of the Blessed Sacrament

Bishop Roger Jupp, the Superior-General of the Confraternity, explains a recent episode in the life of the society

This year sees the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Confraternity of the Blessed

Sacrament (CBS) at All Saints, Margaret Street by Canon Thomas Carter. As part of the Catholic Revival in the Church of England, its aim was to be a fellowship of men and women praying and working for a greater devotion to Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

It is the oldest devotional society in the Church of England, focusing on Christ’s very own gift to us of his Body and Blood, the fruit of the redemption he gained for us on the cross. Through it we are united with him and with one another. It is, therefore, the sacrament of unity.

An anxious wait

For eighteen months or so the CBS has been caught up in the continuing difficulties of where its future lies as Anglicanism in this country and beyond wrestles with the issue of ecclesial unity.

If we truly have a catholic life and faith, as we claim, and are inheritors of catholic order, how do we live this life and promote it when many in Anglicanism are pursuing an agenda which takes us further away from the life and apostolic tradition of the historic churches of East and West?

Having lived with the reality of the canonical ordination of women to the priesthood these past twenty years in the Church of England through the existing provisions of the Act of Synod, Anglo-Catholics are facing the probable introduction of women bishops within the next few years, and anxiously wait to see whether there will be adequate provision which will guarantee them the continuance of a proper sacramental life.

Against this backdrop came Pope Benedict’s creation of Ordinariates which enable both entry into the

Roman Catholic Church and the continuance of certain Anglican traditions which are deemed both valuable and enriching.

The Ordinariate

As we know, this has proved a lifeline to some: whilst feeling that an authentic living of a catholic life, nurtured by the sacraments, would soon be denied them within the Anglican Church, entry to the Ordinariate would also be the working out of that vision of unity with the See of Peter for which many have prayed over a number of years and within an ecumenical climate radically different from that of 1862.

This was, I believe, the motivation of the majority of the Trustees of the CBS, including its three senior officers, all of whom joined the Ordinariate in this country. As always in these things, their pilgrimage took them where it did and by the means that was required, and they moved with our prayers and our goodwill, as well as our considerable sympathy, knowing that all of us may be faced with similar decisions in an uncertain future. By necessity, each one was re-ordained into the Roman Catholic Church.

Anglican membership affirmed

But what has been the fulfilment of an ecumenical vision for them has meant sacramental disunity for Anglican brethren who are not permitted to receive the Eucharist at a Roman Catholic Mass. For the members of the CBS, eucharistic communion is at the heart of what we are about.

As a devotional society, not only perceiving the Lord Jesus in his sacramental presence in the Eucharist but also being fed by him in what for us is the Bread of Life and Cup of Salvation is a sine qua non.

How can we remain together in an Anglican devotional society if some of its members have forsworn the Church of England and, at least officially, deny its orders and the validity of its sacraments and may not share in Holy Communion?

It was for this reason that, at the re-convened meeting of the 2011 Council-General on 28 June, the decision was taken to affirm Anglican membership of the CBS, thus invalidating the membership of those who now belong to the Ordinariate. It must be acknowledged that this was only brought about by the abstention in the vote of those attending the meeting who had joined the Ordinariate.

Charity Commission

The preface to this discussion and decision was, of course, the news that the Charity Commission had ruled that the 2011 grant of £1 million to the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham should never have been made.

It needs to be made clear that, when the grant was first made, all of the Trustees save one had already joined the Ordinariate. It was this, and not only the unprecedented size of the grant, which caused unrest and consternation amongst CBS members. As we know from the Charity Commission’s findings, a very large number of complaints were made to it by CBS members, and the Charity Commission agreed that such a personal interest invalidated the grant. It also agreed on the non-compatibility of the objects of the recipient of the grant with those of the CBS, being an Anglican devotional society.

Two things need to be acknowledged in what is a repetition of the facts already publicized: the first is that the Trustees believed they were acting for the good of the CBS and were not seeking personal gain, and the second is that the leadership of the Ordinariate took the decision to return the grant of their own volition once the Charity Commission had advised them of its findings, even though those who are now former Trustees continue to assert their belief in the legitimacy of what they had done.

Force for unity

This is an unfortunate episode in our history. For the CBS we return to the status quo of 2010, but with deeper shadows darkening this parting of friends, and this we must regret. But now we must embrace the future and play our part in the re-assertion of catholic faith and life in the Church of England and in the encouragement of our nearly two thousand members who love Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

We must also engage in a re-assessment of the governance of our society so that both priests and lay associates work together to build the Confraternity into a devotional society which strives to underpin the Church’s mission.

As Anglo-Catholics who continue to love the Church of England, we want to be a force for unity in a country which is increasingly deaf to the call of Christ and disparaging of our Church’s place in society. We know that, meeting Jesus in the Eucharist, he sends us out to each and every community in which our members are to be found. ND

A version of this article
appeared originally as a letter
in the Church Times