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Letter of 
Most Rev. Gerald Wiesner, O.M.I., 
Bishop of Prince George

October 1998
"Practicing Catholic"

(Used with permission of the Diocese of Prince George, 29/8/2002)

A question frequently looming on the horizon today is, "What is a practicing Catholic?" The Code of Canon Law, when speaking of a sponsor (godparent) at baptism, affirms:

"In so far as possible, a person being baptized is to be assigned a sponsor. In the case of an adult baptism, the sponsor's role is to assist the person in Christian initiation. In the case of an infant baptism, the role is together with the parents to present the child for baptism and to help it to live a Christian life befitting the baptized and faithfully to fulfill the duties inherent in baptism.

One sponsor, male or female, is sufficient; but there may be two, one of each sex.

To be admitted to undertake the office of sponsor, a person must:

1. Be appointed by the candidate to baptism, or by the parents or whoever stands in their place, or failing these, by the parish priest or the minister; to be appointed the person must be suitable for this role and have the intention of fulfilling it;
2. Be not less than sixteen years of age, unless a different age has been stipulated by the diocesan Bishop, or unless the parish priest or the minister considers that there is a just reason for an exception to be made;
3. Be a Catholic who has been confirmed and has received the blessed Eucharist, and who lives a life of faith which befits the role to be undertaken;
4. Not labor under a canonical penalty, whether imposed or declared;
5. Not be either the father or the mother of the person to be baptized.

A baptized person who belongs to a non-Catholic ecclesial 
community may be admitted only in company with a Catholic 
sponsor, and then simply as a witness to the baptism." (872, 873, 874)

The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults underlines the role of godparent saying:

"Their godparents (for each a godmother or godfather, or both) accompany the candidates on the day of election, at the celebration of the sacraments of initiation, and during the period of mystagogy. Godparents are persons chosen by the candidates on the basis of example, good qualities  and friendship, delegated by the local Christian community, and approved by the priest. It is the responsibility of godparents to show the candidates how to practice the Gospel in personal and social life, to sustain the candidates in moments of hesitancy and anxiety, to bear witness, and to guide the candidates' progress in the baptismal life. Chosen before the candidates election, godparents fulfill this office publicly from the day of the rite of election, when they give testimony to the community about the candidates. They continue to be important during the time after reception of the sacraments when the neophytes need to be assisted so that they remain true to their baptismal promises."


Teachers in Catholic Schools sign a contract which frequently states:

"The Teacher acknowledges that:
(a) If during the term hereof he/she is a Catholic:
(i) it is an essential condition of the continuation of this Agreement that the Teacher exhibit at all times conduct and a way of life that are consistent with Catholic standards;
(ii) the determination of what are Catholic standards shall be the right and prerogative of the Employer; and
(iii) a breach of this paragraph shall constitute just cause for dismissal."


The Knights of Columbus recruit new members who are to be "practicing Catholics". It is presupposed that if one is to exercise a leadership role in the Catholic community as, for example, a member of Parish Pastoral Council or School Council, teacher, that one be a practicing Catholic.

Who, then, is a practicing Catholic?

In attempting a response to this query one often receives the impression that Catholics are people who, more than anything else, have additional rules to keep. Somewhat akin to this is the opinion that being a Catholic is a matter of membership in an institution with various rights and duties attached.

While it is clear that a pattern of behavior flows from the gospel, it cannot be reduced to a moral code. At the heart of the gospel lies a call that is far more important than that. St. John's Gospel speaks of it this way: "To all who did accept him, he gave power to become children of God" (1:12). The invitation of the gospel, then, is not just to a particular way of life but a radically new life itself. It is a call to life on a different level. The call of the gospel takes us beyond ourselves into a communion of life with God. For St. Paul it is "in the Lord".

What, then, does constitute a practicing Catholic?

The question is not a simple one. First of all, it must be admitted that no one, save God, is a fully practicing Catholic. All of us fail in some aspects to live the faith; everyone has gaps in their faith practice. Strictly speaking none of us can ever claim fully to be practicing our faith. However, beyond this necessary and important confusion of ambiguity, not all is vague. There are some essential components to Roman Catholicism that can and must be named. 

Thus, at some point, one can define what constitutes the practice of that faith.

- Full initiation into the community (baptism, confirmation, Eucharist)
- Communion with the church through compliance with legitimate authority
- Regular participation in the Eucharist within the local community, including within that a sensitivity to the liturgical rhythm of the church's life. (This component is so emphasized because, as Roman Catholics, that which essentially defines us is that we are a eucharistic community).
- A life of prayer and private morality
- A commitment to the social teachings of the church
- A sense of responsibility for ministry and leadership within the church,
including financial
- A concern for the universal church, its unity, its spread and its 
- A concern and respect for the public forum with the community; that is in the public forum not being at variance with respect to major doctrinal or moral teachings of the church

In the final analysis, allowing for the fact that only God practices the faith perfectly, to do public ministry within the church, be it teaching or serving on a board, one should, as a minimum, meet these criteria.

In Jesus' own community some found the "package" of following him to be tough and so they stopped going with him. Hurt by this Jesus said to the twelve: "And what about you, do you want to go away too?" Jesus continues to ask the question, and continues to look for an accepting, positive response.

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