Can a Lutheran Be a Catholic Godparent?


Christians take seriously the task of raising up their children to follow the ways of God. Several church traditions believe that godparents should assist in a child’s spiritual upbringing. Because various Christian traditions approach this role differently, some might wonder if a Lutheran can be a Catholic godparent.

Lutherans are not allowed to be Catholic godparents. Only baptized Catholics who are regularly attending Mass and practicing their faith may fill this role. Non-Catholics, including Lutherans, may attend and witness the ceremony, and play an important role in the child’s life, but not as godparents.

What is the rationale behind prohibiting non-Catholics from taking on the responsibility of being a godparent? Does the Lutheran church have similar parameters? Read on to learn answers to these questions and others.

Lutheran baptism
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 28:19 (ESV)

Why can’t non-Catholics be Godparents?

The Roman Catholic church has unwavering qualifications for who can be a godparent, because traditionally they play an important role in raising children. The godparents of a Catholic infant must be Catholic according to Canon Law:

[A godparent must] “be a Catholic who has been confirmed and has already received the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist and who leads a life of faith in keeping with the function to be taken on” (see all the qualifications at the end of his page)

Canon Law 872, emphasis added

A godparent’s job begins at a child’s baptism, in Catholic teaching. Godparents, who are identified as “sponsors” in Catholic canon law, protect the soul of a child and promise to assist the parents in the upbringing of the child in the Catholic faith.

Baptism for a Catholic is not merely symbolic. It is requirement for salvation. When a priest baptizes an infant, God frees the child from sin, implants in them the character of Christ, and joins them to the church body. Somewhat mysteriously, the child then possesses faith in God.

What do godparents do?

The job of godparents is to help ensure that the child remains in good standing in the church and in a right relationship with God until the day of their confirmation. During confirmation, the priest anoints the adolescent with oil, and the child then receives the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit. [1]

Because baptism and confirmation play such an important role in a child’s life, it’s important that godparents have the same belief system as the parents. Every baptized child learns the responsibilities of being a Christian, and more specifically being a Catholic.

Although the parents are the primary educators of the child’s faith, godparents still provide important models for the child to follow.

Godparents must attend Mass

One of the primary requirements for godparents is that they are regularly attending Mass. Godparents model the important duty of attending Mass in a Catholic’s life. Mass is where the child will one day receive the Eucharist, which is an essential means of grace in a Catholic’s spiritual life.

Godparents should also be modeling a chaste and moral life. Children must learn the distinction between venial and mortal sins and how to avoid each. In many ways, godparents represent the corporate body of the church.

When a child attends the confirmation ceremony they are not just continuing along their own personal journey of following Christ, they are also joining a community. Godparents assist the child in learning the rules and mission of that community. [2]

One godparent must be a man and one must be a woman

In addition to being Catholic, godparents, if there are two of them, must exist in matching pairs. This means that there should be one man and one woman. At one point in church history, godparents would take on the role of parenting in the case of the parents’ death.

This is not the case today. Some godparents treat the role less seriously than current Catholic teaching requires. For them, the role is merely symbolic.

“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:4 (ESV)

What role can Lutherans have in a Catholic baptism?

The only role that Lutherans can have in a Catholic baptism is that of a witness. A witness is a baptized person of the Christian faith who is not a Catholic. This is a role that is fitting for people that care deeply for a child’s wellbeing, but stand outside the community of Catholicism.

Because Lutherans aren’t practicing Catholics, they can’t provide an example of the specific practices of the church. Witnesses may and should attend church elsewhere, but they do not model faithful participation with regard to Mass. This does not necessarily speak poorly of their moral character.

Important differences of theology and practice separate Catholics from Lutherans. Although witnesses cannot take on the official role of being a godparent, this doesn’t mean that they cannot be influential in a child’s life.  Lutherans and Catholics hold much in common.

What non-Catholic witnesses can do

Accordingly, witnesses can model moral behavior and encourage children to pray daily and treat others with love and respect. They can also speak encouragingly about a child’s upbringing in the Catholic church, even if they do not agree with every point of that upbringing.

The tone and practice of Lutheran faith shares certain important similarities with the Catholic faith.

  • First, both faiths use a large amount of liturgy, meaning that they follow a sort of script during their worship services.
  • Second, Lutheranism and Catholicism both practice infant baptism.
  • Third, they both embrace many of central theological teachings of the Christianity faith, such as the Trinity.

With these things in mind, Lutheran witnesses can still generally support a child in their Catholic upbringing.  

Could a Catholic be a Godparent in a Lutheran church?

Lutherans are less uniform in their qualifications of who can be a godparent. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America allows any Christian, including Catholics, to be godparents. In fact, even atheists and agnostics can be godparents, so long as at least one of the godparents is a Christian.

Furthermore, the gender of the godparents does not matter. There could be three female godparents or just one male godparent. On the other hand, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, which is another major Lutheran denomination in the United States, strongly suggests that sponsors (i.e. godparents) should be Lutherans.

Their rationale of the ELS runs along similar lines as that of Catholics: Lutheran parents should desire that their child’s godparents share the same core belief system as themselves. After all, the role of godparent is to bring up children in correct spiritual teaching and behavior.

Accordingly, it would be unwise to entrust a portion of their child’s spiritual instruction to someone who, according to them, has flawed theology.  Witnesses, however, do not have any set qualification. [3] [4]

Like in Catholicism, godparents begin their role at a child’s baptism, which usually occurs as an infant. Lutherans believe that baptism initiates saving faith in the heart of the infant. It is a godparent’s job to assist parents in instructing the child in the ways of the Christian faith.

This means teaching and living the ten commandments, attending church faithfully, ensuring that the child is learning their catechism, and many other duties.

When a child comes of age, they participate in a confirmation ceremony, in which they formally declare that they desire to continue on in the faith that God planted in their hearts at baptism.

Requirements for godparents in the Catholic church

Canon 872 Insofar as possible, a person to be baptized is to be given a sponsor who assists an adult in Christian initiation or together with the parents presents an infant for baptism. A sponsor also helps the baptized person to lead a Christian life in keeping with baptism and to fulfill faithfully the obligations inherent in it.

Canon 873 There is to be only one male sponsor or one female sponsor or one of each.

Canon 874 To be permitted to take on the function of sponsor a person must:

(1) be designated by the one to be baptized, by the parents or the person who takes their place, or in their absence by the pastor or minister and have the aptitude and intention of fulfilling this function;

(2) have completed the sixteenth year of age, unless the diocesan bishop has established another age, or the pastor or minister has granted an exception for a just cause;

(3) be a Catholic who has been confirmed and has already received the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist and who leads a life of faith in keeping with the function to be taken on;

(4) not be bound by any canonical penalty legitimately imposed or declared;

(5) not be the father or mother of the one to be baptized.

A baptized person who belongs to a non-Catholic ecclesial community is not to participate except together with a Catholic sponsor and then only as a witness of the baptism. [5]

References:
[1] Source
[2] Source
[3] Source
[4] Source
[5] Source

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel has been in Christian ministry for 25 years. He has been an Associate Pastor and a Senior Pastor. Currently in higher education, Daniel has taught more than 25 different undergraduate courses in Bible and theology-related topics.

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