor is required, but you can't have more than two
- Godparents can't be the parents of the baptized
There are other considerations for Catholic godparents that parents of the baptized should note. If godparents can't be present at the actual baptism, the godparents can appoint someone else to stand in for them by proxy. Furthermore, according to Canon Law, "Only one male or one female sponsor or one of each sex is to be employed."
Christening Godparent Promises
During the christening ceremony for a godchild, the godparents are asked to answer several questions and make a few promises. Typical christening questions include:
- Will you pray for the child?
- Will you care for the child?
- On behalf of the child, will you turn away from all things that are against God?
- On behalf of the child, will you turn toward Jesus?
Greek Orthodox Godparent Responsibilities
The godparents selected for a child receiving a Greek baptism are expected to pay for all the items needed for the ceremony. After the child receives Holy Unction, the godparents typically bathe the child to clean off some of the oil. Greek Orthodox godparents may also be expected to:
- Take the child to Holy Communion three times
- Participate in teaching the child about the Orthodox faith
- Select a Christian Greek name for the child
Nonreligious Responsibilities of Godparents
Even those who are not religious appreciate the meaning behind godparents' roles. Aside from the religious duties, you might find yourself wondering what else the role of a godparent entails. The main nonreligious roles and duties of godparents primarily involve being a positive and present support system for the child throughout the entirety of their life.
Be a Positive Role Model
Godparents are basically an extension of family for the child. Godmothers and godfathers should do their best to serve as positive role models for the child, especially when it comes to honoring and practicing the faith. The more time a godparent and godchild spend together, the more influence the godparent can have over their godchild's personal and religious upbringing.
Give Cards or Gifts on Important Dates
Just as a close family member would, godparents should commemorate special days in their godchild's life. Sending a card with a personalized note on the child's Baptism day, Confirmation day, birthdays, graduations, and other significant days in one's life shows that you are there for them. Parents put great thought into choosing godparents. Be sure to honor the family by staying involved in major happenings regarding your godchild.
Help Care for the Godchild
In Latino culture, godparents are expected to serve as an intermediary if/when their godchild and the parents go through difficult phases with one another. Mexican godparents also typically prepare the grave for a deceased godchild. Because parents choose godparents they trust and respect, it is often (wrongly) assumed godparents would automatically take custody of a godchild if the child's parents both died and other family members couldn't care for the child. If parents decide that godparents should assume care in their permanent absence, legal documents stating so must be drawn up, as they would be with any custody arrangement. Simply being asked to take on the role of godparent does not mean one automatically takes over custody of a child.
Legal Responsibilities of Godparents
As mentioned above, godparents are not legal guardians for their godchildren unless legally stated as such. Parents must complete legal procedures that specifically name the guardians for their children if both parents cannot care for the children. In theory, godparents could be guardians if the correct channels are followed, but this is separate from naming a godparent.
Financial Responsibilities of Godparents
Godparents' financial contributions are rarely required, but are appreciated and appropriate in many scenarios. Some ways godparents might contribute financially to a child's life include:
- Starting a college fund or purchasing savings bonds for their godchild
- Sending money in cards for special occasions and holidays. (In the Latino culture, godparents commonly purchase birthday gifts and Easter baskets for their godchild).
- Purchasing items needed for religious ceremonies (examples include christening gowns, candles, rosaries, and jewelry)
- Purchasing gifts for religious ceremonies like a christening
Godparents Are an Extension of Family
While parents and godparents ultimately decide what the godparent's responsibilities and roles are, the godparent is almost always viewed as an extension of the family. Godparents can be family members or close friends, but they are expected to act as any family would. A large part of the godparent's role is to support the child, but another aspect is to be a close and loving friend to the child's parents. Being chosen as a godmother or godfather is an incredible honor in one's life, and it should be treated with respect and sincerity.