“Ask a Priest: Why Can’t I Be a Confirmation Sponsor?”

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Q: My grandson is making his confirmation in three weeks, and he asked me to be his sponsor. Unfortunately his parents have not kept me up with all the information a sponsor is to know. I am a registered Catholic at my parish. In the 1960s I was married. I divorced and my former husband passed away. I married my present husband but by a local mayor. To my knowledge, in the eyes of the Catholic Church I am not married. Why is it that I cannot be the sponsor for my grandson? This is not fair to him. I am given three weeks to take classes and get married in the Church to my present husband if I am to be his sponsor. This is impossible. This is not fair to my grandson. Moreover, it seems that I and my husband are two people living in the same house but without marriage. Several years ago he committed adultery, and it has been very hard for me to accept and forgive. Please help me, what can I do? I am going to try to contact the bishop, but I need more support. – S.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It’s good to make a few distinctions here.

It is good to hear that your grandson is poised to receive confirmation. The sacrament is about an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that can strengthen him in his living of the faith.

One of the things that the Church is concerned about is making sure that the sponsors for someone preparing for confirmation be people who themselves are good examples of Catholic living.

Church law (that is, canon law) says in No. 874 §1: “To be permitted to take on the function of sponsor a person must: […] 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.”

That phrase, “leads a life of faith in keeping with the function to be taken on,” means that a sponsor generally needs to be practicing the Catholic faith in accord with what the Church teaches.

This doesn’t mean a sponsor has to be a saint. But it does mean that there should not be any major impediments.

Now, living with someone in a union that is not recognized by the Church means that objectively you aren’t living in accord with the faith. As you correctly mention, your marriage is not recognized by the Church.

This is not a case where the Church is punishing your grandson; rather, you have chosen to put yourself in a position that objectively is against a major tenet of Church teaching on marriage.

One of the tasks of a sponsor is to be a model of Catholic living for the person to be confirmed. You might ask yourself what kind of model your domestic situation is providing for your grandson. It would help him to have role models who reflect a coherent living of the Catholic faith.

From what you describe, your domestic union is a troubled one. Perhaps it would be good to speak with your pastor about the situation. Without the benefit of a sacramental bond, your relationship won’t be the source of graces that it otherwise could be.

It could be providential that this situation has come about. It can give you great hope that God wants you to receive more of his blessings and graces, and he is now enlightening you on a path forward.

This might be a moment to take all this to prayer and see where the Holy Spirit is leading you. How you decide could affect your own salvation as well as the kind of example you can give your grandson. This might be a moment of grace for you. I hope you seize it.

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