What exactly is a Third Order, and what must a person do to become a member of one?
“Third Order” is typically an association of the lay faithful who try to live the spirit of a particular religious order. The most well known Third Orders are the Carmelites, Dominicans, and Franciscans.
As an association of the faithful, the members can be male or female, married or single, young or old, but they at least must be a practicing Catholic, and they live at home and not in the convent or monastery, and work in the most diverse occupations as is fitting to their state as lay people.
Since the “Third Orders” are linked to religious orders, sometimes the members will distinguish themselves from ordinary lay people by the garb or insignia they wear, or even by the letters after their name, as is common with members of religious orders. Typically, members of Third Orders group themselves by region and participate in formative or devotional activities on a periodic basis for the edification of their spiritual life. Normally, a member of the sponsoring religious order would lead these reunions.
Down through the ages many great saints were members of Third Orders, such as St. Catherine of Siena, a Third Order Dominican, and St. Louis of France, a Third Order Franciscan.
Rev. Francis J. Hoffman, JCD (Fr. Rocky) is Executive Director of Relevant Radio. Ordained as a priest for Opus Dei in 1992 by Blessed John Paul II, he holds a doctorate in Canon Law from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, an MBA from the University of Notre Dame, and a BA in History from Northwestern University. His Question and Answer column appears in several Catholic newspapers and magazines across the country.