The sponsor represents the believing community
My name is Rosemary. It is not a typical name in my family. My father worked with a colleague who had a daughter named Rosemary and he liked the name and chose it for me. I like my name too because it is also the name of an aromatic herb which I enjoy using in the kitchen. My Confirmation name is Maria, after St Maria Goretti which I was encouraged to take by my mother. I was told that she was a 12-year-old girl who lived in Italy who had died violently for her faith. I was too young to understand the details of her death at the time but I knew that she was faithful to God.
At this stage of preparation for Confirmation, parents will be talking to their child about choosing a Confirmation name. The Bible reminds us that God calls each one by name. Everyone’s name is sacred. It is our identity. At Baptism, the first question the priest asks parents at the door of the church is “What name do you give this child?” As children grow up they may not like the name that was given to them by their parents. A custom has developed down through the years for children to choose a Confirmation name. The Rite of Confirmation presumes the Confirmation name is the candidate’s baptismal name and affirms that Confirmation and Eucharist complete Christian Initiation. (The Catechism of the Catholic Church 1285, 1306). While there is no obligation to choose a Confirmation name that is different from the name given at Baptism, it can be useful for educational and inspirational purposes, and the candidate usually chooses a saint’s name. A new name often indicates a new purpose and direction for a person. Parents can encourage their child by helping them to choose an appropriate Confirmation name.
Children need heroes and people who inspire them. Looking at the lives of the saints can be a guide for children and their parents. Some saints are well known and popular with families like St Francis of Assisi, St Anthony or St Clare. The website americancatholic.org has further information on the lives of the saints.
A Confirmation candidate must choose a sponsor. In the early Church the three Sacraments of Christian Initiation were always celebrated as one liturgical event; therefore, there was never a different sponsor at Baptism and Confirmation. As the separation of Confirmation from Baptism occurred through the centuries, it became more common to have different persons act as sponsor for each sacrament. This tradition of involving a sponsor in the preparation of candidates for the Sacraments of Christian Initiation is an ancient approach to faith formation. The sponsor was a living witness and mentor who represented the values, beliefs and lifestyle of the Christian community. The sponsor would, in turn, witness to the community regarding the candidates’ readiness to be baptised into the faith community. The role of a sponsor was seen as a lifetime commitment, a relationship that would last throughout the individual’s journey of faith.
A Confirmation sponsor represents the believing community and supports the candidate as they prepare to become full members of the Church. It makes sense that a godparent at Baptism would also be the sponsor at Confirmation expressing more clearly the link between the two sacraments and also making the function and responsibility of the sponsor more effective. Sometimes by the time young people are preparing for Confirmation, they no longer know their godparents, or the godparents may just live too far away. These young people will need to choose a new sponsor. In this case, it is important to identify someone who can be trusted, who has faith and who will be present to some extent in the life of the child.
Gifts of the Spirit
The Church requires that the proposed sponsor would be a confirmed Catholic, at least 16 years old (for maturity) and a participating member of the Church. It is also important that the sponsor would pray for the candidate. The witness of the sponsor showing interest in the parish preparation programme and being present at the Service of Light leading up to the Confirmation day can have a lasting effect on a child. Perhaps a Bible or some religious symbol could be given as a gift to the child on their Confirmation day. This time of preparation is an ideal opportunity for the sponsor to put the Gifts of the Spirit into practice. Taking the name of their sponsor could remind the child of the witness of faith and the support they can have in the years to come.
The Catechism reminds us “I cannot believe without being carried by the faith of others, and by my faith I help support the faith of others in the Faith.” (CCC 166) Growth in faith happens within a believing community. The sponsor represents the believing community and that is why the role of sponsor in Confirmation preparation is so important.
* Rosemary Lavelle is Pastoral Coordinator at the Office of Evangelisation and Ecumenism in the Archdiocese of Dublin.