Secular order

Secular order

A Secular Order (also called a "Third Order Secular") is defined according to Canon Law of the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church in the following way:

"Associations whose members live in the world but share in the spirit of some religious institute, under the overall direction of the same institute, and who lead an apostolic life and strive for Christian perfection, are known as third orders, or are called by some other suitable title". (Can. 303) Code of Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church.

Members are known also as Tertiaries.


The name "tertiary" comes from the Latin tertiarius meaning basically "third". Hence it has been used for centuries to denote those who belonged to a third order. This was due to the historical reality of the Tertiaries of the Humiliati. They were the third form of this life. Also among Religious Orders born of the 12th -13th centuries it is often said that there was the "first order" or the Male Religious who were first in establishment, then the 'second order" or the "Nuns or Sisters" who were often established second, and then the 'third order' of laity who were established third. Though this was not always the case.


The Humiliati seem to have been the first to have 'tertiaries' in the twelfth century. These lived a rule of life within the world. In time the other orders too had tertiaries such as the Trinitarians (we find true tertiaries from the beginning at the end of the 12th Century within the Order of the Holy Trinity, even if this name was not used per se) Franciscans and the Dominicans (often they would follow the rule of the Order or one drawn up for them). These were followed over time by a number of others such as the Carmelites, Servites, Augustinians,and others. Eventually the name "tertiary" became popularized and attached to all who lived in this way. It is very interesting that if one looks at the beatified or canonized tertiaries, one finds this name attached to them by the Church, for it was what and who they were. It was their vocation.

With the advent of the Second Vatican Council and the ressourcement and development of doctrine concerning the lay vocation, the tertiary vocation came more fully into its nature.

The lay vocation is a vocation distinct from that of the consecrated state. It involves the sanctification of ordinary life, of one's work, of family life, of all the various secular occupations. It is the leaven in the midst of the world for the consecration of the world (consecratio mundi) - to order the temporal world to God. To make Christ known in the streets, the offices, the family, the malls. To live as Christians in their daily lives seeking holiness and to order the world to God (See Christifedelis Laici.)

As the various third orders secular began to look at each of their houses after the Council they began to revise their Rules and Statutes. This has been a long and fruitful process. The Orders, as they felt they were ready, often after many drafts and experimentations, have submitted one by one their new Statutes or Rules or Constitutions to the Holy See for review and approbation. Thus the new Statutes etc. are steeped in the doctrine of the Council regarding the universal call to holiness and the theology of the lay vocation including the secular character of the laity. Thus the various Orders have opted to change the name from "Third Order Secular" to "Secular Order" (or add least add it to usage) in order to emphasize the secular nature of the Order or they used the term "Lay or Laity" to the same effect. Of course "third order" and "tertiary" is still used but other names were added or used in a formal sense. The various documents show how the tertiaries of the various Orders are part of the Order but fully within their particular lay and secular state. They show how tertiaries are to live fully their Christian lay vocation, as well as how they are to live the charism of the Order they belong to within ordinary secular life. They also provide various means to tending towards holiness in the midst of the world, which very much is part of the vocation of the tertiary--to strive for Christian perfection (CIC 303).

See also

* Trinitarian Order


* [ Fraternitates laicales S. Dominici]
* [ Third Order of Saint Dominic]
* [ Rule of Saint Alebert and the Constitutions of the Secular Order of the Teresian Carmel]
* [ About the Trinitarians: Laity]
* ['ordine/Documenti%20-%20Progetto%20di%20vita%20del%20Laicato%20Trinitario.html The Trinitarian Way]
* [ Ordo Sanctae Trinitatis et Captivorum]
* [ The Servite Secular Order]
* [ Order of Friar Servants of Mary]
* [ The National Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order]
* [ Marylake Shrine, King City. Secular Augustinians.]
* [ Secular Augustinian Recollects]
* [ The Rule for the Third Order of Carmel]
* [ The Carmelite Third Order]

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