Looking back, I first joined the CBS when I was in my second curacy at Cowley St John in Oxford. This must have been about 1983. I joined because it was the right thing to do. I was in an established Anglo-Catholic parish (its first vicar and founder had been Fr Benson SSJE), and the Mass was the beating heart of its worship and mission and the inspiration of its pastoral life. Its hard-working Vicar, Fr Martin Flatman (to whom I owe an immense debt in terms of priestly formation), encouraged me to join the CBS as well as the Society of the Holy Cross, of both of which he was a member. If I wanted to take my priestly life seriously, he suggested, I needed to reveal my commitment to my belief in Jesus present in his Blessed Sacrament and present in the apostolic priesthood. There is a sense, then, that these two historic catholic societies go hand-in-hand.
I have been reminded of this in recent days through a conversation with a young priest who is anxious to set up a new ward of the CBS in the parish where he is serving. With the full support of his parish priest, and with an active group of lay people who regularly celebrate Benediction and adore the Lord Jesus on the altar, he said that he felt it was the right thing to do now, given the uncertain times in which we live as Catholic Anglicans. He also said that both priests wanted this sacramental and devotional tradition to be fully embedded in the life of the parish so that it remained part of its life beyond the time they were serving there as priests.
Founded in 1862, the CBS is the oldest devotional society for both priests and laity in the Church of England. Its work is the advancement of the Catholic Faith in the Anglican tradition and, in order to fulfil this mission, it promotes the honour due to the Lord Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, careful preparation for and reception of Holy Communion, reverent celebration of the Eucharist and its reservation and veneration, regular use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the continuance of the catholic priesthood, as well as catholic teaching, learning and development. As part of its mission it gives grants of altar vessels, tabernacles and vestments in certain circumstances to fulfil these objects. But its main work is under-girded by prayer amongst priests and people in parishes where they gather to love Jesus in his Holy Sacrament. And his mission of sending out from the altar to teach and proclaim the Good News and to make disciples is the mission of the CBS. That is what its members try to do. This is what embeds the faith of Jesus in the hearts of his people. And this is why we need the CBS even more in the life of the Church of England today.
Embedding the Catholic Faith of Jesus in the hearts of our people is what we are about. And this is why the Trustees of the CBS today feel that it is right for its financial resources to be used as an investment in catholic events, the purpose of which is to build up the faith of our people, to support unequivocally the continuance of the catholic priesthood as our Church has received it from the Apostles, and to share with the other catholic societies in demonstrating that we have a Gospel to proclaim and that we must have the space and the structures in which to be allowed as traditional Anglicans to flourish and to make new disciples. So, today, the CBS, alongside other catholic societies like the ACS, is supporting stipends in a number of parishes; it is supporting the Glastonbury Pilgrimage as an annual eucharistic event; it is assisting in vocational work and encouraging potential priests; it is assisting the annual Ebbsfleet Eucharistic Festival at Brean for children and young people; and, of course, it is giving its assistance to the work of Forward in Faith and the Bishops of The Society. CBS is playing its part in these different ways, as well as through its traditional role, in striving to promote and set forth reverence and love for our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist by the witness of its members’ lives, words, prayer and teaching. Why not join us in this endeavour?
Almighty God, look, we pray,
on the face of your beloved Son,
and for the sake of his merits, mercifully hear the prayers
which throughout our Confraternity we continually offer to you;
and grant us unity, a true faith, and a life agreeable to your will;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.