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.


Through these troublous times Bishop Ivins guided the Confraternity wisely and well. After ten years of service as Superior-General he resigned. The Conference of 1946 accepted the resignation, with deep regret, and elected as his successor the Bishop of Northern Indiana, the Rt. Rev. Reginald Mallett. At the risk of repetition it must be remarked again how fortunate the American branch has been in having Bishops-Associate, true Fathers in God, to lead it in its work for the Confraternity and for the Church. In Bishop Mallett it found a Superior-General worthy of his great predecessors. No one can read the records of the Confraternity without realizing that these Bishops looked upon the office of Superior-General not as a mere executive in an organization of the Church, but as a pastor, commissioned to care for his people, the Associates of the Confraternity. For them the annual meetings were not only legal requirements, and practical necessities in getting its work done, in the Council and Conference, but an opportunity year by year for Associates to come together for prayer and fellowship, in Eucharist and Agape. As such, they are vital in the Confraternity's worship and life. In them the Superior's function is not merely to preside at a meeting, but to offer the Holy Sacrifice with his people, and to help them with true teaching and wise counsel. In this service these four Bishops have been found faithful during seventy years.

Only twice since he became Superior-General has Bishop Mallett been absent from the annual meeting, and then unavoidably. In 1948 he sent the Associates greeting and blessing from Lambeth. In 1958 he wrote to them: "There is still a tremendous work of prayer and instruction to be carried on by our Confraternity. The best way to do this is by our own faithfulness. The best way to recruit new Associates is by personal contact with prospective members. Every opportunity your officers have to speak of the C.B.S. is to the good, and I hope that during the coming month I shall be able to devote more time to individuals and parish groups." One means to this end in recent years has been to hold the annual meetings in places not visited before. Among these were Baltimore, Utica, Denver, South Bend, Howe, and Orange. South Bend and Howe, in Bishop Mallett's Diocese, Northern Indiana, and All Saints', Orange, New Jersey, is the parish of the Rev. William R. Wetherell, who since 1952 has been Secretary-General. Father Mitcham resigned in 3951. His immediate successor was the Rev. Eric Pearson, who had been Secretary-General of the Confraternity in England. He served for one year, and was followed in office by Father Wetherell. The Superior-General and the Confraternity in this country were fortunate to find a priest so eminently qualified to carry on the work done by Father Mitcham. The same is true of the Rev. Grieg Taber, of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, New York, who in 1953 succeeded Father Hooper as Treasurer-General. In Bishop Mallett, Father Wetherell, and Father Taber the American branch, this time has a trio of officers worthy of the tradition of the Confraternity. This tradition is best expressed in words with which Father Hooper of the Church of the Holy Innocents, Hoboken, New Jersey, resigned his office: "For eighteen years I have been your Treasurer-General. As I have labored for the Confraternity, a society dedicated to the honor of our Lord and our God, I have viewed my efforts as a service of love and devotion to Him."

During the war these labors had been heavy indeed, not only for the Treasurer but for all the officers of the Confraternity. Its work had been hindered by lack of funds. Now, slowly, with peace came comparative prosperity. This was due chiefly to an increase in the number of life memberships and in the amount of the endowment fund. Father Hooper and Father Mitcham had labored for this during the lean years, and the Confraternity now entered into their labors, and carried them on. One of its good works has always been giving vestments and vessels to priests in need of them. In recent years it has been able to do this more generously, not only throughout the Church in this country but in other lands, including the Philippines, Japan, New Guinea, Liberia, Brazil, and the Virgin Islands. Bishop Mallett has been eager to extend the Confraternity's usefulness and influence, and convinced that this may best be done by personal contact. He and Father Wetherell have visited many parishes, and made the Confraternity known to many people hitherto ignorant of its history and purpose, or unaware of its existence. With the same end in view they have seen to it that at every General Convention the Confraternity should be represented by an exhibition and a service of witness. In this sort of work they have realized the importance and the advantage of co-operating with other organizations working for the same cause. Notable among these is the Guild of All Souls, a devotional society only eleven years younger than the Confraternity and associated with it in the loyalty and affection of many Anglo-Catholics. For some years the two societies in this country have celebrated together an annual Mass of Requiem for the repose of the souls of departed members.

In the same spirit of co-operation the Confraternity has helped the American Church Union in its work. It had a part in the Catholic Congress held at Chicago in 1954. With the Guild of All Souls it maintained a booth throughout the sessions of the Congress. On one morning, at the Church of Our Saviour, the Confraternity sponsored a Solemn Pontifical Mass at which

Bishop Mallett was celebrant. Two other Bishops-Associates were present: Bishop Brady, of Fond du Lac, and Bishop Cooper, of Korea. The records of the Confraternity describe the latter's speech at breakfast after Mass: "To hear him tell so simply of the completely Catholic work carried on throughout his diocese, and to hear him speak so humbly of his three years' imprisonment by the communists were thrilling experiences. The Confraternity gave Bishop Cooper $50 toward his work in Korea, and will send him several sets of vestments to be used in devastated Catholic missions." This is only one of many ways in which the American branch of the Confraternity has strengthened the ties by which it is bound to the other branches throughout the Anglican communion. At the Centenary of the English Confraternity, celebrated in London, in June, 1962, Father Wetherell was our representative, and spoke on the Confraternity in this country. At the Anglican Congress in Toronto, in August, 1963, Bishop Mallett preached at a service held under the auspices of the Canadian branch.

Meanwhile, let us remind ourselves and our readers, the Associates have continued in that quiet work of intercessory prayer to which they are pledged. They have been helped in this, under Bishop Mallett, by a revision of the Intercession Papers distributed to Associates. Down through the years, in this country as in England, these papers had been monthly, with special intercessions day by day. Father Mitcham had found flaws in this system, and in some of its prayers. Other Associates, not so patient as he, had demanded changes. Their cry is heard from time to time, in minutes of meetings long past. At last a committee is appointed, and then another, but all report no progress. In the Confraternity, as elsewhere in the Church, it is not easy to change the devotional habits of a lifetime. News comes from England that the Intercession Paper there is now quarterly, not monthly, and that the change is successful. But there is still no change here. More pleas are heard, from Philadelphia, from Boston, from Dallas. At last the thing is done. In this achievement Father Pearson is very helpful, with his experience as Secretary-General both in England and in America. At the annual meeting in 1952 it is announced to Council and Conference that "the monthly Intercession Paper has been replaced with a quarterly Intercession Paper of a type which will unite the prayers of our Associates for those specific Objects for which the C.B.S. exists." In doing this the new paper eliminated the intercessions all too personal, not to say trivial, which had irked Father Mitcham and others of his generation who still remember the old monthly paper. In the new quarterly the intercessions are divided between days of the week, and grouped under headings which remind us of "those specific Objects for which the C.B.S. exists": Thanksgiving, Our Associates, the Blessed Sacrament Reserved, the Observance of the Fast, the Confraternity, Reparation for All Dishonor, Eucharistic Worship. To these daily intercessions have been added, later, suggestions for weekly prayers and intentions at Mass.

Details like these may seem only relies of bygone controversies, not worth noting now. Rightly considered, however, they still concern all Associates of the Confraternity, and all interested in its history. One of its three Objects, unchanged since its beginning, has been intercession in union with the Eucharistic Sacrifice. The changes in the Intercession Paper were made to teach those using it the nature of such prayer, and the history of the revision is proof of the need of such teaching, not only for Associates then but for many Catholics now. In making these changes Bishop Mallett and his assistants were mindful of the disciples' cry, "Lord, teach us to pray" Such instruction is an integral part of the work of the Confraternity and of the Church.

More recently they have borne witness to another of the Confraternity's Objects by answering questions concerning the fast before Holy Communion. These questions arose from changes in the rules for fasting, among Anglicans as well as Roman Catholics. At the annual meeting in 1961 the Council adopted and the Conference approved the following statement: "The Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament interprets 'the Catholic and primitive law of receiving Holy Communion fasting' (Object 3 of C.B.S.) as meaning the Traditional Fast of reverence, from all food and drink from the previous midnight, the beginning of the day. However, the Confraternity recognizes that there are conditions of health that justify a dispensation for an individual by proper authority (one's pastor or confessor) from the strict Traditional Fast. The Confraternity also recognizes that there may be conditions in present day community and parish life that justify a modified or shortened fast before receiving Holy Communion. Such modifications should always be regulated by a recognized ecclesiastical authority, and be regarded as the exception and not the norm. It is expected, however, that all Associates of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament will make every possible effort to teach and practice the Traditional Fast from all food and drink from the midnight before receiving Holy Communion. We shall also continue to pray that all Churchmen will observe, when possible, this same Traditional Fast as part of their preparation for receiving Holy Communion."

A statement like this is part of the pastoral care exercised by the Superior-General. Associates of the Confraternity, like other communicants of the Church, are often perplexed in mind and troubled in conscience. They look to him as their Superior, and as a Bishop of the Church, to speak with authority in answer to their questions. They do not look in vain. He answers not only for himself, but for the Council and the Conference and the Confraternity. In so doing he is fulfilling the purpose with which it was founded a hundred years ago, and bearing witness to the truth on which it still stands.

Two questions are often asked about the Confraternity as it approaches its Centenary in America. The first is how it has survived so long, persevering for a hundred years in its work of prayer. The answer is that it has known what it was doing and why it was doing it, never losing sight of its great Object: the Honor due to the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood. The second question is whether it will survive longer. Sometimes this question takes the form of asking whether there is still work for it to do. Unless we are granted the spirit of prophecy we cannot predict the future of the Confraternity. As to the need for it, this review of its history in the past suggests an answer. Let us ask ourselves whether, in the world and in the Church to-day, more particularly in the Anglican Communion and in the Episcopal Church, due honor is now being given to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Until this object is attained there is still need for work and prayer such as the Confraternity has offered to God in his Church during these hundred years. He has accepted it and blessed it in the past. We may hope for the future, and trust him to perfect it in his time and in his way.

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