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How to Join a Third Order

July 6, AD 2013 30 Comments

scapularOn June 9th, I was welcomed into the Third Order of St. Dominic as a Lay Dominican. The spiritual formation that I craved for for years was quenched when I discovered that “lay religious” existed in the Catholic Church. I always knew that religious orders like the Franciscans, Benedictines and Dominicans were alive and well, filled with pious priests, brothers and nuns, but it wasn’t until later in life that I realized that some of these communities actually let the laity in to partake in their same charism.

My hunch is that there are many people out there like me who do not know that becoming part of a religious order as a lay person is a possibility. I’m also sure that there are others who know that these Orders exist, but they lack information on how to join these communities. Regardless of who you are, Third Orders are an immense blessing to the Church and they are deserving of your contemplation. The following pieces of advice are what I wished I would have received years ago:

1) Discern.

This first step towards spiritual growth is to will it. God has already called you to become something great whether you join a religious Order or not. Your job is to uncover all of the muck and clutter that sin has piled on top of your soul by actually getting up and doing something about it. Establish a time for quiet reflection, go to confession consistently and take Christ’s body and blood at Mass as often as you are able. Nothing gives your mind more clarity than these simple practices.

2) Research the charism of each religious Order that you feel drawn towards.

Every religious Order has a specific charism, or way by which they serve Christ’s evangelical mission. Each shares in a specific way of life that is based on prayer, community and service, but each has a certain charism that pretty much defines their style of proclaiming the Gospel and building the Kingdom.

The four most popular religious communities that offer Third Order formation and membership are:

These are just a few options of religious communities that have Third Orders, but many others, like the Jesuits, offer association possibilities for lay men and women. An associate is someone who works alongside the consecrated religious members of the order but does not receive the graces of being a full-fledged part of the community as a Third Order member would.

3) Practice what they preach.

After researching each Order, begin to read through their Rule, which is a written explanation of how each member is to participate more fully in their spiritual life. The Rule is typically a set of expectations that the founder of each community desired for his/her members to follow. This code of conduct is much like a set of directions to help guide the person towards their eternal salvation. They typically include methods of prayer and spiritual exercises based on the charism of the Order..

4) Pray, pray, pray… and discern some more.

While practicing the Rules of several religious Orders, continue to pray and act as if you were already a member. One of the greatest ways to know if you are doing God’s will is to act as if you already know what it is. Sometimes you will fall, but the constant practice of virtue will solidify your stride and you will grow in your understanding of His will for you by thinking about it constantly.

5) When you feel the nudge, get in contact with the formation director of the Order you feel called to commune with. 

At some point, the lifestyle by which you have been called to live will become second nature to you. The Rule that brings you closest to Him, the charism in by which you feel most comfortable spreading the Good News and the community with which you are most effective in animating is typically the one that God’s voice beckons you to join. Respond accordingly by getting in contact with the formation director of the Third Order that you have been called to join. Don’t be surprised if it takes a while for them to respond, the majority of the formation directors are Third Order members who are balancing their worldly careers with family and Church. Be patient, all things on God’s time.

6) Be prepared to tell people what a Third Order is.

When I had finally came to terms with God calling me to become a Lay Dominican, I sent out a mass e-mail to my family and friends. Most, if not all, of the responses I received expressed their  confusion and worry that I was changing religions. I received comments like “Wait, what? What does this mean?” and “So, you’re not gonna be Catholic anymore?” as opposed to the “Awesome! Congrats!” that I was expecting. Even after the e-mails, I find myself explaining to people that being part of a Third Order has nothing to do with switching religions. In fact, it is quite the opposite; I feel more Catholic now than ever!

7. Stay consistent with your formation.

Most Third Order formation programs include modules for study and contemplation that can last anywhere from 6 months to five years. For example, the Lay Dominicans in the Central Province require the first 3-6 months of going to meetings and inquiring, 6 months of postulancy, 1 year of candidacy, and 3 years of continuing formation before you can make your final vows. You are considered a member of the Order at postulancy but the formation is constant even after you make your final vows.

Becoming a member of a Third Order isn’t for everyone. You don’t have to be one to be a good Catholic. However, they do offer constant prayer support, free spiritual formation and numerous options for service that can help anyone grow closer to Christ. It leaves an indelible mark on your soul and surrounds you and your loved ones with graces that come straight from Jesus through the many Saints that make up each community that surround God’s throne in an eternal symphony of praise.

Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

Are you a member of a Third Order? Have you felt called to join one? Let us know in the combox below. 

About the Author:

TJ Burdick is the lead author of One Body, Many Blogs, Advice for Christian Bloggers. He is also a school teacher by trade, a lay Catholic by grace and a husband and father of three by vocation. He writes to help support Catholic charities and to put food on the table for his family as his teaching wages are very humble. When he is not enjoying time with his family, you can find him planning his next big lesson or locked inside an adoration chapel. You can find more of his work at @ tjburdick.com.

  • Bethanie Ryan

    Awesome advice! Congrats! I’m hoping to become a Lay Dominican in November. It’s been particularly interesting having to explain what I’m doing to my family since they aren’t even Catholic. Something that needs to be mentioned though. For those who are married and are interested in joining a third order: Have open communication about it from day one. Invite your spouse to gatherings. Don’t be surprised if your spouse has some reservations at first. I had to reassure my husband that, yes, it’s a big deal, but the Lay Dominicans call it “promises” and not “vows” for a reason. Our marriage is a Sacrament, joining a third order is not. And others in my group have told me that being a member of a Third Order can help your marriage.

    • Timothy Burdick

      Right on, Bethanie. It has done nothing but wonders with my marriage. My wife is Franciscan, I’m sure of it. She’s discerning joining their third order currently.

  • Jean Pergande

    Thanks TJ,
    I am a Third Order Franciscan and this advice is very useful to anyone seeking to know and serve Christ in a more direct way. God bless you on your own journey.
    Pax et bonum
    Jean Pergande OFS

    • Timothy Burdick

      Third Orders are an awesome way to ge to know folks with similar passions, much like I have gotten to know you!

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  • John Miner

    What a wonderful post on a very important topic. Becoming a Secular Carmelite has done profound good for my spiritual life.

    Your link to Third Order Carmelites is for the Carmelites of the Ancient Observance, only half of the Carmelite family. The Discalced Carmelites (the reform initiated by St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross) also have a third order, called Seculars. My province is found at http://www.ocdswashprov.org

    Peace and blessings on your new journey,

    John Miner, OCDS

    • Timothy Burdick

      Thank you, John. I knew I forgot something!

      • John Miner

        No disrespect for the OCarms, I just had to get a plug in for my order 🙂

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  • As a Franciscan Tertiary, I can truly say it has been one of the greatest blessings in my life.

  • Amy Strickland

    Welcome from your Sister in St. Dominic, a fellow member of the Lay Fraternity! It is definitely a blessing to share in the spiritual patrimony of a religious family. I would add that the Dominicans (and other communities) also have secular priests in relationship with them, as my best friend is a member of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Dominic.

  • carol Derozier

    Thank you for the most helpful article.

    My husband and I have been Third Order Secular Franciscans since 2002. The formation process and now living as professed Franciscans has helped us to simplify our lives and to live the Gospel more fully. Moreover, we have found wonderful friendships within our local fraternity!

    If you are considering a third order and would like to know more about the Secular Franciscans, go to “National Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order” (NAFRA) to find more information and to locate the nearest fraternity.
    Peace an All Good,
    Carol Derozier, OFS

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  • William Hayes

    Hi my name is William (Bill) Hayes and I want to join the third order of the Dominican someone please help me accomplish this.
    Very Respectfully Bill

    • Timothy Burdick

      Hey Bill, head over to laydominicans.org and select the contact us option. They’ll help you over there. Good luck!

  • linda dizon

    I used to a postulant in the Dominican Order but got married later and now with 4 children all married. I would want to go back to my first love and hence decided to look for a way tojoin again the Dominican Order but in the Third Order. Is there any here in central Florida I can join? Any help from anyone, please.

  • Christi H

    I know that both single and married individuals can join most orders. But can a single third order secular marry?

  • Sandra

    Hi TJ. I just have one question, out of curiosity, and also because someone asked me and I’m not sure of the answer. Are Third order lay people consecrated?

    • We are not “consecrated” in the strict term of the vows of celibacy, but we are “religious”, none-the-less.

  • Annie Schaffner

    Tim, I became interested in a Third Order, and I feel drawn to the charism of the Dominicans. I went to their website http://laydominicans.org/. Unfortunately, there’s absolutely NOTHING on the site that tells someone how to actually go about the process. Since I am in the Province of St. Joseph (Eastern US), who can I contact?

    • Same situation here. I’m actually in Providence not far from Providence College and even they can’t assist. The email contact links on the site are dead. Perhaps there are no operating groups in the Eastern US that can actually answer and that’s why it’s so quiet for responses.

      • Annie Schaffner

        Right! I found an email for someone in Charlottesville. I sent them a message over a month ago and never heard back. There’s a Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC, so I might inquire there. I don’t have a phone number, but the address is 487 Michigan Ave NE, Washington DC. If I’m successful at getting information I can post it here.

  • Annonymous

    Really good article with some great stuff. Thank you for writing it.

    Just so you know being in a third order or even being in a first order does not leave an indelible mark on your soul. There are only 3 sacraments that leave an indelible mark on your soul: Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders. Taking promises or vows of the evangelical counsels is not a sacrament that leaves an indelible mark. Sacraments are signs that point to a future fulfillment in heaven. The evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience are what we will live in heaven. They are not a sign towards heaven, they are living heaven now on earth. This is why there is no indelible mark or sacramental nature to them.

    CCC, 1280, 1317, 1582

    1582 As in the case of Baptism and Confirmation this share in Christ’s office is granted once for all. The sacrament of Holy Orders, like the other two, confers an indelible spiritual character and cannot be repeated or conferred temporarily.

  • Veronica S.

    Thank you! I am going through this discernment process myself. These tips are very helpful. St. Dominic, pray for us!

  • Rob Hulbert

    My mother was the President of the third order of St. Dominic. I am certain she is in Heaven because God gave me a sign, 2 seconds after I asked Him: “Would you give me a sign that mum is in Heaven?” [I was standing by her graveside]. My friend standing next to me said: “Do you know what day it is?” I said: “No”. It is January 28, the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas. I knew immediately that this was God’s sign because when I was in the Christian Brothers I was: BROTHER AQUINAS. Google: A 100,000 to 1 chance came true! Also a 365 to 1. I went home happy, knowing my holy mother was enjoying the ecstasy of Heaven. When we were leaving the Church after her Mass, a friend screamed out: “Your mother was a saint!”. I did not appreciate my mother. Her advice to me as a boy was: “to be good.” I am now 72 and am a very committed Catholic well above the average, I humbly believe. Jesus, said: “Humility is only the truth” to St. Faustina. I have written 253 evangelization stories: To read any of them Google: Accessing all JesusLover33’s Social Stories. God bless everyone.