The Catholic Societies of the Church of England

Religious societies and guilds have a long history in the Church of England. Before the Reformation, every parish had a number of societies and guilds, some national, many very local. These societies and guilds would often provide a continuous light burning before, for example, the aumbry or a favourite statue of the Virgin or a popular or local saint, or maybe flowers as well1. They were a real focus of devotion, usually having their own office that was recited in addition to the Daily Office. One particularly good example of these voluntary offices is the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which was very popular in the late mediaeval period as a devotion of the laity, very often a daily devotion.

And that is how things remained until the renaissance of Catholic spirituality in the mid-nineteenth century. A number of societies and guilds sprang up again in the Church, many of which are still going strong, in some form or another, today. Four such societies and guilds are represented in twenty-first century Little St Mary's:

The Society of Mary;
The Guild of All Souls;
The Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament; and
The Guild of the Servants of the Sanctuary.

Each of these societies and guilds serves a different purpose. At Little St Mary's, the membership varies: members of one guild or society are not always necessarily members of another. Each of these societies and guilds meets several times a year, usually for an office, though the annual requiem Mass of the Guild of All Souls also serves as the opportunity to pray for departed members of all the societies and guilds that have ever met at Little St Mary's.

1 See, for example, Voices of Moreboth: reformation and rebellion in an English village, Duffy, E; New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 2001.