The origin of Secular, or Third, orders is usually traced to St. Francis of Assisi. Francis responded to the desire of his secular supporters to join in his way of life by composing a Rule for them around the year 1221. Even before this Rule was written it appears that some benefactors and secular followers had been treated as lay “brothers” and “sisters” of the Order, sharing to some extent in the monks’ and nuns’ prayers and penances. This practice seems to have been followed in other Orders as well, particularly the Mendicant orders of the thirteenth century, and over the years these orders also began providing Rules for the benefit of lay followers.
Prior to the reforms of Teresa of Avila, Blessed John Soreth issued the first Rule of the Third Order of Carmel in the year 1455. When Teresa inaugurated her reforms in the sixteenth century, she had many interested lay benefactors and supporters, as had Francis two and a half centuries earlier. On some of these supporters Teresa apparently conferred a small brown scapular.
When the Discalced were officially made a separate Order in 1593, the Superiors retained the power to organize lay members as was granted to the parent Order by Pope Nicholas V in 1452. However, in the early years of the new order the Superiors forbade the admittance of lay members to the Discalced vocation. This policy was written into the Constitutions of 1581 and 1592. In 1600 the Discalced Carmelite Order was divided into two Congregations, the Spanish and the Italian. Both Congregations maintained the policy against organizing groups of tertiaries (seculars), however they did continue the apostolate of the brown scapular among lay friends of the Order, and such friends were the recipients of prayers and penances offered on their behalf.
In the late seventeenth century some movement toward the development of a Discalced Carmelite third order was begun, first in Belgium and then in France and Italy. In 1699 a Rule was privately published (with Provincial approval) in Liege, Belgium. And in 1708 in Marseille, France a complete Rule was published for Third Order Secular women. This Rule can be considered the first known true Secular Rule of the Discalced Order. Interestingly, this document recognizes Third Orders that were apparently already in existence in France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, and Spain. This Rule seems to have had as its intention the desire to bring some uniformity to a number of independent secular groups in various locations.
In addition to teaching on mental prayer, a spiritual Directory, and a Ceremonial, the 1708 Rule contained the following main duties for Third Order members: daily Mass, the daily Office (or 82 Our Fathers and Hail Marys, a common custom to accommodate those who could not read), an hour of mental prayer daily- half in the morning and half in the evening, observance of certain days of fasting and abstinence, and the doing of works of charity- especially on behalf of members who were ill.
In 1883 a version of this Rule was imposed on all Third Order Secular congregations by the Definitor General of the parent Order. However, attempts to seek Vatican approval for various versions of a secular Rule did not meet with success. In 1911 a revision of the Rule was composed by Fr. Elia of St. Ambrose. This Rule was approved by the Definitor General and was published in Rome in 1912 as the first official Manual of the Third Secular Order. It was approved by the Holy See in 1921, and remained the official Rule until after Vatican II, when the current Rule of Life was approved in 1970 and 1979.
*This sketch is primarily based on Fr. Otilio Rodriguez’ The Third Order of the Teresian Carmel; Its Origin and History.
Since our current Rule of Life encourages the Secular Carmelite to participate in “acts of traditional Christian piety”, members may be interested in those practices present in the earlier, 1921 version, of our Rule. The following list highlights some of the practices which were either obligatory or encouraged in the former Rule.
-The large 7 x 10” scapular was worn day and night. -Tertiaries renewed their vows twice a year, on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and on Epiphany (currently this is done during the Easter season). Note that the “vow” was not the same as a vow in Religious life but was equivalent to the current “promise”. -The Rule contained vows of Obedience and Chastity, as it does currently, but there was no vow in relation to Poverty. The vow of Chastity encouraged modesty in dress and avoidance of “the pomps and vanities of the world” in regard to fashion. -The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin was the norm, though the complete Office was also encouraged. Those who could not read said 25 Our Fathers and Hail Marys. Though the Office could be said all in one sitting, it was encouraged to spread it over the eight traditional Hours of the day and night.
-After the monthly gathering of the Community, on the third Sunday of the month, the Tertiaries were to take part in the Procession of the Confraternity of Our Blessed Lady of Mount Carmel. -The daily half hour of mental was divided into 15 minutes in the AM, and 15 Minutes in the evening.
-The following were the recommendations for spiritual reading: The Gospels, The Imitation of Christ, works of St Theresa and St John of the Cross (Therese was not yet canonized), works by St Francis de Sales and St Alphonsus Liguori, lives of the Saints and Blesseds, esteemed ascetical and mystical writings.
-The daily examination of conscience was seen as “one of the most efficacious means of preserving purity of heart and advancing in perfection.”
-”They should also endeavor to apply themselves earnestly to the practice of the presence of God, especially by the frequent use of ejaculatory prayers.”
-In addition to attempting to attend daily Mass (and receiving Communion at least once a week) Tertiaries were to communicate on First Fridays, the Feasts of Our Lord and Our Lady, on the anniversary of their profession and at the renewal of their vows, and upon learning that a member of the Order was dangerously ill or had died. On Holy Thursday they should attempt to receive Communion at the hands of the Superior. -Frequent, even daily, Communion was encouraged (guided by one’s confessor). If unable to make Communion, Spiritual Communion was encouraged to “keep alive in their soul the desire of the Holy Eucharist, and dispose themselves better for its sacramental reception.” -“In their homes they should be charitable, patient, good-tempered and exact in fulfilling the duties of their state, thus rendering religion and piety attractive to the eyes of others.” -The Spiritual Exercises (of St Ignatius) were to be made once a year, and a day of recollection was to be set aside once a month. -Tertiaries were to foster a great devotion to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, Our Lady of Mt Carmel, St Joseph, and the Saints of the Order. To aid in these devotions, a daily visit to the Blessed Sacrament was encouraged, as well as participating in Novenas and Triduums in preparation for associated Feasts. -In imitation of St Theresa, Tertiaries were to be zealous in prayer and good works for the Church and the Pope.
-Abstinence on all Wednesdays and on Saturdays of Advent was recommended.
-Justifiable reasons for being dispensed from fasts included inconvenience to the household, and stress of work. -Tertiaries should have useful occupations to keep them from idleness and to allow them to give alms.
-They should follow the example of St Theresa and scrupulously regard the good name of those not present by guarding against the “detestable habit of back-biting”.
-“Tertiaries living in the world, who cannot observe the regular hours of silence, should at least set apart certain times for the practice of such a degree of silence as is compatible with the circumstances of their lives: for instance, from the evening examination of Conscience till after morning prayers, they might laudably abstain from all conversations not imposed upon them by necessity or civility.” -Tertiaries will be charitable in the care of the sick, especially members of the Third Order. They will assist the dying and deceased in whatever physical and spiritual means are available to them (attend Mass, receive Communion, say the 15 decade Rosary, obtain the services of a priest, offer suffrages, contact other Tertiaries). -On the Feast of All Carmelite Souls they will recite the entire Rosary and receive Communion. After the Feast of Epiphany, the octave of Easter, and the Feast of St Michael the Archangel they will receive Communion and recite the 15 decades of the Rosary “in union with the suffrages offered at these times throughout the Order for the departed members”.
-To the extent possible, Tertiaries were to frequent Carmelite Churches, especially for principal feasts of the Order. -“These Regulations, though...not binding under pain of sin or punishment, should nevertheless be observed with great fidelity. It is not the dread of sin or punishment which should be the motive that impels Tertiaries to the loyal fulfillment of their duties, but rather the holy fear of God, the desire to be true to their vocation, and the conviction that they will obtain the reward promised to those who have faithfully observed the Rule.”
-“Should any Tertiary, impelled by the desire of identifying himself more closely with the spirit of the Order, feel drawn to add to these obligations other practices of piety, especially such as involve penance and mortification, let him first obtain the authorization of his spiritual Director; and let him not doubt but that God will richly reward him. But in everything let discretion, which is the moderating principle of all virtue, be the guide.”