What are third orders?


What are third orders about? Are you the same as a nun or brother or can married people join these? What do you do in a third order? Can you live a ‘normal’ life and be in one?


There are various lay orders in which ordinary people, living their own lives in the world, married and unmarried, participate in the spirituality and some of the practices of a religious order. Depending on the kind of spirituality you wish to enter into, there’s Carmelites, Franciscans, Dominicans, etc. lay orders. You may want to contact your diocese to see which ones have lay orders in your area. :slight_smile:


Well…just to make clarity, they are more “secular” than they are “lay” since diocesan priests and permanent deacons may also belong.

Here is an article I have given other English readers…it includes web sites for the different third orders secular and their equivalents.



Then of course there is T.O.R. - the Franciscan Third Order Regular, who are not ‘lay’.


And indeed there are more third orders regular than simply the Franciscan T.O.R.s…but in this context, I would have to assume the person is actually more likely to be inquiring about a third order secular than they are a third order regular.


Yes, which is why I didn’t want to confuse her by mentioning that priests and deacons, etc. may be members of lay orders. Or that even popes have been members of lay orders. Most people lay people think of the term secular as meaning non-religious/of the world. Again, it can be quite confusing for those merely wanting to know if they, as a lay person, may be in a lay order. :tiphat:


Well,I’m still confused.

Do you have to be single? What do you do?


No, anyone, whatever their status in life may join a third order.

What do you do? You live the vows you take to your chosen order in your everyday life.

What this will be will vary from order to order. You may be expected to do specific Hours in the Divine Office each day, to meet regularly with other members of the order, and so on.


But that is precisely the point. They are not “lay orders.” They are not orders for laity…they are orders for those who are secular…be they lay or cleric. To say they are lay orders is to completely misrepresent them.


No, not everyone may join a third order secular. Laity may and the secular clergy may, always in accord with the institute’s proper law.

One in a third order secular, properly speaking, would not take vows. They make profession by solemn promise, which is the basis of their membership which is quite distinct from vows.


Membership in a third order secular (or its canonical equivalent) is open to those who are married as well as those who are single. The commitments do not in anyway inhibit a single person who joins from subsequently marrying.

Essentially, membership makes the person – while still living in the world, occupied with their career or education, their family, their home, etc. – an extended but actual member of the religious family…be it the Benedictines, Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites, Servites, or so forth.

The period of formation in modeled on Religious Life…postulancy/candidacy, to novitiate, to temporary promises, to life promises over a span of a number of years. Thus it is something that an individual discerns (and those in charge of the third order/oblature discern) over a span of time, since it eventually involves a lifetime commitment.

The spirituality of the order you choose you would adopt into your own spiritual life.

Most third orders secular as well as most oblatures (the older monastic families don’t have third orders but rather oblates since there is only on rule for all rather than distinct rules for the monks, nuns, and laity) would expect you to assume some portion of the Liturgy of the Hours daily…however there are still a few third orders secular which do not ask that of their members.

The member assuredly maintains their own home and their job/career. Community in third orders secular is lived, rather, through meetings and gatherings of the particular fraternity (which is structured)…for oblates, it is lived more, typically, through coming for visits to the monastery to which you are attached.

The vocation is actually a wonderful gift for those who are called to it. It gives one the opportunity to have a more structured spiritual life that is enriched by the patrimony of a spiritual family, one that often goes back centuries.

Of course, there are newer ones, too, such as the Lay Missionaries of Charity, founded by Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Benedictine Oblates, at the other extreme, are part of a family of Religious that goes back 1500 years.

I am sorry that the earlier article seems not to have helped you. Perhaps this one might be more useful.



I understand what you’re saying. :slight_smile: However, third orders themselves call themselves lay orders. Hence, it can be confusing for the laity. :wink:


I must not have been clear enough. :blush: No, you don’t have to be single. Third orders are for laity, married or unmarried, and secular clergy such as diocesan priests, deacons, etc. I hope that answers your question. :tiphat:


You know, I was about something else when I suddenly remembered that you’re in Australia…so i have come back to this post. Let me give you Australian websites to look at that will be much more useful to you.

Dominican Laity

This will give you access to the formation manual that may help, relative to the Dominican’s secular order

Lay Carmelites of the ancient observance in Australia

Secular Carmelites of the Teresian reform – discalced – in Australia

Secular Franciscan Order in Australia

The Lay Missionaries of Charity exist in Australia, but you will have to reach out through their global website

The Norbertine third order in Australia you should contact here

For information about being a Benedictine Oblate in Australia, try reaching out to:


Third Order of the Servants of Mary

Secular Augustinian Recollects

The Marist Third Order

Also, look here

Perhaps all this will be of more help and give you better insights into the tertiary’s vocation as it is lived by Australians.

I am very sorry my answer earlier was so predicated on the United States. As a European, that was singularly ill considered…after all there are fortunately many non-United States people on this website – and that diversity should be greatly encouraged and greatly broadened. So very few of the world’s Catholics, of course, live in the United States; we are everywhere else across the globe.


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


If they are not ordained then they are lay, a sister or a nun is still lay for they are not ordained.

Br. Pio


For the Secular Franciscans poverty, chastity, and obedience are written into the rule and the constitutions, they took it after the Benedictines who actually don’t profess vows, its written into the constitutions and such. Also its written into the Secular Franciscans constitutions that the profession of vows is permissible.

Br. Pio, OFS

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