The Role of Sponsors
A sponsor can make an enormous difference in the preparation of a candidate for the Sacrament of Confirmation. It is important, therefore, that a sponsor be chosen who is well suited to the role and who will be integral to the preparation process.
The Church’s tradition of involving a sponsor in the preparation of candidates for the Sacraments of Christian Initiation is one of our most ancient approaches to faith formation. In the early centuries, when the catechumen was the entry point for anyone seeking to become a Christian, the sponsor played an extremely vital role.
The sponsor was a living witness and mentor who represented the Christian community (its values, beliefs, behaviors, and so on) to the catechumen. The sponsor would, in turn, witness to the community on behalf of the catechumen’s readiness for the initiatory sacraments.
The role of a sponsor was not over with the celebration of the sacraments, however. It was seen as a lifetime commitment, a relationship that would last throughout the individual’s journey of faith.
In the early Church the three Sacraments of Christian Initiation were always celebrated at one time; therefore, there was never a different sponsor at Baptism and Confirmation. In subsequent centuries, however, with the separation of Confirmation from Baptism, it became more common to have different persons act as sponsor for those two sacraments. Both the Code of Canon Law (Canon 893.2) and the introduction to the Rite of Confirmation (5) suggest that in view of contemporary pastoral circumstances, it is desirable to have one’s baptismal sponsor act as sponsor at Confirmation. While this remains the ideal, it seems much more important that the sponsor chosen be available and involved with the candidate in a significant way, and be able to offer an authentic example of lived Christian faith.
As a bare minimum, the Code of Canon Law specifies that the requirements for acting as a sponsor at Confirmation (Canon 893) are the same as those for godparents at Baptism (Canon 874). Briefly, that canon directs that the person must have completed their sixteenth year of age, be fully initiated in the Sacraments, live a life of faith, not be the parent, and not be bound by any other canonical restrictions.
One of the challenges that might exist occurs when sponsors live at a distance and cannot interact in person with their candidate. However, in this day of instantaneous Internet and cell phone communication, only a little extra effort is required to maintain regular contact between sponsor and candidate. It is important that interaction occurs on a consistent basis and that sponsors are informed about meetings or information they may have missed because of their distance. If the Sponsor cannot be present at any required functions, the candidate must find a stand-in or proxy for your Sponsor.
Our Confirmation preparation program agrees strongly with the important observation made in the General Directory for Catechesis that growth in faith results from one’s involvement in an entire network of relationships within the believing community. (See GDC 141, 158, 254, 257.) Given this perspective, it is clear why the role of sponsor in the formation process is so important.
As a Confirmation sponsor, you do have specific functions. The Church describes them as the following:
• developing a faith relationship with the candidate
• accompanying the candidate, if possible, to special liturgies
• standing with the candidate before the bishop and the community helping the candidate live as a follower of Jesus
Some of the following suggestions will not be possible if you live away from the area but be creative and think of ways to be in contact with the candidate.
• Arrange opportunities to spend time with the candidate and to enjoy being together. Some of these times can relate directly to the Confirmation program.
• Discuss with the candidate the efforts, progress and problems experienced in preparing for the reception of Confirmation. Help them to study the Basic Faith concepts and discuss their class work. See if there are any questions or concerns.
• Perhaps you can help the candidate choose service projects. You might even be able to help carry one out.
• Offer suggestions and encouragement, as they are needed.
• Arrange some time to pray together, or to read a passage from Scripture together. If you live close by, make plans to participate in the Eucharist (Mass) together.
• Keep in contact with your candidate either in person or on the telephone.
Take time for yourself. Put aside some time for thinking and praying. Sponsors can begin to see how they can improve the quality of their ministry. There are many ways to go about this. One could just spend time alone, quietly reflecting; take up a journal and attempt writing one’s reflections; or talk over things with a friend. It even helps to talk over things with the candidate. You might ask yourself:
• What has my candidate taught me about my faith this week?
• What did I learn about myself this week?
• What can I do to encourage my candidate in his/her faith life?
• What do I want to pray especially for this week?
We pray that your role as a sponsor will be an enriching one.
A sponsor must meet the following requirements:
Be at least 16 years old
A practicing Catholic who has received all the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation)
In good standing with the Church
NOT be the father or mother of the candidate
God of all ages,
You send out Your Spirit
to touch the hearts of all people,
so that they may believe in You
and in Jesus whom You sent.
Look kindly on all candidates for Confirmation
as they listen to Your voice.
Open their hearts to Your Spirit
and bring to fulfillment the good work
that You have begun in them.
As I reach out to my candidate,
make me an instrument of Your love.
Teach me to reverence what is holy in others,
and to be patient with what I do not understand.
Deepen my faith in the Gospel
and help me to pass it on by my example.
With those who are hesitant or afraid,
let me be a source of encouragement;
and with those who are weak,
let me be a pillar of strength.
I humbly accept the ministry of sponsor
and pray that You will continue to guide me
and sustain me.
We praise you through Christ our Lord.