A confraternity is normally a Roman Catholic or Orthodox
Orthodox Christianity
The term Orthodox Christianity may refer to:* the Eastern Orthodox Church and its various geographical subdivisions...

 organization of lay people
In religious organizations, the laity comprises all people who are not in the clergy. A person who is a member of a religious order who is not ordained legitimate clergy is considered as a member of the laity, even though they are members of a religious order .In the past in Christian cultures, the...

 created for the purpose of promoting special works of Christian charity or piety, and approved by the Church hierarchy. An archconfraternity
An archconfraternity is a Roman Catholic confraternity, empowered to aggregate or affiliate other confraternities of the same nature, and to impart to them its indulgences and privileges.-Status and operation:...

 is a "franchise" of confraternities, able to establish different groups using the same names and rules, such as the Confraternities of the Cord
Confraternities of the Cord
Confraternities of the Cord are pious associations of the faithful, the members of which wear a cord or cincture in honour of a saint, to keep in mind some special grace or favour which they hope to obtain through his intercession.-Antecedents:...

, Confraternity of the Rosary
Confraternity of the Rosary
The Confraternity of the Holy Rosary is a Roman Catholic Archconfraternity or spiritual association, under the care and guidance of the Dominicans, the members of which strive to pray the entire Holy Rosary weekly.-History:...

 and others. Many of these are very widely spread. Especially in the cities of the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

, confraternities could be important and wealthy institutions for the elite, as in the Scuole Grandi of Venice
Scuole Grandi of Venice
The Scuole Grandi were confraternity or sodality institutions in Venice, Italy. They were founded as early as the 13th century as charitable and religious organizations for the laity....

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

 and orders of flagellants were other specialized medieval types. The medieval French term puy
Puy (society)
A puy or pui was a society, often organised as a guild or confraternity, sometimes along religious lines, for the patronisation of music and poetry, typically through the holding of competitions...

designated a confraternity dedicated to artistic performance in music, song and poetry; the German meistersinger
A Meistersinger was a member of a German guild for lyric poetry, composition and unaccompanied art song of the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. The Meistersingers were drawn from middle class males for the most part.-Guilds:...

s were similar, though typically imitating trade guild
A guild is an association of craftsmen in a particular trade. The earliest types of guild were formed as confraternities of workers. They were organized in a manner something between a trade union, a cartel, and a secret society...

s in form.

The term may have other meanings: Confraternities in Nigeria began as a term for fraternities in the American college sense, university-based social organisations, but the term has spread and changed to become in many cases used by street gangs that have been accused of widespread crime.

The Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament
Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament
The Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament is a devotional society in the Anglican Communion dedicated to venerating the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist...

 is an example of an Anglo-Catholic confraternity established in the Church of England
Church of England
The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church considers itself within the tradition of Western Christianity and dates its formal establishment principally to the mission to England by St...

. Catholic confraternities of priests
Confraternity of priests
Confraternities of priests - in distinction from the many confraternities open to lay persons - reached an importance place of influence in the Roman Catholic Church by the end of the nineteenth century. At that point, the Apostolic Union, the Priests' Eucharistic League, and the Priests' Communion...

 became common in the 19th century, fulfilling similar functions for the clergy.

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.


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 fiesta 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. 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.


Each confraternity has its own regulations for membership, stipulating who may join. Some confraternities allow only men, while others allow only women or only youth. The confraternity of Our Lady of the Rosary
Our Lady of the Rosary
Our Lady of the Rosary is a title of the Blessed Virgin Mary in relation to the rosary....

allows universal membership without regard to race, creed or social status. The Confraternity of Saint Anne allowed only those people who can prove they have a clean christian bloodline.
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