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Members of a confraternity of penitents leading a Lent procession in Spain. Domingo de ramos astorga.jpg
Members of a confraternity of penitents leading a Lent procession in Spain.

A confraternity (Spanish : cofradía; Portuguese : confraria) is generally a Christian voluntary association of laypeople created for the purpose of promoting special works of Christian charity or piety, and approved by the Church hierarchy. They are most common among Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and the Western Orthodox. When a Catholic confraternity has received the authority to aggregate to itself groups erected in other localities, it is called an archconfraternity. [1] Examples include the various confraternities of penitents and the confraternities of the cord, as well as the Confraternity of the Rosary.



Pious associations of laymen existed in very ancient times at Constantinople and Alexandria. In France, in the eighth and ninth centuries, the laws of the Carlovingians mention confraternities and guilds. But the first confraternity in the modern and proper sense of the word is said to have been founded at Paris by Bishop Odo (d.1208). It was under the invocation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. [1]

Confraternities had their beginnings in the early Middle Ages, and developed rapidly from the end of the twelfth century. The main object and duty of these societies were, above all, the practice of piety and works of charity. [2]

Some confraternities were very widely spread, especially in the cities of the Middle Ages. Confraternities could be important and wealthy institutions for the elite, as in for example, the Scuole Grandi of Venice. The Purgatorial societies and orders of flagellants were other specialized medieval types. The medieval French term puy designated a confraternity dedicated to artistic performance in music, song and poetry; the German meistersingers were similar, though typically imitating trade guilds in form. Starting in the fourteenth century, northern France saw the rise of confraternities and other lay communities of men and women, organized around trades and religious devotions dedicated to specific patron saints. [3]

Various other congregations such as of the Holy Trinity, of the Scapular, etc., were founded between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries. From the latter century onwards, these pious associations have multiplied greatly. [1] The Archconfraternity of the Gonfalone was headquartered in the Church of Santa Lucia del Gonfalone. Because of their white hooded robes, they were identified as the "White Penitents". They were established in 1264 at Rome. St. Bonaventure, at that time Inquisitor-general of the Holy Office, prescribed the rules, and the white habit, with the name Recommendati B. V. [4]


Each Confraternity organization has a set of rules or by-laws to follow which every member promises to live by. Even though the Catholic Church works in harmony with the confraternity, these rules are not religious vows, instead merely rules set up to govern the confraternal organization. [5] Some confraternities allow only men, while others allow only women or only youth.


The religiosity of the members and their desire for a personal reward in the afterlife were reflected in confraternity activities, such as assisting with burials by donating burial robes or monetary payment, attending the burial mass, volunteering in the local hospitals, organization of and participation in religious fiest days, giving dowries for local orphans, selling and preparing bread used for local religious holidays, escorting the condemned during the inquisition, burying the dead during epidemics and other charitable acts as deemed appropriate by the confraternity members or parish priest. [6] Society could not function strictly through government programs because there was also a need to take care of matters such as burials, and provide for the poor and indigent. While government can and did maintain programs to handle these needs, they were better managed by lay organizations or the "neighbor helping neighbor" theory. [7]


The term may have other meanings: The Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception is a renowned lay Marian apostolate in the Philippines known for administering the Grand Marian Procession parade on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

The Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament is an example of an Anglo-Catholic confraternity established in the Church of England which has spread to many places within the Anglican Communion of churches. [8]

Members of The Augustana Confraternity, which is in the Lutheran tradition, "devote themselves to the teachings of Holy Scripture and to the elucidation of those teachings in the Confessional writings of the Lutheran Church, particularly the Small Catechism." [9]

See also

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The Holy Rosary, also known as the Dominican Rosary, or simply the Rosary, refers to a set of prayers used in the Catholic Church, and to the physical string of knots or beads used to count the component prayers. When referring to the prayer, the word is usually capitalized ; when referring to the prayer beads as an object, it is written with a lower-case initial letter.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Scapular</span> Short cloak or cloth pieces, worn with ecclesiastical dress

The scapular is a Western Christian garment suspended from the shoulders. There are two types of scapulars, the monastic and devotional scapular, although both forms may simply be referred to as "scapular". As an object of popular piety, it serves to remind the wearers of their commitment to live a Christian life.

Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) is a catechesis program of the Catholic Church, normally for children. It is also the name of an association that traditionally organises Catholic catechesis, which was established in Rome in 1562.

Eucharistic adoration is a Eucharistic devotional practice primarily in Western Catholicism, but also to a lesser extent in Anglicanism, Methodism and some Lutheran traditions, in which the Blessed Sacrament is adored by the faithful. This practice may occur either when the Eucharist is exposed, or when it is not publicly viewable because it is reserved in a place such as a church tabernacle.

The Sodality of Our Lady, also known as the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is a Roman Catholic Marian society founded in 1563 by young Belgian Jesuit Jean Leunis at the Roman College of the Society of Jesus. The modern Ignatian lay group Christian Life Community traces its origins to the first Sodality.

In Christian theology, a sodality, also known as a syndiakonia, is a form of the "Universal Church" expressed in specialized, task-oriented form as opposed to the Christian church in its local, diocesan form. In English, the term sodality is most commonly used by groups in the Anglican Communion, Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Lutheran Church and Reformed Church, where they are also referred to as confraternities. Sodalities are expressed among Protestant Churches through the multitude of mission organizations, societies, and specialized ministries that have proliferated, particularly since the advent of the modern missions movement, usually attributed to Englishman William Carey in 1792.

Confraternities of the Cord are pious associations of Christians, the members of which wear a cord, girdle or cincture in honour of a saint whom they wish to honour and emulate.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Catholic devotions</span> Catholic traditions

Catholic devotions are particular customs, rituals, and practices of worship of God or honour of the saints which are in addition to the liturgy of the Catholic Church. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops describes devotions as "expressions of love and fidelity that arise from the intersection of one's own faith, culture and the Gospel of Jesus Christ". Devotions are not considered part of liturgical worship, even if they are performed in a church or led by a priest, but rather they are paraliturgical. The Congregation for Divine Worship at the Vatican publishes a Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy.

Purgatorial societies are Roman Catholic Church associations or confraternities which aim to assist souls in purgatory reach heaven. The doctrine concerning purgatory, the condition of the poor souls after death, the communion of saints, and the satisfactory value of our good works form the basis of these associations.

The Tabernacle Societies were lay Eucharistic Adorative associations within Roman Catholic parishes, principally in America and Australia, forming part of the Archassociation of the Eucharist under the guidance of the Association of Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

The Confraternity of the Holy Rosary is a Roman Catholic Archconfraternity or spiritual association, under the care and guidance of the Dominican Order. The members of the confraternity strive to pray the entire Holy Rosary weekly.

Popular piety Catholic devotions

Popular piety in Christianity is an expression of faith which avails of certain cultural elements proper to a specific environment which is capable of interpreting and questioning in a lively and effective manner the sensibilities of those who live in that same environment. Its forms in the Roman Catholic Church are explained in the Directory on Popular piety and the liturgy issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments of the Catholic Church. In the Lutheran Churches, popular piety is expressed through the reception of the sacraments, the displaying of sacred art, the signing of hymnody, prayer, Bible study and devotions.

An archconfraternity is a Catholic confraternity, empowered to aggregate or affiliate other confraternities of the same nature, and to impart to them its benefits and privileges.

Three Hail Marys are a traditional Roman Catholic devotional practice of reciting Hail Marys as a petition for purity and other virtues. Believers recommend that it be prayed after waking in the morning, and before going to bed, following the examination of conscience at night. This devotion has been recommended by SS. Anthony of Padua, Alphonsus Liguori, John Bosco and Leonard of Port Maurice. Two saints, Mechtilde and Gertrude the Great, are said to have received revelations from the Blessed Virgin Mary regarding this practice.

Reparation is a theological concept closely connected with those of atonement and satisfaction. In ascetical theology, reparation is the making of amends for insults given to God through sin, either one's own or another's. The response of man is to be reparation through adoration, prayer, and sacrifice. In Roman Catholic tradition, an act of reparation is a prayer or devotion with the intent to expiate the "sins of others", e.g. for the repair of the sin of blasphemy, the sufferings of Jesus Christ or as Acts of Reparation to the Virgin Mary.

The Sanguis Christi Union, formerly known as the Archconfraternity of the Most Precious Blood is an international association of the faithful of Pontifical Right.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Confraternity of penitents</span> Christian associations for engaging in penance

Confraternities of penitents are Christian religious congregations, with statutes prescribing various penitential works; they are especially popular in the Catholic Church. Members of the confraternities of penitents practice mortification of the flesh through fasting, the use of the discipline, the wearing of a hair shirt, among other instruments of penance, etc.

The Priests' Eucharistic League was a Roman Catholic confraternity set up in the nineteenth century, with primary object the frequent and prolonged worship of the Blessed Sacrament by priests.

Santa Lucia del Gonfalone Church in Rome, Italy

Santa Lucia del Gonfalone is a church in the diocese of Rome, Italy. It is located on Via dei Banchi Vecchi just one block south of Corso Vittorio Emanuele. The last reconstruction was by Marco David in 1764; the interior was frescoed by Francesco Azzurri in 1866. The church was made a cardinalate deaconry by Pope John Paul II on 21 October 2003.

Worldwide The Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is one of the oldest lay apostolates still operating in the Roman Catholic Church, having been part of the Congregation of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception founded by Saint Stanislaw Papczynski. "The Blessed Marian Founder fervently encouraged his spiritual sons to establish confraternities of the Immaculate Conception at Marian churches. 'The first laws of the Order of 1694-1698 speak of this already."


  1. 1 2 3 Fanning, William. "Confraternity (Sodality)." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 3 Jan. 2015
  2. Hilgers, Joseph. "Sodality." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 17 Aug. 2014
  3. Long, Sarah Ann. Music, Liturgy, and Confraternity Devotions in Paris and Tournai, 1300-1550, Boydell & Brewer, 2011. ISBN   9781580469968
  4. M.McGahan, Florence. "Confraternities of Penitents." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 3 Jan. 2015
  5. Christopher Black and Pamela Grovestock, Early Modern Confraternities in Europe and the Americas, (Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2006), 1.
  6. Black and Grovestock, Early Modern Cofradias, 19.
  7. George M. Foster, “Cofradia and Compadrazgo in Spain and Spanish America,” Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, Vol 9 No. 1 (Spring 1953), 11-12.
  8. Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament
  9. Rydecki, Paul A. (4 August 2015). "The Augustana Confraternity". The Augustana Ministerium. Retrieved 1 September 2015.