What is a Third Order?


Laura, in a comment below asks a question I too often take for granted and which I think requires something more of an answer than one might infer from writing:

Your blog says you are a member of the third Order of Carmel. What exactly does that mean? I became a full-fledged Catholic in my late 20's and so I don't understand a lot of the lingo. Are you a brother or something else that I am not familiar with?

When I joined the Catholic Church I did not realize the presence of Third Order members, or for that matter have a lot of background on First and Second Orders. I had been in the Church about 15 years before a friend of mine brought to my attention opportunities that exist to enrich your spiritual life. And that is what they must be viewed as opportunities or vocations to a particular spiritual direction.

Many orders have a rule or provision that allow people to live the rule in a way modified to accommodate the fact that the person is in the world and needs to make a living, take care of a family, and attend to other matters that may be part of their first vocation (for example, marriage). In some orders, notably the Benedictines, there is no division (or so I'm told) between First, Second, and Third order (Normally, Brothers or Priests, Sisters, and Lay people). The rule apparently is flexible enough to accommodate all Oblates. These lay people are indeed part of the order, but they are not Religious in the sense of a completely dedicated religious life.

In the Carmelite Order we recognize two major divisions and three groups within each. I'll talk only about the Old Order or O.Carm. group to which I belong. They have a separate rule for first and second, and a rule for lay Carmelites. What this means is that we are indeed part of the order, we are not religious in the sense of being brothers or sisters, but we practice the spirituality of the order and live by a rule that has been promulgated for the lay Carmelite. Our order requires daily prayer, monthly meetings, promises of Obedience and Chastity according to the Station in Life, and other odds and sundries that come down the pike. Our official "habit" you may see occasionally (if you go to Daily Mass, look for them on October 15) is the Large Ceremonial Scapular which is a two pieces of brown cloth about 5" x 5" in size connected by the 1/2" brown ribbon. On the front are the initials BVM and on the back IHS. (The ODCS--lay part of the other division may still be wearing ceremonial scapulars with no initials, I don't know). These are worn only on Feast Days of the Order. There are two such, with a minimal provision for a third this month--Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux (October 1) and Feast of St. Teresa of Avila (La Madre-October 15). The wearing of the scapular on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, is, I believe, permitted. In addition, in correspondence not related to the order or to religious matters, we are not permitted to use the T.O. Carm or other designation. We reserve that only for certain internal communications and religious publications.

My personal practice, which is not required by the T.O. Carm rule, but highly encouraged is Morning Prayer, Office of Hours, Evening Prayer, and usually one of the minor hours that I squeeze in just before noon Angelus and Mass, and an additional hour (minimum)of meditative reading, scripture reading (lectio) and meditative prayer. Daily Mass is strongly encouraged but not required. As Carmelites we are called to follow the way of contemplative prayer as outlined by our Great Teachers--St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Therese of Lisieux. Now, I think it is very important to say that there is very little in these three saints that is not taught by nearly all of the teaching saints with regard to spirituality. What really differs order to order is charism, calling, and emphasis. In the Carmelite order we travel largely by what has been called (properly or not) the via negativa a way of detachment from worldly things and notions. It sounds very difficult, but it makes perfect sense once you understand the point. It's just very hard to put into practice alone. Thus we gather in monthly meetings to pray together, teach one another, and assist one another in advancing along the Carmelite way. It's very important to recognize that this is a vocation and not all are called to it. It takes time and careful discernment to understand whether or not you are being called. As a result the T.O.Carms have a year of preliminary teaching required before you are received and then an additional two years before you profess (fully join the order, requiring a writ of dismissal from Rome to leave). So once you are in, you are truly part of the order.

Hope this helps a bit. If you have other questions please ask. I forget how much I did not realize when I was discovering all that the Church had to offer. Most major orders have tertiaries or third orders--Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, and Benedictines all do. I hope others who are in a better position to know will let you know about other possibilities for lay people will comment in the comments box.

Shalom, and thank you for taking the time to ask.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on October 5, 2002 4:11 PM.

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