Secular Carmelite Information

                                                         Last updated June 8, 2013


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Some of the religious orders in the Roman Catholic Church are "subdivided" into three orders. The First Order consists of the friars. The Second Order is made up of cloistered nuns. The Third Order may also be divided into the Third Order Religious and the Third Order Secular. The Third Order Religious would be those sisters who are not cloistered but serve the Church in the world. The Third Order Secular is made up of laity and diocesan clergy who live the charism of the order in secular life.

The Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites "welcomes those of the faithful who, by special vocation, undertake to live, in the world, an evangelical life of fraternal communion imbued with the spirit of contemplative prayer and apostolic zeal according to the example and teaching of the Carmelite saints." (OCDS Rule) Secular Carmelites come from all walks of life. They are business owners, public servants, clerical staff, professionals, homemakers, retirees, students, men and women, young and old, married and single. Each one trying to respond to God's call to "meditate on the Lord's law, day and night" while working, raising families, etc.

Secular Carmelites usually belong to a local community. Where such communities exist they gather once a month for fellowship, prayer, and the study of Carmelite spirituality. When there is no community nearby, a Carmelite Secular may be considered an isolate member but is always, still, associated with a community (Constitutions, Art. 56).

Becoming a Secular Carmelite

Those interested in becoming a Secular Carmelite first undergo a period as an Aspirant. An Aspirant will meet regularly with a Secular Carmelite community for a period of six months. During this time, the Aspirant will receive a broad introduction to the order and its spirituality. At the end of six months, an Aspirant may request to enter into formation.

The initial formation period begins when an individual is clothed with the Brown Scapular of the order and given a copy of the Gospels and of the Rule. This period of formation (sometimes also called novitiate) lasts two years and may be extended a year under certain circumstances. During formation a member will more fully study the Rule, Carmelite saints, Carmelite writings, the Liturgy of the Hours, and contemplative prayer. Gradually, the person in initial formation will integrate the Rule into their daily life as he/she develops the habit of prayer.

After initial formation, the individual may request permission to then make public Temporary Promises. The Promise is a commitment "to tend towards evangelical perfection in the spirit of the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, obedience and of the Beatitudes, according to the Rule of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites, for three years." After three years, an individual may request permission to make Final Promises (substituting "for all my life" in place of "for three years").

One year after making the Final Promises, a Secular Carmelite may be permitted to make vows of chastity and obedience. The vow of chastity does not affect the rights and duties of married people, nor does it prevent a single person from entering into marriage. The vow does not add any obligation which is not already binding under God's law. The vow of obedience binds the Secular Carmelite only within the limits of the Rule. The vows "constitute a more complete oblation of self to God, and add the merit of the virtue of religion to the observance of chastity and obedience."


In the United States, the Secular Order is divided into three provinces: the Western Province, the Central Province, and the Eastern Province.  Each operates independently, but within the confines of the Rule of Life (now to be known as the Constitutions) because ultimate authority comes from the General Definitory ( Father General and his council) in Rome.

Within each province of the U.S., the Father General appoints a Provincial Delegate whose duty it is to oversee the Secular Order.

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You can read the new constitutions on this page: Secular Carmelite Constitutions.

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The following information is from a brochure sent to me from the
OCDS Central Office, located in San Jose, California.


"You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). In giving this command, Jesus told us that every one of God's children is called to personal holiness; and the one sure way to holiness is the following of Jesus Christ, who said: "I am the way. . . ." (John 14:6)

Some are called to follow Jesus Christ in the ministerial priesthood; others in one of the religious orders or congregations. But the vast majority are called to follow him as lay men and women, married or single, trying to cope with the many demands of a home and a job. No matter how one’s life unfolds, it is always possible-and indeed necessary-to strive to follow the advice of St. Paul: "Whatever you do, whether in speech or in action, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Col. 3:17).

However, for many centuries there have been lay people, and also some diocesan priests, who have felt drawn to associate themselves with a religious order. The monastic orders admit such men and women as Oblates, while the mendicant orders, following the example of St. Francis of Assisi, have instituted what are known today as "Secular Orders." The members of these Secular Orders try to develop their spiritual life by a closer association with the spirituality of the religious order to which they are attracted.


The Carmelite Order developed from a single community of hermits. We first hear of them living "after the example of that holy man and solitary, the prophet Elijah" (as a contemporary writer tells us) on Mount Carmel in Palestine in the early days of the thirteenth century. They were Latin (i.e., Western European) Christians, and about the year 1210 they were given a rule of life by St. Albert, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. Their chapel, and therefore, according to the feudal mentality of that age, their whole institute, was dedicated to the Blessed Mother. Carmelites have always regarded themselves, then, as children, in a very special way, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and also of Elijah, whom the Bible associates so closely with Mount Carmel (cf. I Kings 18).

From about 1238, hermits from Mount Carmel began establishing communities in various parts of Europe. In 1247 their rule of life, now solemnly confirmed by the Holy See, was adapted to meet the needs of an Order spreading throughout Christendom. In the course of the second half of the thirteenth century, circumstances led the Carmelites further from their hermit origins. They finally became a mendicant Order, modeling themselves in many ways on the Dominicans. But the old hermit way of life was not forgotten and never completely died out; indeed, it was ever present to them in their rule.

In 1562, however, a Spanish Carmelite nun, St. Teresa of Avila-later assisted by another great Carmelite, St. John of the Cross-established what was to become a completely new branch of the Carmelite Order, the Discalced Carmelites. ("Discalced" comes from a Latin word meaning "barefooted." They were so called because the most distinctive thing about their appearance was the fact that, in token of their more austere way of life, they wore the rope sandals of the poor in place of leather shoes.) The Discalced Carmelites, both nuns and friars, aimed at a more contemplative form of life, in keeping with the spirit of the original thirteenth century rule.

Thus there are two branches of the Carmelite family the Ancient Observance (O.Carm.) and the Discalced (OCD). Each branch has its own Secular Order.

Secular Order of the Discalced Carmelites, as its Rule states,"welcomes those of the faithful who, by special vocation, undertake to live in the world an evangelical life of fraternal communion imbued with spirit of contemplative prayer, in imitation of the Virgin Mary, and animated with apostolic zeal according to the example and the teaching of the Carmelite saints." Perhaps the best-known modem Carmelite saint is St. Therese of Lisieux, the "Little Flower,"who died in the Discalced Carmelite of monastery of Lisieux in 1897.


Secular Carmelites strive to develop their spiritual life by fostering a life of prayer. They practice solitary prayer for at least a half hour each day. They also seek to draw strength from the liturgical life of the Church. They attend Mass daily if this is possible, and they normally recite Morning and Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office). Where possible they also recite Night Prayer, make frequent use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and observe days of penance prescribed by the Church or by Secular Order rule. They wear the brown scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, who should be present in a special way in the life of every Carmelite.


The Secular Order Rule says: "Those members of the Church who are called by the Lord, are free from impediments, and conscientiously accept this special vocation and the Rule of Life offered by the Secular Order, can apply to be admitted.... After sufficient contact . . . the candidate is admitted for a period of formation, which normally extends for two years before the temporary Promise, and for another three years before the definitive Promise." The Promise is "to tend toward evangelical perfection in the spirit of the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, obedience, and of the Beatitudes." Later it is possible to make a similar promise in the form of a vow, but this is optional. The promise of chastity is simply to keep the sixth and ninth commandments according to one's state, married or single. The promise of obedience applies only to matters specified in the Secular Order Rule. The promise of poverty is simply to live in a spirit of poverty, to trust in God and not in material possessions.

Members of the Secular Order may, for a good reason, ask to leave the Order. Such a request is considered by the Council and, if the reasons are found to be sufficient, it is always granted.

The minimum age for admittance is 18.

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Some thoughts taken from:

A Commentary on The Secular Carmelite Rule of Life
by Michael D. Griffin. OCD

The Carmelite school of spirituality begins with the conviction that all are called to the perfect union of love with God; that imitation of Mary, the great woman of faith and spiritual union with Christ, is our model in following Christ, and the belief that by making mental prayer and practicing self-denial the central focus of our lives, we are on the surest way to God.

The order of Carmel has been raised up in the Church and endowed with a special charism (gift of the Holy Spirit) to bear witness to the supreme importance of contemplative prayer and union with God.


The Secular Carmelite ... undertakes to live in the world an evangelical life of fraternal communion imbued with the spirit of contemplative prayer, in imitation of the Virgin Mary, and of apostolic zeal according to the example and teaching of the Carmelite saints. (from the forward to The Rule of Life)


It is the mission of the Secular Carmelites, called as they are to a life both contemplative and apostolic, to carry into the world the distinctive witness of Carmel: "The Lord of Hosts lives, before whom I stand". (from the forward to The Rule of Life and 3 Kings 17:1)

The Holy See, through the Sacred Congregation of Religious and Secular Institutes, on the tenth of May 1979, formally approved a Rule of Life for the Secular Carmelites. This papal approval is a sign that the Holy See is assured that the Teresian charism is being lived and preserved by the members of Carmel living their contemplative orientation of life in the world.

If there is one thing strongly stressed in the new Rule of Life for the Secular Discalced Carmelite, it is the fact that the Secular Order is actually a part of the family of Carmel. Secular Carmelites are real members of the Order. They are not just honorary members. It is precisely for this reason that the Superior General of the Order set up a commission of Fathers to draw up the Rule of Life that had to be submitted to the Sacred Congregation of Religious for the approval of the Holy See.

Secular Carmelites must strive for the fullness of the charism of Carmel; namely, for a life of contemplative prayer. But, you may ask, how do we define "contemplative prayer"? To give the general definition, prayer is the raising of the mind and heart to God. But the term contemplative prayer" means a manner of prayer that is a simple attention to the loving presence of God in my life. Generally, contemplative prayer is contrasted or compared with discursive prayer, in which I might be more concerned with and attentive to my own reasoning or feelings about God. Contemplative prayer is a direct form of going to Christ (God) and of allowing Him to deal with me. It is directly related to the love of God that has been manifested to us in Christ. In contemplative prayer, words and discursive reasoning give way to silent and peaceful awareness of God's presence and love.

Contemplative prayer and the witness to contemplative prayer in the world tell us of the greatness of Carmel and, hence, of the Secular Carmelite. The very fact that the Secular Carmelite will bear witness to the primacy of contemplative prayer is of the highest importance. First, it will tend to dispel the false idea that contemplative prayer is only destined for priests and nuns; and it will make it evident that contemplative prayer, or the enjoyment of God's love for us, is something that can be enjoyed by all.

As Secular Carmelites you are joined in this mission with the entire Order of Carmel, with all the members of the Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Yes, you are to stand in the presence of the Lord of Hosts, and to be confident that He will aid and strengthen you as you labor for the good of His Church and of humanity.

To live the life of holiness outlined in the Gospel it is not necessary to leave the world and go live in a monastery. Perfection is for all, according to the way of life in which God calls each man or woman. Holiness consists in being like Christ, following Christ and surrendering our lives so that "He lives fully in us." A more exact idea of holiness is found in the living of the commandment of love that is prescribed by Christ, telling us that we must love God with our whole heart, our whole mind and our whole strength, and our neighbors as ourselves.

The history of the Church shows that the saints who were the most prayerful were the most effective in the apostolic life. The saints did not live for themselves, but found that in serving their neighbor they were serving Christ Himself. "Whatever you do to the least of these, my brethern; you do unto me"!

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