Carl Schafer OFM


            I would like to indicate some of the major differences between the 1883 Rule of the Franciscan Third Order Secular and the 1978 Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order. It helps to understand where some of our most deeply rooted ideas came from and why they are no longer viable. We will see more clearly what has been abrogated and what has been approved. We will also be able to measure to what extent we have adopted the Pauline Rule and the Franciscan Third Order Secular has become the Secular Franciscan Order. The Secular Franciscan Order is the direct and legitimate successor of the Franciscan Third Order Secular. It is the same - but different!


STRUCTURES: From Local...         


            There are those who say that the Franciscan spirit is what matters and that we shouldn't waste our time replacing structures. These people are sick of hearing about Rule, Constitutions and Statutes. For them, the years since 1978 have been a sheer waste of time and effort - and money, in some cases. They feel that their spirituality has suffered. However, the spirit expresses itself in the structures that it builds. Structures embody a certain spirit: they either hinder the genuine spirit or they help it to express itself. Renewal of our spirit inevitably involves renewal of our structures.


            The Leonine Rule of 1883 envisaged the Franciscan Third Order Secular only as local fraternities [I, 3].


            The Franciscan Third Order of Leo XIII was loosely a single Order insofar as his Rule was given to all the local fraternities, regardless of which Order of friars they were attached to. However, almost everywhere the local fraternities related little, if at all, to one another, even when they were directed by the same Order of friars. Rarely did they relate to other local fraternities directed by a different Order of friars, nor was it expected of them. In fact, the friars were rather possessive of "their" fraternities. In practice, the Franciscan Third Order was conducted in four separate branches, corresponding to the three branches of the First Order and to the Third Order Regular. The Leonine Rule did not legislate for T.O. provincial structures. Later, the General Constitutions of 1957 stated, "regional, provincial, national, and general councils may be set up ... in accordance with the particular statutes of each Family" [Art. 121]. In those countries where the T.O. structures were developed above the local level, they were usually provincial structures based on the Provinces of the Orders of the friars who directed a number of local fraternities within their Provinces.


            The friars entered the old Rule as Custodes (Provincials), Guardians and Visitors [III, 2-3]. The Visitor had to investigate, at least once a year, whether the Rule was properly observed. The Visitors were to be chosen from the First Order or the Third Order Regular, and were appointed by the provincial or local superiors when requested. Laymen could not hold the office of Visitor [III, 3].


.... To International


            The Pauline Rule sees the Secular Franciscan Order as "an organic union of all Catholic fraternities scattered throughout the world" [Art. 2] and "divided into fraternities of various levels - local, regional, national and international ... These various fraternities are coordinated and united..." [Art. 20].


            The Secular Franciscan Order of Paul VI is strictly a single Order with its own structures independent of the structures of the friars. The new Rule does not envisage an obediential provincial structure for the SFO, but rather a regional fraternity comprising all the local fraternities in the territory, regardless of who assists them. This arrangement requires close cooperation between the various Orders and Provinces of the friars who assist the local fraternities in the territory. The collegial exercise of spiritual assistance has been codified in the Statutes for Spiritual and Pastoral Assistance since 1992.


            The friars enter the Pauline Rule as the Superiors of the four religious Franciscan Orders, also as pastoral Visitors and spiritual Assistants. The Rule envisages the fraternities on the various levels as assisted spiritually by “suitable and well prepared religious” who are requested from "the superiors of the four religious Franciscan families (sic)" [Art. 26]. The secular Minister asks also for the pastoral visit by the competent religious superiors, and for the fraternal visit from the Minister of the higher fraternity [Art. 26]. Here, the fraternal visitor is a layperson.


LEADERS: From Clerical...


            In the Rule of Leo XIII, the friar-priests appeared as the leaders of the Franciscan Third Order, although offices were to be conferred at a meeting of the secular members [III,1], and the monthly meetings were called by the secular Minister [II,11]. The confessor could judge whether a married woman might be received without her husband's consent [I,2]. The friar Visitor was charged with the supervision of the Order and summoned all the officers and members to a meeting [III,2]. He and the ordinary Superiors of the friars had full power to dispense a member from observing any provision of the Rule [III,6].


            The former Rule did not mention the Spiritual Director and said only that the members would "duly make their profession" [I, 4]. However, under that Rule, and according to the General Constitutions of 1957 [Art. 111-114], the friar-priest was the spiritual Director of the local fraternity who presided at the monthly meetings and at the sessions of the council, even when the fraternity had a secular Minister [II, 11]. He often functioned also as Treasurer and Secretary, although there were supposed to be secular officers [III, 1]. The Spiritual Director admitted postulants to the habit and novices to profession, in accord with the Ritual at the time.


... To Lay


            In the Rule of Paul VI, "on the various levels, each fraternity is animated and guided by a Council and Minister (or President) who are elected by the professed..." [Art. 21]. The Council of the local fraternity "decides upon the acceptance of new brothers and sisters" [Art. 23]. Members in difficulty "should discuss their problems with the Council in fraternal dialogue." Withdrawal or dismissal from the Order is "an act of the fraternity Council" [Art. 23]. "The Council should organize regular and frequent meetings" of the fraternity [Art. 24]. The Minister at each level of fraternity, with the consent of the Council, should ask for a regular pastoral visit and for a fraternal visit [Art. 26].


            The new Rule has no place for a Spiritual Director. It stresses the co-responsibility of seculars and religious in the direction of the fraternities at all levels, so that the Councils "shall ask for suitable and well prepared religious for spiritual assistance" [Art. 26]. Under this Rule, and in accord with the 1984 Ritual, the Minister of the local fraternity admits new members and receives their profession; otherwise the profession is not valid.


MEMBERS: From Devotional...


            In the old Rule, the ideal Franciscan Tertiary was obedient and devout. Loyal submission to the Roman Church and to the Apostolic See was among the conditions for admission [I, 1]. In their profession, they promised to obey the Church [I, 4]. They were to "meekly accept the correction" of the Visitor "and not refuse to perform the penance" [III, 2]. Disobedient members, if they did not submit, were to be dismissed from the Order [III, 4].


            Half the Rule was given to prescribing the Tertiary's rule of life in devotional terms. The   liturgy before the reforms of Vatican II allowed for public and active participation almost exclusively by the clergy. In that context, fast and abstinence [II.4], monthly reception of the sacraments [II, 5], daily recitation of a Divine Office [II, 6], attendance at daily Mass [II, 11] and at funerals of deceased members [II, 14], were mainly private exercises of piety on the part of the laity.


            References to apostolic involvements were slight: in their family life, they were to lead others by good example and to promote good works [II, 8]; they were to try to heal discord [II, 9]; they were to aid their poorer members [II, 12] and visit their sick members [II, 13]. The Rule did not stretch their apostolic outreach beyond their own family and fraternity.


... To Apostolic


            In the new Rule, the ideal Secular Franciscan is no less obedient and devout, but now Secular Franciscans are required to exercise more initiative in their obedience and to base their devotional life on the Scriptures and on actively participated liturgy.


            The relationship of the Franciscan seculars to the friars is not one of submissive obedience but of "life-giving union with each other" [Art. 1]. They relate to the clergy by "living in full communion with the Pope, bishops and priests, fostering an open and trusting dialogue of apostolic effectiveness and creativity" [Art. 6]. They relate to the Saviour by "uniting themselves to the redemptive obedience of Jesus, who placed his will into the Father's hands..." [Art. 10].


            Scriptural spirituality is the soul of their devotional life. "By their profession, they pledge themselves to live the Gospel... [Art. 2]. Their rule and life is this: to observe the Gospel... They should devote themselves especially to careful reading of the Gospel... [Art. 4]. They should "seek to encounter the living and active person of Christ in their brothers and sisters, in Sacred Scripture, in the Church, and in liturgical activity" [Art. 5].


            They have been "buried and raised with Christ in baptism; they have been united more intimately with the Church by profession" [Art. 6]. They are to participate in the sacramental life of the Church through the sacrament of reconciliation [Art. 7], of matrimony for the married members [Art. 17], and above all the Eucharist [Art. 8]. They are not merely to recite a Divine Office but to "join in liturgical prayer... reliving the mysteries of the life of Christ" [Art. 8].


            Apostolic activity is presented in scriptural terms as building "a more fraternal and evangelical world so that the kingdom of God may be brought about more effectively ... in the Christian spirit of service" [Art. 14]. The Secular Franciscans are to promote peace and joy [Art. 19], and justice, "especially in the field of public life" [Art. 15]. Their work is an apostolate of "sharing in the creation, redemption, and service of the human community" [Art. 16]. Their family is an apostolic field for cultivating "peace, fidelity, and respect for life" [Art. 17]. Ecology is a special field of Secular Franciscan apostolate [Art. 18], where they refuse to exploit creation and establish kinship with all creatures instead.


LANGUAGE: From Religious...


            The language that we use is a sure indication of our way of thinking, of our deepest beliefs and of the values that we hold most dear.


            The Leonine Rule was addressed to the "Franciscan Third Order" [I, 1] whose members it described as "Tertiaries," who spent a year in the "Novitiate" and were admitted to "Profession" [I, 4]. They "recited" the Divine Office daily [II, 6].


            Under that rule, terms were taken directly from religious life to describe novices and postulants, novice master and novice mistress; also, in the General Constitutions of 1957, T.O. Provinces, with Ministers Provincial.


            Practices followed language. Tertiaries took a religious name at their profession. Harking back to the Rule of 1289, they continued to wear a religious habit, even though the Leonine Rule had replaced the habit with a small scapular and a cord [I, 3]. They called one another Brother and Sister in secular life. Men and women were separated into distinct fraternities or on opposite sides of the church during meetings.


... To Secular


            The Pauline Rule is addressed to the "Secular Franciscan Order" [Art. 2] whose members it describes as "secular Franciscans" [Art. 4], who spend "a time of initiation," and "a period of formation of at least one year," before making "profession" [Art. 23]. It is noteworthy that the present Rule retained the term, “profession”. The French have translated it as “engagement”, and some English-speakers prefer the term, “commitment”. However, the General Constitutions of 2000 speak of, “The Profession or Promise of Evangelical Life” [Art. 41-43].

            Under this Rule, the terms from religious life (except “profession”) are translated into terms appropriate for secular people. The “candidates” are formed by the officers in charge of formation (the "formators"). The SFO has regional fraternities directed by regional Ministers and their councils. The members "join in liturgical prayer" [Art. 8]. The Rule speaks of the "spiritual assistance" given by religious [Art. 26].


            Practices follow language. The members retain their baptismal names and address one another as they would address other lay people. They wear "a distinctive Franciscan sign" [Art. 23], such as the Tau cross or a badge, on their ordinary clothes. A husband and wife can belong to the same fraternity and it would be normal for them to sit next to each other at meetings.


            Clearly, the model of secular Franciscan life prescribed by the Rule of Leo XIII is very different from the model described by the Rule of Paul VI. "Obedience" [I, 1] and  "piety" [II, 8] are key ideals in the abrogated Rule. As ideals, they are not dropped in the new Rule, but they are renewed. "Dialogue," and "apostolic effectiveness and creativity" [Art. 6] are key ideals in the approved Rule.