Franciscan Focus

Just a simple blog of a Secular Franciscan trying to live with a Franciscan focus.
(And one of these days I'll fix the template and add a Search feature. :-P)

08 June 2007

The Secular Franciscan Habit 

One of the things that folks frequently wonder about Secular Franciscans (and those in other third/secular orders) is if we wear habits. And the answer is yes, Secular Franciscans do wear habits, and we always have!

Tau cross pendant, the habit of Secular Franciscans in the U.S.The Habit

Upon entering Candidacy (novitiate), a secular is clothed in our Order's habit, which -- in the U.S. -- is a Tau cross pendant, like what you see on the left. It's always to be worn in some way, whether as a pendant (preferred) or pin, ring, or some other form. The image is composed of two parts, the Tau and the Conformity.

The Tau. While the Tau represents Christ's cross, it's also the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet and gained special significance in the Old Testament through Ezekiel 9:4: "Pass through the city (through Jerusalem) and mark an X [Tau] on the foreheads of those who moan and groan over all the abominations that are practiced within it."

At the Fourth Lateran Council -- at which Francis was said to be in attendance -- Pope Innocent III used Ezekiel's Tau imagery in his opening homily, and the Tau became the symbol for the council. From then on, Francis used the Tau in his writings, painted it on the walls and doors of the places where he stayed, and used it as his signature.

It's also said that St. Francis borrowed the Tau and what it meant to him from the Antonines, a religious community of men founded in 1095 whose sole function was to care for the sick, and on whose habit was painted a great Tau cross. Francis was familiar with these men because they staffed the leper house in Assisi and the hospital of St. Blasé in Rome where Francis went to stay.

St. Bonaventure said, "This Tau symbol had all the veneration and all the devotion of the saint: He spoke of it often in order to recommend it, and he traced it on himself before beginning each of his actions." Due to Francis' affection for and devotion to the Tau, it's been a well-recognized and accepted Franciscan symbol for centuries.

The Conformity. On top of the Tau are the crossed arms of Christ and Francis, which is called the "conformity". Christ's bare arm is in front of Francis' clothed arm; Christ's hand has the wound from His Crucifixion; Francis' has the stigmata.

While this is what we currently wear, our habit has changed throughout history.


Up until 1508, Secular Franciscans wore full habits. Then this changed to a large scapular held together by a piece of rope around the waist. Over time, the scapular became smaller until the rope was no longer needed to hold it in place and was replaced by a string, and both were then worn underneath clothing.

With the revision of our Rule in 1978, our habit changed from the small scapular and string to -- in the U.S., at least -- the Tau cross.

Additional Reading

The Five Franciscan Martyrs Region (U.S.): The Franciscan Tau Symbol

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful and informative to read. Blessings and prayers in our Lord.
Pax et Bonum,
Debra McCullar

09 February, 2008 14:17  
Blogger Unknown said...

I joined the Third Order of St. Francis on 31st Street in NYC in 1974. I still have my rope and scapular. Am I still considered being in the Third Order. I would love to be.

09 August, 2009 22:50  
Blogger Lisa, ofs said...

@nick unless you were dismissed by Rome from the Order, you are still a Secular Franciscan! :-D I strongly encourage you to rejoin your fraternity of origin! If you've since moved, you can locate a fraternity near you and, working with that fraternity's local minister, you can transfer in from your original fraternity.

For more information, see !

10 August, 2009 00:11  
Blogger Christa said...

My father has been a secular franciscan since the early '70's. A few years ago we learned that he aquired cirrhosis of the liver due to some other medical conditions. As of now he is in the hospital and his liver is worsening. He mentioned to me that if anything should happen to him, he would want to be laid to rest in a traditional habit. How do I go about finding one for him?

09 February, 2010 22:43  
Blogger Lisa, ofs said...

@Christa: I'm sorry to hear about your father's failing health -- prayers for him!

As for your question, what he's referring to isn't so much an actual habit as a burial shroud, which you can purchase here from Franciscan Resources.

Purrs 'n' pax!

09 February, 2010 22:54  
Blogger Unknown said...

A gentleman claims that he wears a habit because he wears a Tau cross, but the original 3rd Order members wore the full habit with some minor distinctions. Don't know why or how it changed over the centuries but I suspect it has something to do with living in a pluralistic society in which we are reluctant to make a bold statement in public about our beliefs. Too bad, I think, because this overly-secular society could use the inspiration and witness. Regular religious orders are discovering that external witness in the form of a habit is extremely important -- young people are reluctant to join an order, any more, that does not have a habit. I think that Third Order members should also wear a habit but it should be different from First and Second order religious, to distinguish them as laypeople.

28 January, 2015 12:14  
Blogger Lisa, ofs said...

@Sue: That gentleman is absolutely correct.

The Tau cross, as I explained in my post above, IS the current habit of the Secular Franciscan Order in the United States. And I explained how it changed over the centuries -- a scapular, which became smaller over time. The why was to distinguish us from our religious counterparts: We are not religious brothers and sisters, and therefore wear different habits to better accommodate our secular lives.

But, as I explained in my post, we Secular Franciscans do wear habits and they are different from those in the First Order and Second Order. :-)

29 January, 2015 00:04  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not only that, but over the centuries the habit took on a different meaning. It came to be not a sign of penance but a sign of privilege, and that's the wrong message. We are penitents.

05 April, 2015 14:19  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see John Michael Talbot wears a full habit.

22 May, 2015 11:41  
Blogger Lisa, ofs said...

That's because John Michael Talbot is not a Secular Franciscan. :-) He's the founder of a different order, the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, and he wears the habit of his community as appropriate to his membership in it.

23 May, 2015 04:55  
Blogger Csp7797 said...

I agree. As younger members as myself are joining the 3rd order, we feel the same sentiments that you stated Sue. Perhaps one day a new understanding of what the habit truly means will prevail.God bless you!

12 February, 2018 11:07  
Blogger Csp7797 said...

We must however be open to the Holy Spirit and change.Attitudes change and younger people do not feel that a habit is a "privledge" but as a sign of PENANCE. We can agree to disagree.

12 February, 2018 11:12  

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