THE THIRD ORDER OF ST. FRANCIS
1. The Third Order was founded by St. Francis of Assisi for the sake of seculars, in order that, by the observance of certain rules, they might, while still living in the world, attain speedily and easily to sanctity of life.
After St. Francis of Assisi had already founded the Orders of the Friars Minor and of the Poor Clares, he was requested by a wealthy Italian merchant to furnish him with a rule, by following which he would be enabled to lead a holy life, although his calling obliged him to hold constant intercourse with men of the world. The saint gave him a rule, which was soon adopted by other persons. Thus the Third Order of St. Francis originated about the year 1220. Its members lived in the world and wore a gray habit fastened round the waist by a cord. This Third Order was, with some alterations, confirmed by the Holy See, and spread rapidly throughout Christendom. It is intended for those who live in the world and are not of the world.
2. The Third Order is distinguished from ordinary confraternities by the fact that its members are entitled to wear a habit, and are subject to a religious superior.
Tertiaries, i.e., members of the Third Order, wear a small scapular under their upper garment, as a part of the religious dress, and a cord as a girdle, a token of penance. These things are given to the postulant when he is clothed; no one is admitted before the completion of the fourteenth year of his age; he must also be of good morals and a peaceful disposition. After a year of probation, he is professed; that is he takes a solemn promise to keep the law of God and the rule of the Order with all fidelity. The director of the Third Order is a Franciscan monk, appointed to the office by the general of the Franciscan Order. This post, which gives power to receive new members, to give dispensations, to examine aspirants, to exercise supervision over the professed, may also be filled by a secular priest, appointed by the provincial. In every parish there is a Relator, whose duty it is to see that the members live conformably to the spirit of the rule.
3. The Third Order is distinguished from the First and Second Orders, because it does not impose the obligation of keeping the evangelical counsels, but only the commandments of the Gospel; moreover the rules of the Order are not binding under pain of sin.
The obligations of the rule are very light. They were considerably mitigated in 1883 by Pope Leo XIII. and adapted to the requirements of the times. The rule enjoins upon the tertiaries: “To obey God’s commandments and the precepts of the Church; to avoid faction and quarreling, to observe moderation in food, drink and clothing; to avoid luxury, to refrain as far as they can from the dangerous seductions of dances and the theatre.” They are also required to fast on the eve of the feast of St. Francis and of the Immaculate Conception, to approach the sacraments every month, to recite twelve Paters, Aves and Glorias daily, to hear Mass, if possible, every day, to attend the monthly meetings, to assist those of their fellow-members who are sick or destitute, and to pray for deceased members. Any one who is unable to perform one or more of these obligations can be dispensed. Special privileges are con ceded to priests.
4. The members of the Third Order have greater graces within their reach than the members of almost any other existing confraternity.
They can gain a plenary indulgence, on the ordinary conditions, once a month on any day they may choose, on the day of the monthly meeting, besides some other days, and in the hour of death. Once a month, by reciting six Pater Nosters, Ave Marias and Glorias, they may obtain the indulgences of the holy places in Rome, Jerusalem, Compostella and the Portiuncula. These, and many other rich indulgences attached to various prayers and good works, are all applicable to the souls in Purgatory. Every Mass said for a departed member has the indulgence of a privileged altar. The Third Order enjoys the benefit of the intercession of many eminent saints be longing to the Order, especially that of their holy father, St. Francis; the members are all assisted by the prayers of the numerous saints of the Franciscan Order and of the Poor Clares before the throne of God.
5. The Third Order has counted among its members many distinguished personages and eminent saints.
It would be impossible to enumerate in these pages the crowned heads, the saints and servants of God whose names are familiar to all Christians, who have been enrolled in the Third Order of St. Francis. Our Holy Father Leo XIII. is, and his predecessor in the Chair of Peter was, a tertiary of this Order. “If this Order were once more to flourish among us as it did in days of yore,” are the words of our Holy Father, “the lawless greed for temporal things would be weakened, men would obey their lawful rulers, they would learn to conquer their natural propensities to evil, they would out rage no one’s rights, and the relations between rich and poor would be satisfactorily arranged.” By means of the Third Order of St. Francis the kingdom of God would triumph upon earth, and the kingdom of Satan be overthrown.
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