Role of Godparents during a baptism

What do the Godparents do during a baptismal ceremony?

I’ve never been to one before, but I was always told that it’s the Godparents’ job to present the child for baptism and to physically hold the baby while the baptismal water is poured and while the Chrism oil is anointed.

Is this true or just an Italian custom?

This past Sunday was my nephew’s baptism and I was asked to be his Godmother.

I found the entire ceremony to be unorganized (this is not unusual in my parish) but I assumed that the honor of presenting the child would be mine.

The Deacon had the parents hold the children (there were 4 babies baptized that day) and all the Godparents did was place our hands on the baby while the Deacon performed the baptismal rites.

Am I being too nit-picky? I was very upset after the ceremony and I told my sister that I felt totally insignificant.

I know my role as Godmother is way more important during my nephew’s life, but I felt slighted on that special day.

What is the protocol during a baptismal ceremony? What do the parents do and what do the Godparents do?


the new rite for baptism has the mother holding the child, which is why a point is made of scheduling the baptism when she can be present, and godparent place their hands on the child.

you are not nit-picky, would have been nice if deacon had explained things during your pre-baptismal class, or before the ceremony, for exactly the reason you describe, avoiding the feeling of not knowing what is expected.

your real role begins after baptism, and is far more critical, your support of the parents in raising the child Catholic.

I have also observed, in the Spanish ceremony in the afternoon, the baby is often handed around like a football so several people get the “honor” of holding him at various points in the rite, so I imagine Mexican customs are similar to those I am familiar with among Italians in my “old neighborhood”. Which I love, because that feeling of “honor” is what carries over to their life-long commitment to the child, and hope it does not get lost.

In our parish we have the godmother hold the baptismal garment and present it to the child at the appropriate time. Then she helps mom dress the child in the garment.

No, our children aren’t brought to the church in their baptismal gowns, they are baptized dressed in a colored outfit (sleeper, dress, jeans…) or immersed naked and then are dressed in white.

In the 8 years since we started doing that we have only had one mother categorically refuse to comply (not surprising, she refused to comply with anything that wasn’t according to her version of how things should be – including her wedding). All the others understood immediately when we compared the baptismal garment to a wedding ring and pointed out that both are symbols of a sacrament received and as such are not put on before receiving it.

It was a custom in the old days, that the mother wouldn’t even attended the Baptism, but rather, the God Parents and the father would bring the child to be Baptized. The mother stayed home. :confused:

Today in general, the mother holds the child.


true and in making a change in highlighting the role of the parents in bringing the child to the sacraments, and being sensitive to the role of the mother specifically, we risk losing the meaning and importance of the role of godparents. The godmother generally supplies the white garment, and the godfather receives the baptismal candle for the child. (or one person does both if there is only one sponsor). It is not a matter of making sure everyone present is “honored” but a matter of using elements of the Rite to emphasize the reality not only of the action of the sacrament but of the essential nature of the continuing roles of parents and godparents in the child’s life.

since “who does what” can vary from parish to parish, I describe only what we do here, but regardless, whoever is in charge of instructing the parents and godparents should explain what happens, who does what, and the significance.

In some cultures the godmother wasn’t the one holding the baby. I remember in the area where I grew up there was a woman designated as the ‘bearer’ and she would hold the child at the baptism. My godmother was 12 years old and my godfather 10; their mother, my aunt, was the ‘bearer’.

Well, you have to admit, the mentality and knowledge in doing the natural thing of giving birth to a child has changed in this country, and for the good.

I remember growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, when my mother gave birth to my two younger brothers. In those days, there was no birthing classes. Mothers went to the hospital, without any clue other than that they would suffer great pain and the doctor would often us forceps, as in my self and all four brothers were delivered. Fathers went home or waited in the waiting room. Mothers stayed in the hospital at least five days before going home, and no one except the father,(who had to wear a gown and mask) was allowed in the room while the baby was with her.

Then, when the mother and baby finally arrived home, no visitors for the first month were allowed, and Baptisms were usually scheduled right after the 30 day wait period. Mothers of course were still recovering from giving birth, and they were ordered to stay home by their doctors so hence, the God mother took the child to the Baptism.

Look how its changed. Both parents take classes on child birth. When the baby arrives, everyone is allowed in the room to see the new baby and everyone gets to hold the baby. This was unheard of back before the 70’s. Also, in todays world(United States specifically) a woman gives birth and the next day she’s home and that week in many cases, is out visiting friends and relatives with her new born child. So, it would be unthinkable, that she would not be at the Baptism holding her child.

As far as the god parents losing the knowledge of what their role is, in helping raise the child in the faith? I think god parents know that role better today than in the old days. Back then, god parents and parents, thought that the role of god parents, was to raise the child if both parents should die for some reason.

I know in my own case and that of my grandchildren, we know a lot more about what Baptism is, than what parents did years back.


one reason for the change OP noted was to enable the mother to be part of the baptism rite, which formerly she often missed because it was done shortly after birth, and women were confined to bed much longer. common even in my mom’s day was the “churching” ceremony where the mother returned to Mass for the first time 6 weeks after birth, bringing the baby, and received a special blessing. this is now incorporated into the baptismal rite.

Culture, geography, time and space – baptisms reflect them all.

First child, 1977, St. Louis, MO. My daughter and one other were baptized in the church on a Sunday afternoon. Godmother held baby with Godfather standing with the baptismal candle. Lovely, formal, quiet, family oriented ceremony. Baby cried a lot and my Presbyterian father observed to the priest, “Father, I don’t think she wants to join your church.” The priest, fortunately, thought that was very funny (my in-laws did not).

Second child, 1980, Naperville, IL. Cast of thousands – more babies baptized en masse than one would think possible on a Sunday in May in a single suburban parish. Mothers held babies and fathers stood next to them. Godparents were in the pews. I was one of the Readers, which made it at least a little personal in that I can still go into my bible and see where I marked the reading and the date.

Third child, 1982, Atlanta, GA. Just us in the church. Baby arrived in a “party dress,” Godmother stripped the little baby self naked and she was fully immersed in a tub of holy water. The tub was a plastic baby tub, which the two big sisters had lovingly decorated with crayons. It was filled with holy water, COLD holy water, and baby screamed mightily. Godmother then dressed a dried off child in her baptismal gown. We knew we were in the south. My grandmother – from a very fundamentalist Protestant sect – announced that, as far as she was concerned, this child was the only one REALLY baptized. Great-grandma believed in DUNKING for a baptism to take.

Different places, different parishes, very different baptisms. All valid. All Catholic. :wink:

The Rite of Baptism for Children has:
“5. Because of the natural relationships, parents have a ministry and a responsibility in the baptism of infants more important than those of godparents. … 3. In the celebration of baptism, the father and mother have special parts to play. … d. they (and especially the mother) carry the child to the font;”.

But then it has in n. 60: “If the baptism is performed by the pouring of water, it is preferable that the child be held by the mother (or father). Where, however, it is felt that the existing custom shold be retained, the godmother (or godfather) may hold the child. If baptism is by immersion, the mother or father (godmother or godfather) lifts the child out of the font.”

The other parts of the role of godparents in the ceremony:

  1. Answer “We are” to the question “Are you ready to help these parents in their duty as Christian mothers and fathers.” (n. 40).
  2. If invited by the priest, sign the child on the forehead. (n. 41).
  3. Respond with the parents to the questions, like “Do you reject Satan?” (n. 57).
  4. Respond to the question, with the parents: “Is it you will that N. should be baptized in the faith of the Church, which we have all professed with you?” with “It is.”
  5. Perhaps light the candle from the Easter candle: “Someone from each family (e.g., the father or godfather) lights the child’s candle from the Easter candle.” (n. 64).

Reference: The Rites Volume One, Liturgical Press, 1990, ISBN: 0-8146-6015-0.

The Sister who is on our baptismal prep team tells of her nephew, who is also her godson. She was away when he was born and her sister was awaiting her return to have the baby baptized. This was really bothering the grandfather who, over and over again, asked why baby wasn’t being immediately baptized. One day he took the baby out for a walk and never mentioned Baptism again. They family assumes that he took the baby to the Basilica and baptized him then brought him home again.

what does the white garment mean. and how would i explain it to a crowed.

This is what accompanies the presentation of the white garment:

N. you have become a new creation, you have clothed yourself in Christ. See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of Heaven.

I think this says it all.