Thank you to those parishioners who completed our online questionnaire regarding availability of Baptismal sponsor certificates. 123 respondents completed the survey. There were many thoughtful open-ended comments on the questionnaire. Since the survey was anonymous, I cannot respond to each one personally. However, over the next few weeks, I will summarize and discuss some of them.
Here are the results of the forced-choice survey:
The seventy percent with personal experience or firsthand knowledge were offered questions about their experience. The remaining thirty percent were only offered the last two questions asking about shopping around for certificates and what we can do to help reduce potential confusion about the criteria or the process.
As expected, most parishioners first contact the parish secretary. The Diocese of Trenton has sponsored several workshops and appreciation days for Parish Secretaries. These have helped impress on everyone who speaks with a parishioner the importance of being helpful and courteous. However, the luxury of having a full-time receptionist dedicated to answering the phone can no longer be afforded. Here at Holy Cross, our parish secretary not only answers the parish phone, but also serves as secretary to the School of Religion. Between vacations and days off, lunch breaks and other responsibilities, we depend some of the time on parish volunteers who may not be as knowledgeable about parish procedures and sometimes may simply take a message. More frequently than I would like, the phone is in message taking mode. Other parish staff fill in answering the phone when available. If there is anticipated difficulty, the caller is always referred to a Pastoral Assistant. We frequently adjust the staffing pattern to answer the phones as best we can.
Universal church law requires that sponsors:
- have completed their 16th year
- be baptized, confirmed and received Eucharist in the Catholic faith
- lead a life of faith in keeping with the function to be taken on
This is purposely open to interpretation by the local bishop or pastor. If we imagine what a life lived in conformity with the role of a sponsor looks like, we would probably identify: being a not only a fully initiated Catholic, but one who attends mass and receives the sacraments frequently. If married they should be be united in a Catholic sacramental marriage. But unless the parishioner is personally known to the pastor or parish staff to be fulfilling these responsibilities, it can become contentious to prove.
For this reason, many parishes describe characteristics of a “life of faith” and ask the person to attest that they are fulfilling them. The pastor also signs the certificate acknowledging the parishioner’s testimony and endorsing the sponsor’s eligibility.
Baptismal preparation interviews and preparation classes are excellent opportunities to teach the couple having their baby baptized about the characteristics of a sponsor required by the church. If the couple use prudent judgment in selecting a sponsor, or sponsors, many potential difficulties in obtaining a sponsor eligibility certificate can be eliminated. Given the high rates of divorce and remarriage and the low rates of mass attendance, it is not as likely as before that every immediate relative is an ideal baptismal sponsor. It can be quite difficult to convince everyone that a baptismal sponsor is more than an honorific title, but rather a witness of living Catholic faith.