Project Canterbury

A History of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament
in the United States of America

By William Pitt McCune

Published for the Confraternity by Holy Cross Publications, 1964.


The beginning of Bishop Grafton's twenty-two years of service as Superior-General in 1890 marks a new era in the history of the American Branch of the Confraternity. Since that time the Superior-General has always been a Bishop of the Church, and in seventy-three years there have been only four in the office. This has been a source of strength to the Confraternity through the greater part of its existence in this country. Leaders of this caliber, serving faithfully through many years, have brought to the life and work of the Confraternity not only continuity and loyalty, but wisdom and devotion. Its later history, like its earlier years, is marked by conflicts not only in the Church but in the society itself. In the twentieth century, as in the nineteenth, the danger threatening its usefulness and its very existence has been that it should be diverted from its true objects, and become involved in politics and finances and secular activities in the Church. From this danger its leaders have called it again and again, and labored to save it. Like the twelve Apostles these four Bishops have reminded their disciples that it is not reason that they should leave the word of God, and serve tables, but give themselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word. They have not forgotten, nor allowed their Associates to forget, that the ministry and prayer to which they are all pledged are the Honor due to the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood, and mutual and special Intercession at the time of and in union with the Eucharistic Sacrifice.

Under Bishop Grafton the annual meetings continued to be held in Chicago, once at St. Clement's but more often at the Ascension. At the meeting in 1891 it was reported that "when five years ago the experiment was tried of removing the officers of the C.B.S. to the West it was not without some doubt of its wisdom." To remove that doubt a brief review was given of what had been accomplished. In addition to statistics concerning Intercession Papers, Associates, Wards, and finances there were enumerated "some of the more important acts of this time: the Confraternity has been incorporated under the laws of Illinois; every vestige of secrecy has been removed; the C.B.S. has been extensively advertised in the leading Church papers; is duly enrolled among other Church organizations in the Church annuals; a public meeting has been announced by the Secretary of the General Convention on the floor of the House, in the City of New York, 1889; a Bishop of the Church is the Superior-General." This "public meeting" in New York had been a service at St. Mary's, with a sermon by Bishop Grafton. The records of these years bear ample evidence to his efforts to bring East and West together in the Confraternity, and to explain it and commend it to the Church.

At this time all three of the officers were from the West, but priests from the East were still members of the Council. Father Huntington, the Founder of the Order of the Holy Cross, had been elected in 1890, and served for many years. Father Brown, of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, though no longer an officer, was still active. Of the twenty members of the Council in 1893 seven were from the East. Celebrations of Corpus Christi, as the Confraternity's festival, were held in East and West alike. For ten years, however, from 1887 through 1896, the Conferences and meetings of the Council were in Chicago. Then for seventeen years they were in the East again, mostly in New York.

Wherever the meetings might be, Bishop Grafton was always faithful in his care for the Confraternity. Occasionally he was unable to be present at the Annual Conference, but his address to the Associates was always ready, for some one to read in his absence. Eight of these annual addresses were published in his collected works, in the seventh volume, Letters and Addresses. Topics treated in them include the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Real Presence, Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, Communion of the Sick, Enemies of the Faith, Fundamentals of the Faith, the Catholicity of the Anglican Communion, and Christian Worship.

A few brief quotations may suggest the Bishop's way of treating these topics, and of speaking to his people: "I feel that in a daily Eucharist and a revival of the Religious Life lies the safety of our Church." "No great religious cause ever succeeds which is chiefly an intellectual one. It must be devotional." "Has this great Catholic movement spent its force?" (He asked this question in his last address, the year before he died, and answered it in the words of one whom he had known and loved in his youth.) "'As God did not give us up,' said Dr. Pusey, 'in the eighteenth century, in the days of our coldness and formality, He will not give us up now, when the Church is on her knees.'"

With these Addresses, in his published works, was printed a Letter by the Superior-General to the Directors of the Provinces of the C.B.S. The date of this letter is 1903, but a provincial system had been suggested to the Confraternity by its Superior-General in 1894. At that time it was rejected as inexpedient, but after seven years a committee was finally appointed by the Council, and two years later it was announced at the Conference that a provincial system had been established, three directors appointed, and plans made for conferences and festivals throughout the Church. Cheering news of many such meetings came not only from New York and the vicinity but from Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago, Milwaukee, and San Francisco. At that time, in 1903, it was said with good reason, the observance of Corpus Christi was more wide-spread than in any previous year. The establishment of a provincial system in the Confraternity was part of Bishop Grafton's plan to extend its influence throughout the Church, and thus to accomplish the Objects for which it had been founded in England and introduced by him in this country. In his Letter to the new Directors of Provinces he wrote: "The object of this District system is to make each a center of fresh effort for the growth of the Confraternity and those objects which it has at heart. We feel that with so many of our Priests and Communicants failing to believe in the Real Presence the work of the Confraternity is hardly begun. If our Church is to become Catholic, the Confraternity will be the chief instrumentality in its becoming so."

The same object is evident in other activities during these years. Following the first service during General Convention in New York, a second was held in Baltimore in 1892. On this occasion General Convention and the whole Church were reminded that the Confraternity in this country was keeping its twenty-fifth anniversary. At the next Conference it was decided to hold a service hereafter during each meeting of General Convention, and before the meeting at Minneapolis in 1895 a committee was appointed to maintain daily Mass during Convention.

This emphasis on daily Mass is characteristic of Bishop Grafton, as Superior-General of the Confraternity and in all his life and work in the Church. At some of the Conferences in his later years the service included Procession and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. In his addresses at this time he warned the Associates of the renewed danger of legislation against Reservation, and stoutly defended it as not disloyal to the Prayer Book and Articles, but admitted that in his opinion there was greater need for daily Mass and intercession than for Benediction and Procession. The offering of the Holy Sacrifice was a duty, as well as a privilege, which he never ceased to urge upon the priests of his own diocese and upon the Associates of the Confraternity.

Experience had taught him that the great need of the Church was a faithful and dedicated priesthood. The records of the Confraternity, and its history in this country, bear ample witness to that truth. Nothing in them is more bewildering, and at times discouraging, than the story of the Wards which at different times and places have been formed to do its work and help its Associates to do their part in its life of prayer. These Wards come and go, appearing in the records only to disappear, and then perhaps appear again. As Superior-General Bishop Grafton had learned the reason for this, and the priests who have served as Secretary-General must have learned it in the course of their work, and realized it even more poignantly than their Superiors. Without a faithful Priest-Associate no ward of the Confraternity is likely to endure long. Lay-Associates have persevered without their help, and have always been an integral part of the organization, but to do the work which Canon Carter and Bishop Grafton founded it to do the Confraternity must have Priests-Associate devoted, like them, to its Objects, and bearing witness to those Objects in their own ministry and life.

As Superior-General Bishop Grafton insisted on this, seeking to increase the number of faithful priests working in the Confraternity, and to understand why their number was not greater. "Why so few?" he asked in one of his early addresses, in 1896, noting only 250 Associates of the Confraternity out of 4,000 priests in the Church. His answer was characteristic: I'I believe the explanation is that the large majority of our clergy do not accept and hesitate about obeying the law of Pasting Communion, which is one of the cardinal principles of the Confraternity." Equally characteristic was his method of dealing with this difficulty. The previous year he had called the attention of Associates to a new edition of the book, Concerning the Fast before Communion, by Father Puller, of the Society of St. John the Evangelist. Before publication, in 1891, this paper had been read at a meeting of the English Confraternity. Now, in 1895, the American Conference heard two papers on the subject, and voted to distribute 200 copies of Father Puller's book, one to be sent to every Bishop in the Church. "I am confident that this work of distributing Catholic papers is very important," was Bishop Grafton's comment on the action taken by the Conference. Not content with this, he saw to it that in the new edition of the Confraternity's Manual the statement of its third Object, "To promote the observance of the Catholic and primitive practice of receiving the Holy Communion fasting," be changed to read "law" instead of "practice." In this too he made quite clear the purpose of the action taken: "In order to emphasize the binding character of the Law of Fasting Communion and to more clearly define the position of the Confraternity in this matter." Bishop Grafton was a Tractarian, and it was not the way of the Tractarians to make excuses and seek dispensations, but rather to keep the law of the Church themselves and teach it to others, recognizing its binding character for priests and people alike. He desired more Priests-Associate in the Confraternity, and tried to find them, but he constantly reminded the clergy of the need for discipline as well as devotion, and urged upon them daily Mass and Fasting Communion. In one of his letters he made a plea for "Catholic clergy imbued with the self-denying and loyal spirit of such men as Mackonochie and Charles Lewder," and in another he wrote that "no one could be with such men as Pusey, Keble, Marriott, or Carter but felt he was in the presence of saints."

In his later years Bishop Grafton did not cease to make new plans for the Confraternity, Among these was an additional meeting of the Council, held in Epiphanytide, usually in the East. To this was added an Annual Requiem, which has survived longer than the meeting of which it was at first only a part. A committee was appointed to consider an annual retreat for Associates. There was talk at the turn of the century of a Eucharistic Congress in New York. Details of the plan anticipate the Catholic Congresses of later years, but it was not carried out at this time "through lack of co-operation." A similar plan was rejected in 1912 for a Eucharistic Congress to be held as a demonstration before the next meeting of General Convention. These last years of Bishop Grafton were stormy years in the Church, with threats of new legislation forbidding Reservation. The Confraternity found other ways of meeting the danger which threatened its Objects. Its committee on publications was very active at this time. The new chairman, the Rev. C. P. A. Burnett, of St. Ignatius' Church, New York, was a controversialist as well as a scholar, and under his direction many books and papers were printed and distributed. Before General Convention in 1910 every member received tracts on Reservation and on Fasting Communion. There was also great interest in the missions of the Church. The records of Councils and Conferences in this first decade of the century abound in grants of vessels and vestments to priests, not only throughout this country but throughout the world. Such gifts to missions had been part of the work of the Confraternity from the beginning, but they were more numerous and more generous at this time than ever before. Missionaries in whose work special interest was shown were Father Wood in China, Father Sweet in Japan, and Father Staunton in the Philippines. Father Staunton had been active in the Confraternity in New York before he went to Sagada, and Bishop Brent had been an Associate.

The passing of the years and the troubles which they brought upon the Confraternity, as upon the Church, left their mark on Bishop Grafton's last addresses as Superior-General. In 1909 his fifty years in the priesthood were celebrated at two Conferences, in New York and in Milwaukee. He could be present at neither one, and there was sadness not only in his absence but in the words which he sent to his Associates. He wrote them that clouds of threatening heresy hung over them, and the enemy of souls was subtly active, but reminded them of our Lord's Presence in the Blessed Sacrament, and of the need for piety and love in them. His addresses the next two years, however, were characterized by his usual courage and hope, and also by repeated pleas for devotion to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, for daily Mass, and for the Religious Life. These were the things for which he had given his life. "The Religious Life," he said, "is a special fruit of the Blessed Sacrament. Where the Blessed Sacrament is not, as in Protestant bodies, there the full Religious Life does not exist." In 1912 the Conference received from him a telegram, telling them of his prayers, his love, and his blessing; and in answer 'they sent him a message, as the record says, "in his trial." He died on August 30.

Project Canterbury