Secular institute/third orders


are they the same thing? I’ve mostly heard the terms used interchangeably so wanted to check

also, if a person joins as a single, are they allowed to get married still? or do they have to be married prior?


I can speak for the Franciscans and Benedictiones:

The Third Order (now known as OFS) is “officially” a part of the Franciscans. We are “as Franciscan” as the 1st and 2nd Orders.

Benedictine Oblates are not a third order, really. An oblate is attached to a specific monastery.

Yes, they are allowed to marry. Before or after. :slight_smile:


If I’m not mistaken, Third Order Dominicans comprise of the Dominican Sisters and the Lay Dominicans. Lay Dominicans are every bit as Dominican as their brother and sister Priests, Friars, Sisters, and Nuns.


No, they are not the same thing.

Members of the various third orders may be married or single. One can marry after joining a third order.

Members of secular institutes make promises, or other sacred bonds, binding under pain of sin regarding the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. Some secular institutes make provision for married people to be associate or affiliate members but to be fully and definitively incorporated into the institute is to be unmarried and celibate. Typically, a member of a secular institute will not live in an established community but as an isolated secular and in a job that has been approved by the superior of the institute.


No they are not the same. They are two different vocations in the Church and world.

Tertiaries yes can get married at any point (third orders secular/secular orders).

Members of Secular Institutes are basically celebate and thus do not marry.


thanks for the replies

ok, so since they are not the same thing, what are the main differences?

can you give me some examples of which is a third order and which is a secular institute?

and seriously, why is this not talked about more. you get the impressions that the only options the church gives is to be married or a nun, priest if you’re a male, which doesn’t seem to be quite true


You could be a brother.:smiley:

There is a running gag, that the OFS is the best kept secret in the Church. Although, we do have around a million members. There are even a few Franciscan religious who do not seem to know who we are…


Since you are in Canada, may I recommend the following websites:

The Americans have a helpful page that describes the various types of consecrated life

I have a great respect and a great esteem for the Third Orders Secular. I think they have a tremendous ability to enrich a person’s life. They make one a part of the family – if an extended part – and enrich the individual’s life with a patrimony and the charism of the institute. They provide a structure to one’s prayer life and some sense of community, even if it is in a very extended sense.

Yes, a Dominican tertiary is truly Dominican just as a friar is truly Dominican but the way in which they live their “Dominicaness” will be quite different. Also the canonical realities are profoundly different.

A third order is something a lay person or secular cleric joins…but it does not change one’s state of life nor does it profoundly alter one’s daily life from a canonical perspective even though it may greatly enrich it spiritually. One can certainly look to figures like Catherine of Siena or Rose of Lima who lived the tertiary vocation in a very profound manner.

If one is discerning a secular institute on the other hand, one will have a superior who has some oversight over your daily life and how you live it as well as its practical aspects in a way analogous to the superior of a religious institute and in a way no third order moderator does. Poverty and Obedience is more negotiated, typically, than for a member of a religious institute because a balance has to be achieved as the member has to earn their daily living in work that is not typically directly related to the secular institute.

A secular institute vocation has very real demands that are not to be underestimated. One is essentially living in the world with many of the demands of religious life yet normally without the support one experiences living in community.

As for why it is not discussed more…newer forms of consecrated life are new. The numbers are small and growth has been over time. They are certainly talked about in the context of the Church’s life but may not be extensively known to members of the Church more at the periphery…which, frankly, is why if someone is considering a vocation, they should be in contact with a knowledgeable vocation director instead of trying to research the matter simply on their own…most especially once one passes beyond the third orders secular and into the realm of secular institutes and beyond.


The nitty gritty can get pretty complicated when it comes to different kinds of vocations, and organizations, institutes, etc. To be honest, I don’t completely understand it all myself, but I’ll try to address it somewhat.

There are several forms of “consecrated life”

  • Religious institutes (monks, friars, nuns, etc…Benedictines, 1st and 2nd order Franciscans, Dominicans, Poor Clares, Jesuits, etc). Religious make the Evangelical Councils, i.e. Vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience. There are Religious “Orders” and Religious “Congregations”. Franciscans are an Order (actually several Orders), Jesuits i believe are a Congregation…the difference has to do with the kind of vows professed (solemn vs simple), and is really not that important, in my opinion since its amounts the pretty much the same thing.

  • Secular Institutes (Lay Missionaries of the Passion, Voluntas Dei Institute, Company of St. Paul, and more). I think they also make the evangelical councils, but unlike religious, they live on their own, living and working in the world. i.e. they work as bankers, store managers, paramedics, physicians, etc and have to support themselves just like anyone else in society. But they go through formations with whatever institute they belong to, living out that charism all the while.

  • Hermits.

  • Consecrated Virgins. I don’t know much about either Hermits of Virgins.

Societies of Apostolic Life are different. They are usually secular priests, like diocesan priests (not Religious…do not make the evangelical council as vows), but they are members of a society, such as FSSP and Paulists.

The simplified way I’d look at it is Religious live as part of a community, some more than others, and make the Vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience. Secular Institutes make the vows, but do not life in a community like Religious. Apostolic Societies live in community like religious, but do not make the vows. Although they can adhere to them and make other promises, like diocesan priests.

Opus Dei is a Personal Prelature. It is the only one. I’m not entirely sure what that means off hand. I think they would be more similar to a Secular Institute but with it’s own bishop. I believe that depending on the type of membership with Opus Dei, you may be married with children, or celibate.

Third Orders are made up of secular people who do not make the vows. But they are often affiliated or attached to a religious institute. (maybe also a society of apostolic life? I’m not sure). There are third order Carmelites, Dominicans, Franciscans. Probably more as well. Benedictine Monks have what they call “Oblates”, which is a similar idea, although a very different history than third orders. Members of third orders live the charism of the order in everyday life. Also, I say they are “Secular”, not “Lay”, because they are not vowed religious, but they can have priests. A diocesan priest can become a member of a third order.

What does make things confusing though, is the Franciscan Family. What most orders refer to as a Third order, we call “Secular Franciscans”. So I can certainly see where Third Order vs Secular confusion comes in. In the Franciscan world “Third Order” refers to any group that does not fit into the First Order (OFM, OFM Cap, OFM Conv) or the Second Order (Poor Clares). This includes those that follow the Third Order Rule (Secular Franciscans, Third Order Regulars), franciscan sisters who are not Poor Clare nuns, or friars that follow the First rule, but are not not part of one of the 3 Friars Minor communities ( CFR’s, Primitive Observance). Third Order Regular friars follow the Third Order rule of St. Francis, but are in fact vowed religious. There are also groups like the Confraternity of Penitents which are similar to Secular Franciscans, but follow an earlier version of the Rule, and have a different canonical status. Long story short, “third order Franciscans” can mean any number of communities, religious and secular/non-religious

I don’t know why we don’t talk more about Third orders when discussing vocations. They are wonderful vocations and the members are a true blessing to the Church.


While they fall under the Congregation for Consecrated Life due to their being part of Religious Orders - and while they are further “consecrated” they would not per se be under “consecrated life”. Oh and some tertiaries do take vows or have or may.

Consecrated life:

Secular Institutes are a form of Consecrated life per se.


Historical Third Orders Secular (and all are still in existence):

Secular Franciscan Order (Third Order of St. Francis)

Lay Dominicans (Dominican Third Order)

Third Order Secular of the Carmelite Order

Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites (Discalced Carmelite Third Order)

Third Order Secular of Most Holy Trinity (Tertiaries of the Order of the Most Holy Trinity and of the Captives)

Mercedarian Third Order (Tertiaries of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy)

Servite Secular Order (Third Order of the Order of the Servants of Mary)

Secular Augustinians (Third Order of the Augustinian Order)

Secular Augustinian Recollects (Third Order of the Augustinian Recollect)

Minims Third Order

Premonstratensian Third Order


Yes, sorry, the way I organized my post is confusing. Religious Institutes, Secular Institutes, Consecrated Hermits, and Consecrated Virgins are Consecrated Life. Societies of Apostolic Life, Personal Prelature, Tertiaries, and even diocesan priests **are not ** Consecrated Life.

I’m not aware of tertiaries making vows (evangelical councils), but I’d be interested to learn more.


Societies of Apostolic Life are under “consecrated life”. Difficult to keep all these different branches of the vine straight…:slight_smile:


Exactly! That’s part of what makes it so confusing, they are under the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life in Rome, but are not actually “consecrated life”. They’re similar, but fall under a different section of canon law.


I stand corrected.

They were in drafts for the CIC included among them but the are actually “alongside” them.

Told ya some branches of the the vine can be difficult!


On a somewhat related note and to save opening a new thread, could anyone point me to any lists of Third Orders in the United Kingdom? I can find plenty for the US, but very sparse information for England. I would be especially interested to learn of any Benedictine or Dominican Oblate/Third Order groups.


Well, I don’t know of any of the Benedictine Houses in the United Kingdom that don’t have oblates.

You should contact the house closest to where you live.

As for the Dominicans:

The Carmelites:

Ancient Observance:



Thank you very much Father, that’s a great help.


I don’t know where you are – and I am not asking – but I do remember that long before the ordinariate, there were priests of the pastoral provision, incardinated in the Archdiocese of Westminster, who used to help at Tyburn Convent. It is a very special shrine and a very special community. I hope you have occasion to visit it.

Minster is also lovely, at Thanet.


You did not ask specifically but the Servants of Mary, the Servites, also have a third order

As do the Norbertines

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