Q. 1. A week ago, I heard from my daughter that she was expecting to have her baby any day now. Today I got a second telephone call. My daughter told me that I am the proud grandmother of a grand-daughter and that the baby was already baptised. When I asked who were the grandparents, she told me there was none. My grand-daughter had a witness appointed. What does that mean? I am confused about all of this.
A. 1. First of all, you need to understand the definition of a "Christian Witness." A "Christian Witness," who will replace the Godparent / Sponsor, cannot be a Catholic. He must be at least 16 years of age and validly baptised. He must be living an upright life. He cannot be the mother or the father of the person to be baptized. [Canon Law # 874.1.5] He cannot labour under a canonical penalty, whether imposed or declared. [Canon # 874.1.4] (That means he cannot be an ex-Catholic who was automatically or publicly excommunicated because of his support or practice of abortions, heresies, etc...)
The Christian Witness, although he may be a very holy Christian, cannot fully attest to the teachings of the Catholic Church. He cannot be an example of how a Catholic should live his faith through the Sacraments when he is not a Catholic. He cannot represent the Catholic Church and the faith community when he does not belong to the Catholic Church and one of its faith communities.
A Christian Witness cannot give what he does not have.
So what is expected of the Christian Witness? As a person witnesses a car accident, the Christian Witness attests, by his presence at the ceremony, to the fact that the baptised person did receive the Sacrament of Baptism. That is it!
The first thing that goes through a person's mind, why would someone appoint a "Christian Witness" instead of a Godparent/ Sponsor? The Code of Canon Law answers that question:
Code of Canon Law # 875 "Whoever administers baptism is to take care that if there is not a sponsor present, there is at least one witness who can prove that the baptism was conferred."
A perfect example of a situation When a "Christian Witness" is appointed is found at the hospital at the time when a baby is born. In a situation when there is a high risk birth and the Doctor is unsure if the baby will live on, the mother may decide to have her child immediately baptised. On such a short notice, it sometimes happen that there are no Catholics around to stand as Godfather or Godmother. In accordance with Canon Law # 875, in such a situation, a "witness," often a nurse who is present, is appointed to prove that the Sacrament of Baptism did take place.
If your grand-daughter has already been baptised, without the presence of Godparents, it is possible that she received the Sacrament of Baptism at the hospital immediately after birth at a time when it was believed that she would not survive.