Q. While visiting family in Maryland on the weekend before the feast of the Ascension, I attended a local Catholic parish and heard the priest announce that the feast would be observed on the following Sunday.
When I got back to Pittsburgh, I went to work that Thursday unaware that it was a feast day; I was very upset to learn later that in the Pittsburgh diocese, the Ascension is still observed on Thursday, making it a holy day of obligation. My question is this: How could I have sinned in one diocese when I would not have sinned in another? I find this inconsistency quite confusing. (Pittsburgh)
A. First, forget about having “sinned.” You didn’t sin at all; you acted in good faith, on what you believed to be true. And yes, it is confusing. In most of the dioceses of the United States, the feast of the Ascension has been transferred to the following Sunday, which means that you get “two for one,” since every Sunday is a holy day of obligation. The state of Pennsylvania is one of the exceptions, and there the feast continues to be celebrated on Thursday.
Q. My daughter has been agonizing over a problem, and I am hoping that you can help. Twelve years ago, her twin daughters were baptized. They have since made their first Communion and are now preparing for confirmation.
In reading over the confirmation material that was sent home, my daughter started thinking back to the baptism and suddenly realized, to her great dismay, that one of the girls had baptismal sponsors who were both non-Catholics. Now she is afraid that this baptism was never valid, and she has herself sick worrying over it. Was the baptism valid, and does she have to do anything about it now? (Runnemede, N.J.)
A. Please tell your daughter that she can relax. The baptism “counted”, and the girl is fine. The Code of Canon Law provides in No. 872 that, “insofar as possible, a person to be baptized is to be given a sponsor who … helps the baptized person to lead a Christian life.”
Canon No. 874 further specifies that the sponsor be a Catholic who has been confirmed and “who leads a life of faith in keeping with the function to be taken on.” But the law does not absolutely require a sponsor, and one can easily envision situations where there would be no time to find one, such as a dying newborn.
So, the absence of a sponsor has no effect on the validity of baptism. In not securing a Catholic sponsor, your daughter made an honest mistake and there is no need now to re-create or to “convalidate” the baptism.
It would be wise, however, for your daughter to give added attention to the choice of a confirmation sponsor. Since the role of a sponsor is to help to assure that a child is raised and educated in the Catholic faith, and since the two non-Catholic baptismal sponsors may not be in a position to do that, all the more reason to see to it that the girl’s sponsor for confirmation be someone who can act as a spiritual companion, listener and mentor as the young person matures in Catholic faith and practice.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.