Franciscan Third Order Rule

“Saint Francis of Assisi (Italian: San Francesco d’Assisi, born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, but nicknamed Francesco (“the Frenchman”) by his father, 1181/1182 – October 3, 1226) was an Italian Catholic friar and preacher. He founded the men’s Order of Friars Minor, the women’s Order of St. Clare, and the Third Order of Saint Francis for men and women not able to live the lives of itinerant preachers followed by the early members of the Order of Friars Minor or the monastic lives of the Poor Clares. Though he was never ordained to the Catholic priesthood, Francis is one of the most venerated religious figures in history.”
Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy: an oil painting by Jusepe de Ribera (1642)

“The preaching of St. Francis, as well as his own living example and that of his first disciples, exercised such a powerful attraction on the people that many married men and women, even hermits, wanted to join the First or the Second Order. This being incompatible with their state of life, St. Francis found a middle way: he gave them a rule animated by the Franciscan spirit. In the composition of this rule St. Francis was assisted by his friend Cardinal Ugolino, later Gregory IX. As to the place where the Third Order was first introduced nothing certain is known. Of late however the preponderance of opinion is for Florence, chiefly on the authority of Mariano of Florence, or Faenza, for which the first papal Bull (Potthast, “Regesta Pontificum”, 6736) known on the subject is given, whilst the “Fioretti” (ch. xvi), though not regarded as a historical authority, assigns Cannara, a small town two hours’ walk from Porziuncola, as the birthplace of the Third Order. Mariano and the Bull for Faenza (16 December 1221) point to 1221 as the earliest date of the institution of the Third Order, and in fact, besides these and other sources, the oldest preserved rule bears this date at its head.”
secular franciscan order
“The Secular Franciscans, or the Third Order, are laity, diocesan priests, hermits and even groups of religious who follow the Rule that St. Francis wrote primarily for lay people or for those not part of the First or Second Order. The Third Order Rule, sometimes referred to as the Order of Penitents, is capable of being adapted to just about any way of life. Many diocesan hermits chose it as their Rule to profess. There are scores of diocesan priests who have professed the Third Order Rule, like St. John Marie Vianney, Kings and Queens such as St. Louis of France and St. Elizabeth of Hungary (both patrons of the Third Order), nobleman and statesman like St. Thomas Moore. Most have been your average workman and housewives who lived this Rule in the quiet of their homes or in their work places.”
francis gives rule
Saint Francis giving the Rule to Blessed Luchesio and Buonadonna first members of the Third Order of Franciscans, now referred to as the Secular Franciscan Order.

The following are extracts from The Third Order Rule which can be found in full at

“1. The form of life of the Brothers and Sisters of the Third Order Regular of Saint Francis is this: to observe the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ by living in obedience, in poverty and in chastity. Following Jesus Christ after the example of St. Francis, let them recognise that they are called to make greater efforts in their observance of the precepts and counsels of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Let them deny themselves (c.f. Mt 16:24) as each has promised the Lord.

2. With all in the holy Catholic and apostolic Church who wish to serve the Lord, the brothers and sisters of this order are to persevere in true faith and penance. They wish to live this evangelical conversion of life in a spirit of prayer, of poverty, and of humility. Therefore, let them abstain from all evil and persevere to the end in doing good because God the Son Himself will come again in glory and will say to all who acknowledge, adore and serve Him in sincere repentance: “Come blessed of my Father, take possession of the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world” (Mt 25:34).

4. Those who through the Lord’s inspiration come to us desiring to accept this way of life are to be received kindly. At the appropriate time, they are to be presented to the ministers of the fraternity who hold responsibility to admit them.

5. The ministers shall ascertain that the aspirants truly adhere to the catholic faith and to the Church’s sacramental life. If they are found to have a vocation, they are to be initiated into the life of the fraternity. Let everything pertaining to this gospel way of life be explained to them, especially these words of the Lord: “If you wish to be perfect (Matthew 19:21) go and sell all your possessions and give to the poor. You will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” And, if anyone wishes to follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

6. Led by the Lord, let them begin a life of penance, conscious that all of us must be continuously and totally converted to the Lord. As a sign of their conversion and consecration to gospel life, they are to clothe themselves plainly and to live in simplicity.

7. When their initial formation is completed, they are to be received into obedience promising to observe this life and rule always. Let them put aside all attachment as well as every care and worry. Let them only be concerned to serve, love, adore, and honour the Lord God, as best they can, with single-heartedness and purity of intention.

8. Within themselves, let them always make a dwelling place and home for
the Lord God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so that, with undivided hearts, they may increase in universal love by continually turning to God and to neighbour (John 14:23).

9. Everywhere and in each place, and in every season and each day, the brothers and sisters are to have a true and humble faith. From the depths of their inner life let them love, honour, adore, serve, praise, bless and glorify our most high and eternal God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. With all that they are, let them adore Him “because we should pray always and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1); this is what the Father desires. In this same spirit let them also celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours in union with the whole Church.

The sisters and brothers whom the Lord has called to the life of contemplation (Mk 6:31), with a daily renewed joy, should manifest their special dedication to God and celebrate the Father’s love for the world. It was He who created and redeemed us, and by His mercy alone shall save us.

10. The brothers and sisters are to praise the Lord, the King of heaven and earth, (c.f. Mt 11:25) with all His creatures and to give Him thanks because, by His own holy will and through His only Son with the Holy Spirit, He has created all things spiritual and material and made us in His own image and likeness.

11. Since the sisters and brothers are to be totally conformed to the Gospel, they should reflect and keep in their hearts the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ who is the word of the Father, as well as the words of the Holy Spirit which “are spirit and life” (John 6:63).

12. Let them participate in the sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ and receive His Body and Blood with great humility and reverence remembering the words of the Lord: “He who eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood has eternal life” (John 6:54). Moreover, they are to show the greatest possible reverence and honour for the most sacred name, written words and most holy Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ through whom all things in heaven and on earth have been brought to peace and reconciliation with Almighty God (John 6:63).

17. As poor people, the brothers and sisters to whom the Lord has given the grace of serving or working with their hands, should do so faithfully and conscientiously. Let them avoid that idleness which is the enemy of the soul. But they should not be so busy that the spirit of holy prayer and devotion, which all earthly goods should foster, is extinguished.

18. In exchange for their service or work, they may accept anything necessary for
their own temporal needs and for that of their sisters or brothers. Let them accept it humbly as is expected of those who are servants of God and seekers of most holy poverty. Whatever they may have over and above their needs, they are to give to the poor. And let them never want to be over others. Instead they should be servants and subjects to every human creature for the Lord’s

21. All the sisters and brothers zealously follow the poverty and humility of Our Lord Jesus Christ. “Though rich” beyond measure (2 Corinthians 8:9). He emptied Himself for our sake (Philippians 2:7) and with the holy virgin, His mother, Mary, He chose poverty in this world. Let them be mindful that they should have only those goods of this world which, as the apostle says, “having something to eat and something to wear, with these we are content (1 Tim 6:8). Let them particularly beware of money. And let them be happy to live among the outcast and despised, among the poor, the weak, the sick, the unwanted, the oppressed, and the destitute.

22. The truly poor in spirit, following the example of the Lord, live in this world as pilgrims and strangers (c.f. 1 P 2:1). They neither appropriate nor defend anything as their own. So excellent is this most high poverty that it makes us heirs and rulers of the kingdom of heaven. It makes us materially poor, but rich in virtue (c.f. John 2:5). Let this poverty alone be our portion because it leads to the land of the living (Ps 141:6). Clinging completely to it let us, for the sake of Our Lord Jesus Christ, never want anything else under heaven.

25. Following the example of Our Lord Jesus Christ Who made His own will one with the Father’s, the sisters and brothers are to remember that, for God, they should give up their own wills. Therefore, in every kind of chapter they have let them “seek first the kingdom of God and His justice,” (Mt 6:33) and exhort one another to observe with greater dedication the rule they have professed and to follow faithfully in the footprints of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Let them neither dominate nor seek power over one another, but let them willingly serve and obey “one another with that genuine love which comes from each one’s heart” (c.f. Galatians 5:13). This is the true and holy obedience of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

32. Let the sisters and brothers always be mindful that they should desire one thing alone, namely, the Spirit of God at work within them. Always obedient to the Church and firmly established in the Catholic faith, let them live according to the poverty, the humility and the holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ which they have solemnly promised to observe.”

see further Christopher Shorrock OFM Conv. “A Brief History of the Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order at

For The Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order Approved and Confirmed By Pope Paul VI on 24 June, 1978 see

For The Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order was approved and confirmed by Pope Paul VI on June 24, 1978, and delivered over to the Order on October 4, 1978, by the four Ministers General of the Franciscan Family see and
Handbook francis
“Handbook of the Confraternity of Penitents: Living the Original Third Order Rule of Saint Francis as a Lay Person in the Modern World” [CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2010]
“The Confraternity of Penitents is an international, private Catholic Association of the Faithful whose members are living, in their own homes, a modern adaptation of the rule for lay people, given by Saint Francis of Assisi to the Brothers and Sisters of Penance in 1221. Bishop Thomas Tobin, Bishop of the Diocese of Providence, stated, on 11 February 2009, “I wish to affirm my support of the Confraternity of Penitents (CFP), specifically its members’ commendable efforts to live according to the First Rule of the Third Order of Saint Francis of 1221, as outlined in the CFP’s own Constitutions.” All the information needed for anyone to learn about the Confraternity of Penitents and its way of life is found in the Handbook of the Confraternity of Penitents. The Handbook contains: A copy of Bishop Tobin’s letter The Rule of 1221 for the laity Modern Constitutions to the Rule of 1221 Directory of Governance Canon Law as it relates to the Confraternity Background information Question and Answer Section Inquiry Reflections Four years of Postulant and Novice Lessons Three lessons prior to pledging Lessons for On-Going Formation taken from writings of the saints Induction into formation ceremonies Pledging Ceremony Applications Reproducible Handouts and Brochures Articles on a life of penance (conversion) Confraternity Prayers and Psalms A Sample Day’s Prayer from the Divine Office”
franciscan companion
Marion Habig O.F.M (ed) “The Secular Franciscan Companion” [Franciscan Media; Revised edition , 1987]
A simple, beautiful compendium of prayers by and about Saint Francis and other Franciscan saints. It includes a short history of the Secular Franciscan Order, its Rule, and a long list of daily prayers including morning and evening prayers, devotions, litanies, and a calendar of Franciscan saints. This is truly a companion for Secular Franciscans and others devoted to Saint Francis.
franciscan ritual
Benet A. Fonck O.F.M. (Editor) “Ritual of the Secular Franciscan Order” [St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1986]
Secular Franciscans and their spiritual assistants will appreciate this little booklet—an English translation of the approved Latin text of the Ritual for the Secular Franciscan Order. The Preface provides background on the history and purpose of the Ritual and helpful guidelines for its use. Part 1 contains the rites for celebrating the various stages of admission to the Secular Franciscan Order. Part 2 contains prayers for use at the various meetings of Secular Franciscan fraternities. An Appendix includes appropriate Scripture readings, Franciscan readings and prayers of St. Francis.
For the Ritual of the Secular Franciscan Order approved by the Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship, 1985, see
to live as francis
Leonard Foley O.F.M., Jovian Weigel O.F.M., and Patti Normile S.F.O. “To Live as Francis Lived: A Guide For Secular Franciscans (The Path of Franciscan Spirituality)” [St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2000]
Whether you are a professed Franciscan of many years or someone just beginning to seek a spiritual understanding of Francis and Clare of Assisi, To Live as Francis Lived will lead you to a closer life with Jesus Christ. Through a process of prayer, reflection, study texts, questions and connections to Scripture, you will be formed in the Franciscan way of life as Francis lived it in his own time

For more resources on the Secular Franciscan Order, see


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