Shoghi Effendi had referred to `Abdu'l-Bahá as the "Executive" of Bahá’u’lláh's authority (God Passes By, p. 245), an authority which was exercised by `Abdu'l-Bahá both during Bahá’u’lláh's lifetime, and after His ascension. Likewise, he wrote that the Hands of the Cause possessed "Executive authority," an authority they faithfully exercised throughout their ministry:
"The Hands of the Cause will have executive authority in so far as they carry out the work of the Guardian." (From a letter on behalf of the Guardian dated 31 March 1949, The Light of Divine Guidance, Volume 2, p. 82)
The Hands were faithful to the instructions and to the Plan established by Shoghi Effendi, which they carried out.
The matter of the authority exercised by the Hands during their leadership of the Baha'i Faith (1957-1963) is fully explained in a letter of the Universal House of Justice found here, from which an excerpt follows.
The letter which you quote, written on behalf of the Guardian on 31 March 1949, some two years before the formal appointment of the Hands of the Cause, stated that "The Hands of the Cause will have executive authority in so far as they carry out the work of the Guardian." On 4 June 1957, some six years after the appointment of the first contingent of Hands of the Cause, and but four months before his passing, the Guardian referred to the "TWIN FUNCTIONS PROTECTING PROPAGATING FAITH BAHA'U'LLAH" invested in the Institution of the Hands of the Cause by "VIRTUE AUTHORITY CONFERRED TESTAMENT CENTRE COVENANT", and stated: "TO ITS NEWLY ASSUMED RESPONSIBILITY ASSIST NATIONAL SPIRITUAL ASSEMBLIES BAHA'I WORLD SPECIFIC PURPOSE EFFECTIVELY PROSECUTING WORLD SPIRITUAL CRUSADE PRIMARY OBLIGATION WATCH OVER ENSURE PROTECTION BAHA'I WORLD COMMUNITY IN CLOSE COLLABORATION THESE SAME NATIONAL ASSEMBLIES NOW ADDED."
Although the authority to expel Covenant-breakers had been conferred upon the Hands of the Cause in the Will and Testament, the Guardian had reserved the exercise of this authority to himself during his lifetime. In his last message to the Baha'i world in October 1957, when he appointed the last contingent of Hands, he characterized them as "the Chief Stewards of Baha'u'llah's embryonic World Commonwealth, who have been invested by the unerring Pen of the Centre of His Covenant with the dual function of guarding over the security, and of ensuring the propagation, if His Father's Faith." He referred further to "their sacred responsibility as protectors of the Faith", designating them "high-ranking officers of a fast evolving world Administrative Order" and members of "one of the cardinal and pivotal institutions" of the Faith.
Equipped with such powers, and having been elevated to such a high position, the Hands of the Cause concluded that, among all the then existing institutions of the Faith, it was upon them, as Chief Stewards, that the responsibility for directing the affairs of the Cause rested pending the election of the Universal House of Justice.
The body of the Hands of the Cause, at their first conclave, constituted a group of nine Hands to act as an executive nucleus and "conduct and protect the affairs of the Faith from its World Centre" ["The Ministry of the Custodians," p. 39] and "carry on from this Centre the provisions of the World Baha'i Crusade". ["The Ministry of the Custodians," p. 31.] These nine Hands were designated "The Custodians of the Baha'i Faith" and, following legal advice, they immediately asked the twenty-six National Spiritual Assemblies operating at that time throughout the Baha'i world to pass resolutions confirming their support of the Custodians, and to send letters to the World Centre pledging their allegiance. The text of the letters received are all published on pages 41 to 50 of "The Ministry of the Custodians."
It was on such a strong foundation of doctrinal and legal authority that the Hands of the Cause, and the nucleus of nine Custodians in the Holy Land, could bring the World Crusade of the beloved Guardian to its consummation, protect the Faith from the divisive effects of Mason Remey's unfounded claim to the Guardianship, and call for the election of the Universal House of Justice in 1963.