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Third Order of St. Francis of Assisi


August 10, 2019

The Third Order of St. Francis of Assisi was founded by St. Francis of Assisi in 1221. After founding the First Order for priests and brothers, the Second Order for cloistered women, St. Francis founded the Third Order for married and single men and women.

To aid them in leading a life of the Gospels in the midst of family and secular occupations, St. Francis established the Third Order, “a true order, yet something unexampled up to that time, in so far as it was not bound by vows, while it offered all men and women living in the world a means both of observing the Commandments of God and the Church and of pursuing Christian perfection.”

A person must be fourteen years of age, of good character, peace-loving, and above all of tried fidelity in the practice of the Catholic Faith and in loyalty to the Roman Catholic Church and the Apostolic See.

Children who are still under parental authority should not be received, unless they have obtained permission from the parents. This will impress on them the duty of obedience and forestall difficulties in the fulfillment of the duties they wish to assume.

It is essential to understand those having an interest in the Third Order that this is a true calling or vocation. It is a different vocation, for in the Third Order one continues to live in the world but is a true religious, either in the single or married state. Therefore, one must take seriously the discernment process.

This process should first include prayer. Prayer which must include coming to know God’s Will in the same manner that a man or woman would regarding the priesthood or the convent. The structure and requirements of the Third Order will help to educate the prospective member in understanding the life of a Tertiary (Third Order Member).

Once the person is accepted as a prospective member by the Fraternity Director, the process begins with a six-month postulancy. During this period classes are scheduled (usually one hour a week) to educate the person on the history and purpose of the Third Order. This is followed by a detailed explanation of how a person is to live as a member of the Third Order. These classes conclude with an overview and explanation of the indulgences which are available to its members.

This postulancy is followed by a one-year period of probation, otherwise known as the novitiate. This is the principle time of discernment for the novice. He has now begun to learn about the life of the Third Order member and has several months to pray, a more informed decision is able to be made. It must be noted, though, this is not only a situation where the decision of the novice (perspective member) is the sole determining factor but also that of the Fraternity Director who will determine if the person is a serious candidate or must not be allowed to make his profession.

The Third Order life is composed of two major parts. The first and most important is that of the prayer life its members. All are encouraged to establish a regular prayer life if one is not already established. At the core of this prayer life is the Seraphic Office. The Office has two options for the Third Order Secular. The first is twelve Our Fathers, Hail Marys and Glory Bes to be said each day. The second option is the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also to be said each day. Most Tertiaries choose the first option because of their busy lives.

Members are encouraged to say the Franciscan Crown Rosary each day. This rosary was given to the Order from the Blessed Mother through a Franciscan laybrother in the 15th century. It has since been approved by Holy Mother Church. It is also the most highly-indulgenced rosary in the Church.

The Church Crown Rosary consists of the seven Joyful Mysteries. They are the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary; the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary; the Nativity of Our Lord; the Adoration of the Magi (the Epiphany); the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple; the Apparition of the Risen Savior to the Blessed Mother; the Assumption and Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The second part of this religious life is the performing of good works. An easy way to understand this is the practical application of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Tertiaries are involved in works such as teaching the youth, feeding the poor, needy and homeless, providing foodbaskets for single mothers and the elderly and visiting the elderly in local nursing homes. A special project is the annual collection taken up for the Foreign Missions in Mexico. There is truly a long list of possibilities for Third Order members regardless of where they live.

Holy Mother Church has blessed the Third Order with an abundant number of plenary indulgences which may be gained throughout the Church year. These indulgences, if all conditions are met, are a special source of many graces for the Tertiary.

When one takes a closer look at the Third Order, it is simply what the life of the Catholic should be. It is a structured spiritual daily routine which all are able to perform. It was St. Francis’ desire that a greater number of Catholics become members. It was his desire then and the Church’s desire now to reform the lives of Catholics everywhere.

The saints and beatified in the Third Order provides one with a list of persons who came from all walks of life and classes of society. The rich and poor, royalty and peasants, popes and priests, the young and old, married and single all have answered the call to the Third Order of St. Francis. Our Holy Father St. Francis lived the Gospels to an exemplary degree and desired others to do the same.

If you have not previously considered the Third Order and have a desire to do more than that which you previously have, (or simply wish to be a better Catholic) than pray and speak to your local Franciscan priest. Perhaps you are being called and do not understand these urgings of the Holy Ghost. The Third Order is for the many. Are you being called to this spiritual army of lay Franciscans?

Fr. Joseph Noonan, OFM