All people are called to share, through charity, the holiness which belongs to God alone: "You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5: 48
The way to the attainment of perfection, which is opened to all by baptism, lies in the following of Christ; but Christ's grace can take many forms, and there is in consequence, among those in quest of holiness, a variety of gifts and charisms, which not only reflect the boundless wealth of the mystery of God but also give rise to a great diversity of personal vocations within the Church of the Lord.
Thus the religious vocation is given only to those whom God has especially marked out, but the gift, which they have received, becomes the common heritage of the People of God.
One finds in the ecclesial charisms of the religious life an inspiration to holiness, a call to heavenly realities, a light and a support on the road to the perfection of charity.
It is no wonder, therefore, that in harmony with the divine economy of grace and charisms in the Church, the different religious families become schools of sanctity not only for their own members but also for many of the faithful. For these the grace of their particular vocation, together with the spiritual relationship it includes, permits their finding in the religious family, which they prefer and choose, effective inspiration and sustenance both for their interior life and also for their apostolic endeavors, in circumstances proper to their state of secular life.
Through the canonical establishment of these Secular or Third Orders, the Religious Orders recognize and ratify the desire of these faithful, whether lay or cleric, to a participation in their own proper charisms. They receive them into their own religious family, placing at their disposition their own heritage of teaching and evangelical life, and at the same time offer them fraternal aid and spiritual direction.
By their very nature then the Secular Orders are intended to subserve the secular state of life of their members, not to change it. For this reason the formal and juridical structures are kept to a minimum.
The main obligation which the Secular Orders impose on their members is one of fidelity to the charism of their respective parent Orders; in fact, the Secular members share in full the Order's ideals, its grace and spiritual heritage, but at the same time enjoy a sufficiency of autonomy from every style of life proper to religious together with full appreciation of their secular state of life.
The juridical bonds which unite the Secular Order to the Religious Order are, therefore, a sign and a guarantee of a living spiritual communion which respects the secular character of the institution. Their purpose is precisely to inspire and assist the secular members to carry out in the Church and in the world the manifold duties incumbent upon them as Christians.
Finally, all the Secular Orders are in fact united in the pursuit of evangelical perfection in answer to the call to holiness received in Baptism, and all serve the universal Church, though each according to its proper charism.
The Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites, or Third Order of Teresian Carmel, welcomes, therefore, those of the faithful who, by special vocation, undertake to live in the world and evangelical life of fraternal communion imbued with the spirit of contemplative prayer, in imitation of the Virgin Mary, and animated with apostolic zeal according to the example and teaching of Carmelite saints.
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" 1 Kings 17,1.
The Nature of the Secular Order
The Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites is an association of the faithful who undertake the pursuit of evangelical perfection in the world. The Christian Life of the members is inspired and nourished by the spirituality and guidance of the Teresian Carmel.
The Secular Order forms an integral part of the Carmelite family; its members are therefore sons and daughters of the Order, and share in fraternal communion, though in a state of life essentially different from that of religious, its same vocation of holiness and is mission in the Church.
The Secular Order of the Discalced Carmelites sets before its members ideals, based upon the charisms and teachings of the Order's Founders, which constitute their particular way in Christian holiness. These are: a deep sense of faith in God's love; fidelity to contemplative prayer with the spirit of detachment it entails; and generosity in the practice of fraternal charity and the apostolate. They will place themselves under our Lady's protection, and endeavor to live out those ideals in her presence.
The members of the Secular Order will normally belong to recognized Groups or Communities. (Cf. Sec. III Local Statutes for U.S.A.) This manner of organization best expresses their community of ideals, provides them with valuable spiritual aids and facilitates, to the advantage of both sides, contact with the entire Order.
The Daily Life
Faithful to the Lord's invitation and to His example of praying without ceasing, and also to the Carmelite Rule's central command "to meditate on God's law day and night and to watch in prayer, the Secular Carmelites will prefer before all else to remain in the presence of God, continual fulfilling His holy will.
They will therefore make it their constant care to foster not only the spirit of prayer, but also the exercise of prayer. They will practice prayer itself for at least half an hour each day in an atmosphere of interior silence and solitude. They will be careful to let the hearing of God's word, especially in the Church's liturgy and in the exercise of spiritual reading, increase in them that "surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3,8) that flows from the true sources of Christian and Carmelite spirituality.
The liturgical life, as a perennial participation in the Paschal Mystery, nourishes the Secular Carmelites in their daily commitment to follow Christ crucified and risen. It leads toward an ever more perfect union with God, by making the pains and joys of their life an offering of praise and glory to God.
Their liturgical life will express itself chiefly through participation in the Eucharist and in the celebration of the Church's Divine Office. They will, as far as possible, join in the celebration of daily Mass, and each day recite Morning and Evening Prayer (Lauds and Vespers) from the Breviary; if possible they will recite Night Prayer (Compline) before retiring.
For good reason, other prayers may be substituted for the Office.
The Secular Carmelite will, in addition, have a great esteem for the Sacrament of Penance, or Reconciliation, and practice, as fare as possible, acts of traditional Christian piety. These may be specified by particular statutes for local observance.
The Secular Carmelites highly esteem the invitation of the Lord to deny themselves willingly, to take up their cross daily and follow Him. they will therefore, gladly mortify themselves in union with the sacrifice of Christ, remembering too our Holy Mother Teresa's remark that "prayer cannot be accompanied by self-indulgence: (Way of Perfection 4.2).
The Secular Carmelites will be especially faithful tot he Church's penitential discipline. They will also, in accordance with the promptings of grace and as far as circumstances allow, make use of other means of mortification, particularly on those days and at those seasons that have a distinctive penitential character.
Special local statutes will lay down more precise rules concerning forms of mortification.
The Blessed Virgin Mary is present in a very special way in the life of Carmelites. She is, first of all, their model in listening to the Lord and serving Him. She is also Mother of the whole Order, which enjoys her special patronage.
The Secular Carmelites' interior life must be permeated by an intense devotion to Our Lady. This will be manifested by honoring her daily by some particular act, and by wearing the holy Scapular of Carmel. This may, however, for good reason, be replaced by the Scapular medal.
Prayer and the apostolate, when they are genuine, are inseparable, and each profits the other. The Secular Carmelites are therefore bound to the fervent practice of fraternal charity and must take their share of apostolic responsibility in the Church in the world.
With this object, the Secular Carmelites will first of all seek to intensify their personal union with God, and to bear witness to Christ by their life of prayer. They are also free to engage in any type of apostolic activity. They will dedicate themselves especially to the promotion of priestly and religious vocations, and collaborate in the Order's activities and undertakings. All these activities will be evaluated and made more precise by local statutes according to the various geographical regions.
The primitive Church, the members of which were "of one heart and soul" (Acts 4,32) is the model upon which the Secular Order bases its community life. The Secular Carmelites should cultivate fraternal relations with the other members of their religious family, and bear in mind that, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, their fidelity to their vocation contributes to the growth of each of them.
The Secular Carmelites should share the sufferings of their fellow members, especially those who are in greater need, and should offer suffrages for those who are dead, in accordance with local Statutes.
The local Communities of the Secular Order should normally meet once a month to provide for the permanent formation of all members by a spiritual conference for the group, to transact business of the Order, to pray together, and to further fraternal charity. Other meetings, for retreats, spiritual exercises and conferences, etc., are to be encouraged.
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 to a Community, and accepted by the competent authority.
After sufficient contact with the Community, 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 age and other requirements for admission are determined in local Statutes. (Cf. Sec. III Local Statutes for U.S.A.)
The candidate is admitted to the Order by means of the Promise, which he makes in the presence of the assembled Community.
The formula is as follows:
I,(name), inspired by the Holy Spirit, in response to God's call, sincerely promise to the Superiors of the order of Teresian Carmel and to you , my brothers and sisters, to tend toward 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. I confidently entrust this, my Promise, to the Virgin Mary, Mother and Queen of Carmel.
After three years from the first Promise, the candidate makes the definitive Promise using the same formula but substituting "for the rest for my life" instead of "for three years."
The Promise of chastity binds the Secular Carmelites to the observance of this virtue in accordance with their state in life, and does not in any way impede a change of state. The promise expresses a conscious intention to respect the law of God in a way proper to the unmarried, married or widowed state, as the case may be, and to bear especial witness, as befits those called to intimacy with God, to the Beatitude: "Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God." Matthew. 5:8
By virtue of their Promise, the Secular Carmelites should have a particular esteem for the Beatitude of poverty. They should love it as Christ loved it. In their daily effort to live according to the Gospel, they should try to realize what a wealth of generosity, self-denial, and above all hope and interior liberty, poverty makes available to them. In poverty they will find the way to union with Him who, "though He was rich, yet for our sake became poor: [2 Cor. 8:9] out of love for us, and Who "emptied Himself [Phil. 2:7] to be at the service of His brethren.
The Promise of obedience binds the Secular Carmelites to the observance of whatever the legitimate authority - the General or Provincial of the Order, or the Council of the Community - may lay down in accordance with, and within the limits of, the present Rule.
This Promise will provide the Secular Carmelites with the grace to become interiorly more responsive to the will of God. By manifesting His will through human spokesmen, He purifies our faith, and smoothes the way to union with Him Who, for love of us, "became obedient unto death [Phil. 2:8].
One year after having made the definitive Promise, the Secular Carmelite, who so requests it, may be permitted to take the Vows of chastity and obedience. These Vows are understood and interpreted in the same way as the Promise in Articles 12 and 14.
The Vows add to the observance of chastity and obedience the merit of the virtue of religion. They constitute a more complete offering of oneself and therefore entail a greater moral responsibility. They are made with the following formula:
I,(name), in order to live in union with the Virgin Mary in following Jesus Christ, make a vow of chastity and obedience to God in the hands of the Superior of the Order of Teresian Carmel according to the Rule of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites for the rest of my life.
The Promise, and above all, the Vows, in themselves establish a fixed and permanent obligation. For grave reasons, however, the Council of the Community may dismiss a member. A member may also, for a sufficient reason, ask to leave the Order, in which case the Council should consent and release him form his Promise and his Vows. The Council should not dismiss anyone, however, nor should any member leave the Order, without a previous fraternal explanation. (Cf. Article 21.)
The annual renewal of the Promise will be made at a meeting of the Community during the Easter Season.
For serious reasons the General or Provincial of the Order, or the Religious duly delegated by them, may within the limits of their respective jurisdictions, admit isolated members into the Secular Order.
Isolated Secular Carmelites should follow in its entirety the present Rule of Life except that which concerns community life.
The Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites is basically structured on the local Community, which is a visible sign of the Church.
The individual Communities are canonically established by the authority of the Order, with which they maintain fraternal communion and a sincere docility of spirit.
The General Definitory interprets the Rule of Life and also approves and interprets the local Statutes.
The Superior General, however, establishes the local Communities and makes pastoral visitations. He likewise has the authority to dispense, in particular cases, from the Rule of Life and the Local Statutes and can grant juridical sanctions. He has the power to resolve cases which were not foreseen by the Rule and are considered otherwise insoluble by local authorities.
The Father General is assisted in his responsibilities by the General Secretary of the Secular Order. It is the duty of the General Secretary to further relations between the Religious and the Secular Order, and to maintain contacts with the Delegates and Assistants so that the vitality of the Secular Order may be assured by suitable common initiatives.
The Provincial Superior, usually with the aid of a Delegate, is responsible for the welfare of the Secular Order within the limits of his jurisdiction. He should make pastoral visitations of the Communities, and, after due consultation with their Councils, appoint their Assistant.
In case of disputes, appeal will be made in the first instance to the Father Provincial.
The Assistant to each local Community should normally be a priest of the Order, appointed by the Provincial. His duty is to give spiritual aid to the Community so that its members may be guided in their vocation, and may correspond with it as perfectly as possible, especially during the period of Formation.
He will assist the Community's Council, though he has no right to vote. He is, however, the Order's representative, and as such his explicit confirmation is necessary for the acceptance of members or their dismissal from the Secular Order; for the making of the Promise and the Vows, as well as their release from them; and finally for the election of the Director of Formation.
Where it is necessary to appoint an Assistant who is not a member of the Order, he should be designated by the General or the Provincial, within the limits of their respective jurisdiction, and always with the consent of the candidate's own superior.
Every three years each local Community of the Secular Order, composed of those who have made at least the temporary Promise, elects its President and three Councilors. These four officers, with the consent of the Assistant, elect the Director of Formation.
The President, the three Councilors and the Director of Formation form the Council of the Community, which will in turn elect a Secretary and a Treasurer.
The procedure of these elections is to be established by local statute. It should safeguard the complete liberty of the electors, should respect the preference of the majority, and should ensure that the responsibilities of office are suitably alternated. In the absence of local statutes the common law of the Church is to be observed.
The Council constitutes the immediate authority of the Community; its decisions, within the limits of the Rule, are to be obeyed by the virtue of the Promise and the Vows.
The Council should, above all else, see to the growth, both Christian and Carmelite, of the members of the Community.
It is the competent authority to:
a) admit candidates to Formation, the Promise and the Vows;
b) reduce, for just reasons, the period of Formation before the temporary Promise, with the consent of the Provincial;
c) convene the Community for the triennial elections;
d) replace, for serious reasons, a member of the Council itself;
e) dismiss a member of the Community, should this be necessary (cf. Article 21);
f) receive an isolated member who gives up his isolated state and asks to be admitted to a Community, and determine the conditions for this;
g) receive a member who for valid reasons, requests a transfer from another Community;
h) if a matter should arise that falls outside its own competence, the Council has the duty of bringing it to the notice of the proper authority.
The Council will meet regularly twice a year, and at other times as the occasion may demand.
The President, elected from among those who have made the definite Promise, has the duty to convoke and preside over the meetings of the Community. He will show a spirit of fraternal service toward all the members of the Community.
The President will designate those who are to carry out duties in the Community like visiting the sick members and other useful services. He will see to it that these duties are carried out and take care that charity reigns in all sectors.
The President will aid the Assistant and the Director of Formation in their respective duties, and in case of necessity, may take their place temporarily.
It is the duty of the Director of Formation, in collaboration with the Assistant, to prepare candidates for the temporary and definitive Promise. He should imbue them with a genuinely evangelical and Carmelite spirituality and see that they have a knowledge of the present Rule of Life and of the Local Statutes.
The Director of Formation will, when necessary, temporarily take the place of the President of the Community, whatever the function to be performed.
The Secretary is to have charge of the record books of the elections, of the admissions to the Secular Order, to the Promise and the Vows. He is to keep these up-to-date, present them for inspection by the Council at its half-yearly meetings, and to the whole Community at the triennial elections. He will be present, if asked, but without the right to vote, at the Council's meetings, and will record the proceedings. He will be ready to perform any duty appropriate to his office that might be requested of him by the President.
It is the duty of the Treasurer to have charge of and administer the funds collected under the directions of the Council and Community.
Expenses involved in the apostolic and charitable undertakings of the Community should be met by the contributions of the members, according to their means.
Other structures and organisms, on a regional, national, or international level, in harmony with the present Rule of Life can be introduced, according to their usefulness and convenience, with the previous approval of the General Definitory of the Order.
This also holds for the collection of norms and official interpretations of the present Rule of Life of the Secular Order of the Teresian Carmel that are destined for particular geographical or cultural areas.