Wednesday, December 10


So They Would Not Forget Who They Now Were

"One practical concern of the period [16th century Mexico] was the use and number of godparents. As we saw above in chapter 2, in medieval Iberia, the Church required several godparents, especially for adult converts from Judaism and Islam. In New Spain, the situation was different. It was initially difficult to find enough role models among the native Christian population who could perform the prebaptismal instruction, because it was also their obligation as godparents to teach their godchildren the sign of the cross, the Our Father, Hail Mary, Nicene Creed, Ten Commandments, and the like. Later, because the system of godparents created reciprocal social and economic ties between families, abuses arose, and natives sometimes sought to be baptized many times, and with multiple godparents to gain additional spiritual and lucrative relationships [!]. The First Provincial Council of 1555 had to limit the number of godparents to one man and one women.

"Fray Juan Focher indicates that other problems soon developed, and the friars were forced to revert to several baptismal sponsors. It seems some native parents were acting as godparents to their own children. Since being co-godparents was a canonical impediment to the marriage of the parents--it created a 'spiritual relationship' or kinship--some were using this as an excuse to divorce [sic] their wives and remarry. (The neophytes soon found the loopholes of Canon Law.) [...]

"An amusing note in all this has to do with the giving of baptismal names to the neophytes. In the early days of the evangelization, with huge numbers receiving the sacrament, the friars would choose one name, such as "Juan" for all the men baptized on one day, and one name, such as "Maria," for all the women. [...] After the ceremony, an assistant would hand each of the Indians a small card (cedulilla) with his or her name written thereon so they would not forget who they now were."

--Jaime Lara, Christian Texts for Aztecs: Art and Liturgy in Colonial Mexico, p. 90

In some way, that small task of reminding the forgetful, muddled newly-baptized who they are sums up the whole mission of the Church here on earth.

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