[quote="TrueLight, post:1, topic:265235"]
What is the difference? Is anyone here a lay member of any of these groups?
The Secular Franciscan Order (SFO) is an arm of the Franciscan Third Order.
St. Francis founded three orders.
Brothers and Sisters of Penance
To each order he gave a rule with his vision for them and their mission in the world. The third order that he founded, Brothers and Sisters of Penance, was called The Third Order or Franciscan Third Order for short.
The Third Order was originally for secular Catholics. This included married people, single people, deacons, priests, bishops and popes. Any Catholic who was secular and qualified could join.
However, within 10 years after its foundation, a group of men who wanted to live the vowed life in a community of Franciscan penitents, emerged. They continued to be part of the Brother and Sisters of Penance.
As the Third Order grew, there were now secular and friars among them. These friars observed the rule of penance, not the rule of the Friars Minor, which is the rule of poverty. The Third Order became so large that the Church divided it into two groups.
The friars came to be known as the Third Order Regular (TOR) and the secular came to be known as the Third Order Secular Franciscan (TOSF). They continued to live by the same rule, but with separate governments.
Today, there are more friars and now we also have sisters who follow the Rule of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance. These friars and sisters are grouped according to culture, country and apostolate. Their way of life is the same, but their work may vary. Each of the goes by a different name. But all are Third Order Franciscans.
The secular branch of the Franciscan Third Order shortened its name to Secular Franciscan Order (SFO) in 1978. It's legal name is Ordo Franciscanus Saecularis (OFS) which is really Order of Franciscan Seculars. The rule is the same.
When you want to speak about all of the communities that follow the third rule of St. Francis, you say Third Order Franciscans.
When you want to speak about the secular communities that follow the third rule of St. Francis, you say Secular Franciscans.
Br. JR, OSF :)