The Third Order
Over the centuries and throughout the world religious brothers and sisters from eleven different Religious Orders have played a significant role in perfecting souls for the glory of God.
They accomplished this through the spiritual formation they provided to lay Catholic men and women (married/single) as well as secular clerics who have been called by God to a vocation to the religious life - not as religious brothers and sisters - but as members of a Third Order.
The Dominicans, Franciscans, Benedictines and Carmelites are the most commonly known Religious Orders that have a secular Third Order branch. The Third Orders rank highest among all lay organizations according to canon law and have been highly recommended by numerous popes throughout the ages as a means to grow in holiness. Some popes have themselves been Third Order members.
Members of the Third Order are known as Tertiaries and their training in the novitiate is based upon the charisms and teachings of the Founder of their Order. They make temporary and permanent professions, live according to an approved Rule of Life under the direction of their Order, obey their superiors and participate in the apostolic mission of the Order.
The various Third Order Rules share many common elements such as faithful adherence to the laws and teachings of the church, frequent reception of the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, daily prayer, religious study, penance and acts of charity.
While remaining in the world each Tertiary spiritually abandons the world in order to make a difference in the world. The inspiration, spiritual guidance, Rule of Life and community found in Third Orders help members grow in Christian Perfection and thus attract other souls to know, love and serve Christ.
Tertiaries such as Third Order Dominican St. Catherine of Sienna have made a powerful impact in the world. St. Catherine was captivated by the fire of God’s love for the world, and could not help wanting the whole world to love Him in return. Her contribution included the establishment of peace between cities and defending the rights and freedom of the Roman Pontiff. She also received the mystical wounds of Jesus.
Other canonized saints belonging to Third Orders include St. Rose of Lima (Dominican), St. Bridget of Sweden (Franciscan), St. Elizabeth of Portugal (Franciscan)and St. Angela Merici, (Franciscan).
Today hundreds of thousands of Third Order members throughout the world continue to make a difference in their families, parishes, communities, and workplaces.
Our Holy Father John Paul II in his letter titled “Master in the Faith” reminded all members of the Discalced Carmelite Order that their charism is not a material possession but a grace of the Spirit which demands fidelity and attentiveness to the needs of the Church. His message is applicable to all Religious Orders.
Lay Catholics and secular clerics who are looking for an identity with a community that embodies spiritual values and follows a definite path towards union with God, should consider spiritual formation through a Third Order. It is one sure way to grow in personal holiness and to make a significant contribution to Holy Mother Church.