“You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). In giving this command, Jesus told us that every one of God’s children is called to personal holiness; and the one sure way to holiness is the following of Jesus Christ, who said: “I am the way. . . .” (John 14:6)
Some are called to follow Jesus Christ in the ministerial priesthood; others in one of the religious orders or congregations. But the vast majority are called to follow him as lay men and women, married or single, trying to cope with the many demands of a home and a job. No matter how one’s life unfolds, it is always possible-and indeed necessary-to strive to follow the advice of St. Paul: “Whatever you do, whether in speech or in action, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3:17).
Thus there are two branches of the Carmelite family the Ancient Observance (O.Carm.) and the Discalced (OCD). Each branch has its own Secular Order.
Secular Order of the Discalced Carmelites, as its Rule states,”welcomes those of the faithful who, by special vocation, undertake to live in the world an evangelical life of fraternal communion imbued with spirit of contemplative prayer, in imitation of the Virgin Mary, and animated with apostolic zeal according to the example and the teaching of the Carmelite saints.” Perhaps the best-known modem Carmelite saint is St. Therese of Lisieux, the “Little Flower,”who died in the Discalced Carmelite monastery of Lisieux in 1897.
The Third Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel is an association of lay people who, in response to a call from God promise to live the Gospel in the spirit of the Carmelite Order and under its guidance.
As well as lay people, diocesan priests, who find in the Carmelite charism help for their spiritual lives and their mission in the Church and the world, may be members of the Carmelite Third Order.
The Third Order member is connected to the Carmelite Order by means of the promise which he or she makes. It is possible, following a very ancient custom, to make private vows of chastity and obedience according to one’s state in life in order to be consecrated more closely to God.
Lay Carmelites, filled with the spirit of the Order, seek to live their own vocation by silently listening to the Word of God (Lectio Divina). According to the constant tradition of Carmel, they will especially cultivate prayer in all its forms.
The members of the Third Order take their inspiration from the figures of Our Lady and the Prophet Elijah.
In the midst of their normal family lives, in the work place, in their social commitments and relationships with other people, Carmelite Third Order members seek out the hidden image of God. They try to live in the spirit of the Beatitudes, humbly and consistently exercising the virtues of honesty, justice, sincerity, courtesy and fortitude, without which no Christian or human life is possible.
The Carmelite Third Order is divided into communities, fraternities or sodalities which are accompanied by the superiors of the Carmelite Order or their delegates. These groups are instituted by the Prior General of the Carmelite Order according to the law of the Church with the previous approval of the local Bishop.
Those who wish to be members of the Carmelite Third Order must be practicing Catholics. They must not be members of any other Third Order or Secular Institute, except in special cases, and they must be at least 18 years of age. After a period of initial formation, candidates are accepted for profession.
There are very many enthusiastic members of the Carmelite Third Order throughout the world at present. In recent years many new communities of lay Carmelites have been set up in various parts of the world. There has been a marvelous growth in the Third Order especially in the USA, Italy, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Kenya, The Philippines, Indonesia and Timor Leste.
New groups like “Carmelo Domestico” and “La Famiglia of Castellina (Florence)” in Italy, “Carmel Movement” in the Netherlands and the International Missionary Family “Donum Dei”. These groups have found in the Carmelite Third Order and its Rule of life a great help to live their own vocation in the Church and the world.
Over the centuries, the Carmelite Third Order has given many models of holiness to the Church. At present there are a number of Third Order members whose causes for beatification are being considered. Among these there are, Liberata Ferrarons (a young Spanish woman who worked in a textile factory), Anita Zelickova (a young Czech woman who offered her life to God in reparation for the sin of abortion) and Carmen de Sojo i Anguera (mother of a large family).
Fr. Kilian Lynch, who was the Prior General of the Carmelite Order from 1947 to 1959, talking to lay Carmelites, said, “The Third Order is an extension of the Order among those who believe. They are members of the Carmelite Order living in the world. In the modern world, the Third Order has greater significance than in past centuries. It is a firm anchor for those working for the transformation of the world.” Rule of the Third Order
United States: Sr. Mary Martin, O.Carm
Rose Mary Lancellotti, T.O.C. Email: jsoreth @ aol.com
1. What are the basic steps to become a Lay Carmelite?
2. What constitutes the formation period, and what does profession mean?
3. Does a Lay Carmelite profess vows? If so, what are they?
4. What exactly is a Lay Carmelite, and what is the Lay Carmelite Order?
5. Is the Lay Carmelite Order different from the Third Order of Carmel?
6. What are the daily obligations particular to the Lay Carmelite vocation?
7. What is the difference between “Lay Carmelites” and “Secular Carmelites”?
8. Why do individuals become members of the Third Order of Carmel?
9. Why would one become a Lay Carmelite as opposed to a Third Order member of one of the other major religious Orders?
10. If I live in a place where there is no Lay Carmelite Community can I still become a Lay Carmelite?
11. How do Lay Carmelites relate to each other “in community”?