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Are you a Catholic who feels attracted to a religious order, but are married? Do you want to stay in your home and at your job, but still follow a rule of life, like that of St. Benedict, for example? Do you want to share your pilgrim journey with other like-minded people? Have I got a deal for you: Third orders!
What are Third/Secular Orders?
According to the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, "Third Orders signify in general lay members of religious orders, i.e. men and women who do not necessarily live in community and yet can claim to wear the habit* and participate in the good works of some great order. ... Any Catholic may join a Third Order, but may not at once belong to more than one, nor may he without grave cause leave one for another."
(* I can't speak for others, but we Secular Franciscans do wear habits.)
Here's the Code of Canon Law's definition: "Associations whose members share in the spirit of some religious institute while in secular life, lead an apostolic life, and strive for Christian perfection under the higher direction of the same institute are called third orders or some other appropriate name." (Can. 303)
For more information, see the following general resources:
- AllRefer Encyclopedia: Tertiary, Roman Catholic Orders And Missions
- New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia: Third Orders
- Wikipedia: Third Order
Married or single Catholic women and men from all walks of life are able to join secular orders, as are diocesan priests and deacons. Like their religious counterparts, seculars (also called "tertiaries") undergo a period of formation according to the processes established by their orders, after which they become professed members. Profession for seculars means they promise to live according to the rules of their orders; it does not consist of taking vows.
What Does "Secular" or "Third" Order Mean?
Unlike religious (monks, friars, nuns, sisters) who remove themselves from the world and live apart in convents or friaries, those in third orders stay where they're at in the world (homes, jobs, families, etc.); hence, the term "secular". For example, as Bernard of Bessa, Secretary of St. Bonaventure, said, "The intention of [Secular Franciscans] is to live honorably in their residences and to busy themselves with pious actions and to flee from the vanities of the world."
You also see "third" used, a term which arose as an indicator of when the lay branch of the main order was established. For example, the Franciscan Order started with a group of men, whom St. Francis of Assisi organized into the Order of Friars Minor -- the first order. After a time, a second order for nuns -- the Poor Clares -- was established. Finally, a third order was established for the laity -- the Secular Franciscan Order.
Links for Third/Secular Orders
Last updated 16-Jul-2014
If you'd like to learn more, check out the following links. I'm not sure that everything listed meets the criteria of being an actual third/secular order, but it's at least something to look into! Also, while oblates are not technically tertiaries, I've included them here, since they're still a way for laity to associate with religious orders. :-)
Please feel free to share any information, or corrections, you may have in the comments.
NOTE: Some of these sites are NOT in full compliance with the Church's Magisterium, so please exercise caution when surfing. I've included them for contact/informational purposes; it doesn't necessarily mean I endorse 'em!
- Associates of the Sisters of the Holy Family
- Basilian Lay Associates
- Benedictine Oblates
- Camaldolese Oblates
- Cistercian Lay Associates
- Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary - Secular Branch
- Lay Associates of the Companions of the Cross
- Lay Associates to the Oblates of St. Joseph
- Lay Canossians
- Lay Carmelites
- Lay Carmelites, Teresian (Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites)
- Lay Carthusians (International Fellowship of St. Bruno)
- Lay Dominicans
- Lay Marists
- Lay Missionaries of Charity
- Lay Norbertines (Lay Order of Prémontré)
- Lay Salvatorians
- Lay Spiritan Associates
- Marianist Lay Communities
- Mercedarian Third Order
- Missionary Cenacle Apostolate
- Montfortian Associates
- Oblate Associates of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate
- Oblates of Saint John
- Passionist Partners
- Pauline Cooperators
- Salesian Cooperators
- Secular Augustinian Recollects
- Secular Augustinians
- Secular Franciscan Order
- Secular Oratorians
- Secular Oratorians: Daughters of St. Philip Neri
- Secular Order of the Servants of Mary (Servite Secular Order)
- Sons and Daughters of the Blessed Virgin - Lay Movement
- Third Order of the Institute of the Incarnate Word
- Trinitarian Third Order
- Viatorian Associates