Frequently Asked Questions about Lay Carmelites

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1. What are the basic steps to become a Lay Carmelite? 

It is best to become a member of a “local” community (or chapter). You will then begin two periods of formal formation – one leading to Reception, and then another that leads to the Profession Promises. Some time later, one may renew that profession with the pronouncing of the two “private” vows of obedience and chastity, in accordance with one’s state in life. However, “ongoing” formation then continues throughout one’s life as a Lay Carmelite. During all of this time, one is expected to take an active part in one’s local community.    

2. What constitutes the formation period, and what does profession mean? 

Formation is considered extremely important for those wishing to become members of the Carmelite Third Order. The basic points that are to be addressed during initial formation are discussed in the Rule for the Third Order. Precisely how this is done varies rather widely from region to region around the world, as does the time-line for its completion. Typically there is a period prior to one’s Reception (analogous to what is known as postulancy for those in the First and Second Orders of Carmel), also a period of time prior to when one may be allowed to make a Profession (analogous to the novitiate for those in the First and Second Orders). The initial Profession is that of promises to live the way of life of a Third Order member that is outlined in the Third Order Rule and whatever local Statutes may be in place for a given region. 

3. Does a Lay Carmelite profess vows? If so, what are they? 

Lay Carmelites typically profess only Promises. However, after a considerable time of prayer, discernment and competent spiritual direction, one may profess two vows: obedience, and chastity – in accordance with one’s state in life. These vows are private, vis-à-vis the public vows of religion (poverty, chastity and obedience) that a Religious makes. The taking of these vows is neither encouraged nor discouraged. 

4. What exactly is a Lay Carmelite, and what is the Lay Carmelite Order?

The Lay Carmelite Order is a secular branch of the Carmelite Order which includes all the lay people who follow the Third Order Rule. The Lay Carmelite is a true member of the Order of the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel. He/she shares in the unique spirit of the Carmelite family and, led by the Holy Spirit, has an influence on the life of the entire family. 

5. Is the Lay Carmelite Order different from the Third Order of Carmel?

No. The Third Order of Carmel actually has several components – the Lay Carmelites being one of them, albeit the largest group of Third Order Carmelites. One will often see in writings the term “Lay Carmelite Order,” whose members are indeed, Third Order Carmelites. Some documentation – such as the Rule for the Third Order of Carmel, even uses the term The Carmelite Secular Third Order. 

6. What are the daily obligations particular to the Lay Carmelite vocation?

According to the Rule for the Third Order of Carmel (art. 36-41) Lay Carmelites live a life of intense prayer based on daily meditation (use of Lectio Divina is a highly acceptable method), participation in the sacramental life of the Church centred on daily Mass and reception of Holy Communion as often as possible, praying at least Morning, Evening and Night Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, the wearing of the Brown Scapular of Carmel, and cultivating a love and devotion for our Blessed Mother nourished with practices such as the praying of the Rosary. 

7. What is the difference between “Lay Carmelites” and “Secular Carmelites”?

Subsequent to the reform of St. Teresa of Avila, the family of Carmel became, as it were, two “traditions” of Carmel – each with their First, Second and Third Order components. Those who remained with the original component have become known as the “O.Carm.s” (Order of Carmelites – Calced), and those who became part of the Teresian reform became known as the O.C.D.s (Order of Discalced Carmelites). Lay people in the O.Carm.s. have become known as T.O.C.s or T.O.Carm.s. (Third Order Carmelites) – i.e. Lay Carmelites, and those with the O.C.D.s have become known as O.C.D.s members – i.e. Secular Carmelites. The actual time-line of formation for both has become quite similar. However, one major difference would be that early formation for O.C.D.s members in many places gives heavy emphasis on St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, while T.O.Carm.s. may provide more broadly based information about Carmel and wait until after profession to delve deeper into St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. Both are organized into local communities – or chapters, and (primarily for meetings) wear a similar 6” x 8” brown wool cloth scapular. Organizationally they are much the same. The daily prayer life of both T.O.C. and O.C.D.s Carmelites has become much the same, with heavy emphasis on the Liturgy of the Hours, daily meditation, participation in the Eucharistic celebration, etc. The reasons why one would choose the Lay Carmelites (TOC) or the Secular Carmelites (OCDs) is usually a matter of first exposure, whether or not there is a local community/chapter where they live, how they might relate to a local community, etc. 

8. Why do individuals become members of the Third Order of Carmel?

There is no question that anyone can learn about and adapt his private spiritual life to that of the Third Order Carmelites. However, the huge benefits of officially belonging to the family of Carmel are non-trivial – especially as regards what one experiences in the support they receive from their local, provincial and even worldwide community of brothers and sister Carmelites – whether First, Second or Third Order members. Indeed, two entire chapters in the Rule for the Third Order of Carmel is devoted to The Family life of Carmel. 

9. Why would one become a Lay Carmelite as opposed to a Third Order member of one of the other major religious Orders?

A wise friar once said quite simply that “it’s our story”. Perhaps familiarity of the various saints of the Order, is the attraction. The Lord in His wisdom draws some to the charism of the Franciscans, for example, some to the charism of the Dominicans, others to the Benedictines, etc. Often it’s simply the impression that a current Third Order member – or that of a First or Second Order member, that makes a positive impression on a person seeking the way of life offered by a given Third Order. 

10. If I live in a place where there is no Lay Carmelite Community can I still become a Lay Carmelite?

The Rule for the Third Order of Carmel (art. 78) allows for one to be admitted to the Third Order without being enrolled in a particular community. However, experience has shown that providing for adequate formation and the lack of the benefits of community suggest that such membership be a rare exception. Once an individual has been professed, and may move to a location where no community exists, would be strongly encouraged to organize a community. 

11. How do Lay Carmelites relate to each other “in community”?

Community is extremely significant to all Third Order groups and individual members. Indeed, community is one of the three elements of one’s “Call to Carmel” – i.e. a call to prayer, a call to community, and a call to service. Carmelites are not hermits; relationships on both the temporal as well as spiritual dimensions are important for the nourishment of one’s full Carmelite vocation. In part, art. 43 of the Rule states that “The communal life of Lay Carmelites must shine with simplicity and authenticity. Every group must be a family in which everyone feels at home, welcomed, known, appreciated, encouraged on the path they are following and possibly even corrected with charity and kindness.…”