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Confraternities of the Cord

Pious associations of the faithful, the members of which wear a cord or cincture in honor of a saint

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Cord, CONFRATERNITIES OF THE, PIOUS associations of the faithful, the members of which wear a cord or cincture in honor of a saint, to keep in mind some special grace or favor which they hope to obtain through his intercession. Among Oriental peoples, and especially among the Jews, whose priests and prophets wore a cincture, the wearing of a belt or girdle dates back to very ancient times. Christ himself commanded his Apostles to have their loins girded. In the early Church virgins wore a cincture as a sign and emblem of purity, and hence it has always been considered a symbol of chastity as well as of mortification and humility. The wearing of a cord or cincture in honor of a saint is of very ancient origin, and we find the first mention of it in the life of St. Monica. In the Middle Ages cinctures were also worn by the faithful in honor of saints, though no confraternities were formally established, and the wearing of a cincture in honor of St. Michael was general throughout France. Later on, ecclesiastical authority set apart special formulae for the blessing of cinctures in honor of the Most Precious Blood, Our Lady, St. Francis of Paul, and St. Philomena. There are in the Church three archconfraternities and one confraternity the members of which wear a cord or cincture.

(I) The Archconfraternity of Our Lady of Consolation, or of the Black Leathern Belt of St. Monica, St. Augustine, and St. Nicholas of Tolentino. According to an old tradition, St. Monica in a vision received a black leathern belt from the Blessed Virgin, who assured the holy widow that she would take under her special protection all those who wore it in her honor. St. Monica related this vision to St. Ambrose and St. Simplicianus; both saints put on a leathern belt, and St. Ambrose is said to have girded St. Augustine with it at his baptism. Later on it was adopted by the Hermits of St. Augustine as a distinctive part of their habit. When, after the canonization of St. Nicholas of Tolentino, it came into general use among the faithful, Eugene IV in 1439 erected the Confraternity of the Cincture of St. Monica, St. Augustine, and St. Nicholas of Tolentino, in the church of St. James at Bologna. In 1590 Thaddeusof Perugia, General of the Augustinians, united this confraternity and that of Our Lady of Consolation (founded in 1318 or, according to others, in 1495) into one confraternity, which union was confirmed by Gregory XIII in his Bull “Ad ea” (July 15, 1575). The same pope raised this confraternity to the rank of an archconfraternity and enriched it with many Indulgences. He further ordained that all confraternities of the black leathern belt should be aggregated to the archconfraternity at Bologna, in order to share its privileges and Indulgences. The principal feast of this confraternity is the Sunday within the octave of the feast of St. Augustine (August 28). The members are obliged to wear a black leathern belt, to recite daily thirteen Paters and Aves and the Salve Regina, and to fast on the vigil of the feast of St. Augustine. For the erection of and reception into this archconfraternity special faculties must be had from the general of the Augustinians.

Archconfraternity of the Cord of St. Francis.—After his conversion St. Francis girded himself with a rough cord in memory of the cords with which Christ had been bound during His Passion, and a white girdle with three knots came subsequently to form part of the Franciscan habit. According to Wadding, St. Dominic received the cord from St. Francis and always wore it under his habit out of devotion to the saint, his example being followed by many of the faithful. In his Bull “Ex supernm dispositionis” (November 19, 1585), Sixtus V erected the Archconfraternity of the Cord of St. Francis in the basilica of the Sacro Convento at Assisi, enriching it with many Indulgences, and conferred upon the minister general of the Conventuals the power of erecting confraternities of the Cord of St. Francis in the churches of his own order and of aggregating them to the archconfraternity at Assisi. The same pope, in his Bull “Divinae caritatis” (August 29, 1587), granted new Indulgences to the archconfraternity and empowered the minister general of the Friars Minor to erect confraternities of the Cord of St. Francis in the churches of his own order in those places where there are no Conventuals. Paul V, in his Bull “Cum certas” (March 2, 1607), and “Nuper archiconfraternitati” (March 11, 1607), revoked all spiritual favors hitherto conceded to the archconfraternity and enriched it with new and more ample Indulgences. Both these Bulls were confirmed by the Brief of Clement X, “Dudum felicis” (July 13, 1673). Finally, Benedict XIII in his Constitution “Sacrosancti apostolatus” (September 30, 1724), conceded to the minister general of the Conventuals authority to erect confraternities of the Cord of St. Francis in churches not belonging to his own order in those places where there are no Franciscans. New privileges and Indulgences were conceded to the archconfraternity by two decrees of the Sacred Congregation of Indulgences dated March 22, 1879, and May 26, 1883. Besides the ordinary requirements necessary for the gaining of all plenary and partial Indulgences, the wearing of the cord and enrolment in the records of the archconfraternity are the only conditions imposed on the members.

Archconfraternity of the Cord of St. Joseph.—The miraculous cure of an Augustinian nun at Antwerp in 1657 from a grievous illness, through the wearing of a cord in honor of St. Joseph gave rise to the pious practice of wearing it to obtain the grace of purity through his intercession. The devotion soon spread over many countries of Europe, and in the last century was revived at Rome in the church of San Rocco and in that of San Nicole at Verona. Pius IX, in a rescript dated September 19, 1859, approved a special formula for the blessing of the Cord of St. Joseph, and in his Brief “Expositum nobis nuper” (March 14, 1862) enriched the confraternity with many indulgences. In 1860 several new Indulgences were granted to the confraternity erected in the church of San Nicole at Verona and by the Brief “U niversi Dominici gregis”, September 23, 1862, the Confraternity of the Cord of St. Joseph was raised to an archconfraternity. The members are obliged to wear a cord having seven knots, and are exhorted to recite daily seven Glorias in honor of St. Joseph. Confraternities of the Cord of St. Joseph must be aggregated to the archconfraternity in the church of San Rocco at Rome in order to enjoy its spiritual favors and Indulgences.

(4) Confraternity of the Cord of St. Thomas.—It is related in the life of St. Thomas Aquinas that, as a reward for his overcoming a temptation against purity, he was girded with a cord by angels, and that in consequence he was never again tempted against this virtue. This cord is still preserved in the church at Chieri near Turin. Soon after the saint’s death many of the faithful began to wear a cord in honor of St. Thomas, to obtain the grace of purity through his intercession. In the seventeenth century societies were formed at different universities, the student members of which wore a cord in honor of St. Thomas, hoping through his intercession to be protected from the dangers to which youth is generally exposed. The first Confraternity of the Cord of St. Thomas was erected at the University of Louvain by the Belgian Dominican Francis Deuwerders, and numbered among its members all the professors and students of the faculty of theology and many of the faithful. Thence it spread to Maastricht, Vienna, and many other cities of Europe. Innocent X sanctioned this new confraternity by a Brief dated March 22, 1652. The members are required to have their names enrolled, to wear a cord with fifteen knots, and to recite daily fifteen Ave Marias in honor of St. Thomas. For the erection of and reception into this confraternity special faculties must be had from the superior general of the Dominicans. Its Indulgences and privileges are contained in the great Bull of Benedict XIII, “Pretiosus” (April 26, 1727, § 9) and in the decree of the Sacred Congregation of Indulgences (May 8, 1844). (See Archconfraternity.)

FERDINAND HECKMANN


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