Third order/secular orders


Can anyone please explain the difference between a third order and a secular order.
From the little I understand a first order is a cloistered monk, the second is a cloistered nun, and the third order is of men and women who are not cloistered, married, single etc. (Please do correct me if I’m wrong! But I can’t work out the difference between that and a secular order. Thanks in advance for your help


In the Franciscan order, lay men/women married/unmarried were once referred to as third order Franciscans. The term isn’t used as much anymore. Now, we are referred to as Secular Franciscans.


It is not with the monastics but rather with the friars movement of the 12th/13th century that the third orders are most associated…although they are present preceding this movement, with the Canons Regular.

There was a unicity in the monastic rule. Monks and nuns were governed by the same Rule in the West. Lay people associated with the monastery were oblates and they live the monastic rule in so far as it can be adapted to their life and circumstance.

Given the radical difference between the life of a friar and a cloistered nun, it was necessary to have different rules governing the First Order and the Second Order. When laity asked for a rule, similarly something was written that was specific to them.

The first order are the friars. The second order are cloistered nuns. Third Orders came to be divided into two:

Third Orders Regular would include for example the active, apostolic Sisters who were teachers, health care professionals, and so forth. They have vows and community life.

Third Orders Secular are for lay men and women, married and single, living in their own homes and who make, eventually, life long promises after their period of formation.

Each of the third orders secular have websites today which provide excellent information.


This! :thumbsup:

A good example of a Third Order Regular are the Franciscan Friars who run Franciscan University of Steubenville They are also the ones who created the “Wild Goose” series about the Holy Spirit and the upcoming series about St. Francis called “Sign of Contradiction - the Story of St. Francis of Assis”

As a contrast, good example of a Third Order Secular (or Secular Order) is the St. Katherine Drexel Region of the Secular Order Franciscans –

Wikipedia also has some decent** articles on Third orders:

** always take Wikipedia with a grain of salt.

God Bless


Secular Franciscans are still Third Order Franciscans under the auspices of Rome.




Here a few websites

Since you are in Devonshire, I gave preference to websites in the UK, when available.

The Norbertine Third Order

The Secular Franciscan Order

The Lay Fraternities of Saint Dominic

The Lay Carmelites [Ancient Observance]

The Discalced Carmelites Secular Order [Teresian Reform]

The Trinitarian Third Order

The Mercedarian Third Order

The Servite Third Order

The Augustinian Third Order

Third Order of Mary [under the Marists]

The Minim Third Order

Augustinian Recollects Secular Order


Thanks to everyone who answered my question. :slightly_smiling_face:


There are third order “regular” who are religious (so they are celibate).

Third orders “secular” are secular - are secular (not religious) as lay persons or as secular Priests (non -religious Priests) or Perm. Deacons.

They lay tertiaries can be married as can perm. Deacons.


The 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

(PS: the names used can vary at times).


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