By Lisa Rosenlund,
Saint Brendan Parish Manager
Each week, we summarize a specific style, form, or approach to prayer, using the highly-acclaimed book by Robert J. Wicks, Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: A Handbook of Practical Approaches (Franciscan Media 2006). In this article, you’ll learn more about prayer in third order traditions.
Religious orders that were established in the 12th and 13th centuries frequently had a “first order” consisting of the male clergy, a “second order” composed of the female religious, and a “third order” of lay people who did not take religious vows, but were associated with the order. Members of these third orders were often known as “tertiaries” (from the Latin word for third).
An example of this structure would be the Franciscans, which had the Friars Minor, the Poor Clares, and the Third Order of Saint Francis, a very popular third order even today. Other religious orders that have third orders include the Dominicans, Carmelites, Servites and Augustinians.
Church authority for third orders can be found in Canon 303 of the Code of Canon Law which states: “Associations whose members share in the spirit of some religious institute while in secular life, lead an apostolic life, and strive for Christian perfection under the higher direction of the same institute are called third orders or some other appropriate name.”
Some orders now refer to their third order as “secular” or “lay.” For example, Sister Angela’s order, the Canossian Daughters of Charity, has a third order known as the “Lay Canossians.” This group of lay women has been active in San Francisco, including at Saint Brendan, for many years.
According to the website of the Canossian Order, “lay Canossians live the spirituality of the day-to-day ordinary life, having Jesus Crucified as the foundation and loving the poor and the little ones. They live as instruments of peace, of unity and of hope in the family, in the world of work, in society and in the local church.”
Although they do not take vows like clergy and religious, members of third orders do follow a path of study and reflection before becoming “professed” members of their order, which means that they promise to live according to the rules of their order. These rules can be general or very specific. Prayer is often specifically mentioned.
For example, the rules of the Franciscan Third Order Penitents (the modern form of Saint Francis’s original Rule of 1221) require members to pray a daily formal prayer of some kind. The preferred prayer is the Liturgy of the Hours (also known as the “breviary”). Among other prayer requirements, members should spend a minimum of fifteen minutes a day in meditative or contemplative prayer. They must also attend daily Mass, the greatest prayer of all, unless illness or family or work obligations prohibit it. In that case, a decade of the rosary is to be prayed at some point during the day.
It’s a serious commitment, but if your circumstances allow, consider ramping up your prayer life by becoming a member of a third order, such as the Lay Canossians. Ask Sister Angela, Lucile Kovash, or Lou Sheerer, if you are interested.v
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