There are just a few minor and one major detail that I would like to correct regarding Franciscans.
The term Franciscan applies to one of over 25 obediences. The large group that everyone refers to as THE Franciscans, were called such for a very specific reason. Originally, they were many smaller fraternities of friars. Each was autonomous, but each followed the same rule. Pope Leo unified them under one superior general and one constitution. Since each of the smaller fraternities had a name for themselves, it would have been imprudent to choose any of their names. The largest group were known as the Observants. For a while this unified group, that we Franciscans call an obedience, because they are obedient to a General Minister, was known as the Observant Franciscans. But this name did not hold, because not all of the friars came from the Observant community. Eventually, they wee referred to as the Franciscans of the Leonine Union, since it was Pope Leo XIII who pulled them together. Today, no one calls them that. They are simply called The Franciscans.
Another minor point, there are over 1.7 million Franciscans around the world. As I said above, we come from over 25 obediences, over 114 nations and about 30 language groups, the largest being the Spanish-speaking friars. When looking at the Franciscan family, you have a wide selection.
There ARE NOT many Franciscan rules. St. Francis wrote four rules.
- Rule of the Friars Minor
- Rule of the Poor Sisters (later edited by St. Clare and became the Rule of St. Clare)
- Rule of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance
- Rule for Hermits
Franciscan men follow either the Rule of the Friars Minor or the Rule fo the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, also known as the Rule of Penance or the Third Order Rule. This rule is not third in rank or value. It was third in chronology. It is lived by friars, secular men and women, secular clergy who are Franciscans, and all Franciscan Sisters.
Franciscan women can choose between the Rule of St. Clare and the Rule of Penance. However, if they are sisters, they must follow the Rule of Penance. The Rule of Penance is available to sisters, nuns and secular women. The Rule of St. Clare is only for nuns.
The Rule for Hermits is only for men. They must be friars. Yes, contrary to popular opinion, there are Franciscan friars who are not mendicants, but hermits. They are very few and they must have the permission of their major superior to live the rule. They are not severed from their fraternity. They must live with two other friars, but they refrain from all forms of contact with the outside world and with each other. It’s an existence very similar to that of a Carthusian.
Regarding ordination . . . Francis did not found an order of clerics. The entire Franciscan family of men is a brotherhood. You are a brother from the moment that you begin your postulancy until the day you die. There are brothers who are ordained.
How do we do this without being like Dominicans, not disrespect intended toward Dominicans. Every effort is made to avoid distinctions between the brother who is ordained and his non-clerical brothers. Every brother can be elected superior. Every brother can be appointed formation director. Every brother can be asked to do manual labor, even ordained ones. We have one such brother. He is ordained, but his ministry is to serve as the go to guy for our pregnancy centers. He loves pulling things apart and putting them back together. It’s his natural gift. He celebrates mass only on Sundays and helps out with confessions at a neighboring parish on weekends. I may be mistaken, but I believe that the man has never annointed anyone in his life and I know that he has never witnessed a marriage. It’s not necessary for the ministry that he does. Maybe, someday, he’ll be reassigned to a post where there will be a greater demand for his priestly gifts.
Someone like Fr. Benedict G. has always been a psychologist and an educator, not a parish priest, while other non-ordained brothers have spent years in parishes. Assignments are made on the basis of gifts and need.
When a man comes to any of the Franciscan obediences and expresses a belief that he is called to Holy Orders, this is taken very seriously. He must go through the entire formation process that every friar does: postulant, novice, simple professed and solemn vows. During those years he is also going to school, along with his brothers. He studies theology and ministry, just like any other brother. He usually obtains a Master’s of Divinity, though some may be allowed to get a Master’s of Theology. That’s up to the major superior.
After the brother makes solemn vows, in other words, he’s in for life, then he must ask again for Holy Orders. Only the major superior can grant permission for him to be ordained, not even a bishop can grant this permission. That is why our men do not make a promise of obedience when they are ordained. The promise made during ordination applies to the bishop. We are not under the jurisdiction of the bishop. Our major superior is our Ordinary.