by Jean Gibbons, OCDS


A Rule of Life is a blueprint to help one organize their day for maximum spiritual profit.

The Rule of Life for Secular Carmelites was given formal approval by the Sacred Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes on May 10, 1979. It establishes that the Rule of Life for the third or secular Order of Discalced Carmelites is a public document in the Church approving the form of living the Gospels as presented in the Rule.

The text was approved by the Sacred Congregation for the members of the Secular Order throughout the world. Local Statutes were then added for different areas throughout the world and have the same approval as the main text.

The language of the Rule should be understood as used in Canon Law. For example, the use of the words "association" and "faithful" in Article (1).

"The Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites is an association of the faithful who undertake the pursuit of evangelical perfection in the world."

Canon Law tells us "Associations of Christ's faithful which are established by the competent ecclesiastical authority are called public associations."1 Among these public associations are numbered the third or secular Orders. "Associations whose members live in the world but share in the spirit of some religious institute, under the overall direction of the same institute and who lead an apostolic life and strive for Christian perfection, are known as third Orders or are called some other suitable name."(2)

Canon Law tells us more precisely who these faithful are. "Christ's faithful who, since they are incorporated into Christ by baptism, constitute the People of God.... They are called, each according to his or her particular condition, to exercise the mission God entrusted to the Church to fulfill in this world. This Church, established and ordered in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him."(3)


The word "Canon" is a Semitic word meaning "reed." Reeds were used as rods, measuring rods and measuring rods quickly assumed the quality of being normative. As the word canon became popular as a norm, or criteria, it soon took on the meaning of a standard, a guide, a set form or pattern. Thus the early Church used the word "canon" as a set form for church precepts.

Now, at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit empowered the nascent Church to proclaim the Gospel of Christ the Holy Spirit also commissioned and empowered the Church to guide and encourage the "faithful." It is in this latter exercise that we most often hear the word canon or canonical. When we think of the word canon or canonical it helps if we remember the Church/Holy Spirit as our spiritual sustenance.

As we try to live out the Gospel's message as proscribed by the Rule we bond ourselves daily more closely to the Church and the Holy Spirit. The power of the Holy Spirit working through the Church and her Carmelite Order becomes more vivid as we become more faithful. The Rule is full of reminders that as Secular Carmelites we are greatly indebted to Holy Mother Church. This in turn engenders a great appreciation and love for her. All Secular Orders are in fact united in the pursuit of evangelical perfection in answer to the call to holiness received in baptism, and all serve the universal Church, each according to its proper charism.(4)

The members of the Secular Order do not profess to have perfect love or charity. What they do undertake is to pursue, or tend toward the perfection of charity by using the means embodied in the Rule of Life.

Through the Church and the Holy Spirit working through her and all her glorious facets we have a Rule of Life we can be assured will help us develop a deeper interior life. How foolish we would be not to make use of the gifts the Church offers us, especially the sacraments, and allow the Holy Spirit to nourish and strengthen us. In studying the Rule we should always give thanks to the Holy Spirit who is our guide and strength and who will surely see us through until the final veil is drawn back.


The Foreword to the Rule is the best and most concise overview we have of the Rule and it's purpose. It is important to note that the Foreword comes to us from the Sacred Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes and sets down the general principles according to which the Holy See has approved this and similar secular orders. This Rule governs a way of seeking Gospel perfection, in harmony with the special charism and mission of the Teresian Carmel in the Church, and is not a private document containing the statutes of a private association. Rather, it is a Rule of a public association established by the competent ecclesiastical authority.(5) The Foreword should be read, studied and reread often.

Paragraph three in the Foreword says "the religious vocation is given only to those whom God has especially marked out, but the gift, which they have received, becomes "the common heritage of the people of God." Later in paragraph nine it again draws our attention to our bond with the Church by saying that the purpose of a Secular Order is "to inspire and assist the secular members to carry out in the Church and in the world the manifold duties incumbent upon them as Christians."

Secular Orders are intended to subserve the secular state of life of their members, not to change it. This short statement in paragraph seven of the Foreword is very, very important to the understanding of a Secular Carmelite vocation. The obligations of our state in life are our primary obligations. This is what is meant by subserve. When we undertake to live in the world an evangelical life of fraternal communion imbued with the spirit of contemplative prayer in imitation of the Virgin Mary, this is what we undertake to do: to sanctify our secular state in life by imitating Christ and His Mother. There is a certain common sense that applies here: We cannot be good Christians without fulfilling our obligations in our state of life, and we cannot be good Carmelites without being good Christians.

The prayer and study required by the Rule of Life lends balance and harmony to our lives that would be difficult to achieve otherwise. The Rule of Life helps us organize our time for maximum spiritual profit while living in the world.

The ripple effect: We are called as Secular Carmelites to follow Christ in our secular or worldly setting. We may not see, feel or ever know the benefits of our efforts, but like all virtue they have a "ripple effect." The mystical body is another example of how virtue and/or sin effects the entire body. To have faith that our prayers and sufferings are meaningful and helpful to the universal Church is at the heart of understanding the Rule and our vocation.


The original Rule of Carmel was written about the year 1208 A.D. by St. Albert, Patriarch of Jerusalem, for a small group of men living a largely hermit form of life on Mount Carmel. Their life style was a very simple one with a balance of eremitical and community elements, prayer, silence and work. This Rule remains the framework for all succeeding Carmelites. This original Rule of St. Albert should be studied often for a clearer understanding of the spirit of our present Rule. In many ways Isolated Secular Carmelites are very closely linked in spirit to these original hermits on Mt. Carmel.

Modifications to the Rule of St. Albert became necessary as the Order had to leave its cradle on Mt. Carmel and spread into Europe. Almost two centuries later, further modifications to the Rule were approved by Pope Eugene IV to meet the difficulties of the time. St. Teresa's reform was to return to the original Rule without mitigation. She endeavored to combine fidelity to the spirit and tradition of the ancient Order and unceasing advancement.

The Teresian Carmelite Order has been blessed with a great wealth of doctrine on the spiritual life and, in particular, on contemplative prayer. We must remember that St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross were not writing merely about their own spiritual experiences but they were presenting the Order with universally valid teaching on the preparation for the initiation into and growth in contemplative prayer.

"The Christian life of the members of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites is inspired and nourished by the spirituality and guidance of the Teresian Carmel."(6)

It is no accident that the first Article under The Daily Life addresses mental prayer. It is the Carmelite Rule's central command to meditate on God's law day and night and to watch in prayer. It goes on to say we must "practice prayer in an atmosphere of interior silence and solitude." The operative word here is interior since Secular Carmelites may not have the luxury of exterior silence.


I am aware of two excellent commentaries in English on the Rule of Life for Secular Carmelites. The first is A Commentary on the Rule of Life, by Fr. Michael Griffin, OCD, and the second is Be Holy, a commentary on the Rule of Life by Fr. Hilary Doran, OCD. A third book must be mentioned: Companion to the Rule of Life, by Fr. Jerome Lantry, OCD.(7)

The Companion to the Rule of Life is unique in that it addresses the footnotes in the Rule. Returning to paragraph seven of the Foreword and the Secular nature of the Rule, it ends by telling us that the formal and juridical structures are kept to a minimum because the Secular Order is to subserve the secular state of life.

So with this in mind we might think of the Rule as an outline where we are to probe deeper into the meaning of each Article. Fr. Jerome, in his Preface, tells us that the Rule is a compressed document and much of its impact will be lost on the reader without consultation to the passages on which the statement in the Rule is based.

The lion's share of these footnotes are from either the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity or the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation and Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy are also included. There are of course, references to the writings of St. Teresa and St. John and the New Testament. All of the above should be read for a better understanding of the Rule.

We can see that the Rule is based on Scripture, sound Vatican II teaching, and the writings of St. Teresa and St. John. Or put in another way, without the above we would have no Rule.

Therefore, we must understand that the Rule is not meant to be read like a novel, but rather prayerfully studied. Preferably an Article at a time. Take time to refer to the companion material I have already mentioned.

Fr. Michael Griffin suggests that the Rule itself be the background for the formation program.(8) When you consider all the above material that should be studied you can see that the Rule itself is indeed a project unto itself.


"All men are called to share, through charity, the holiness which belongs to God alone"(9)

We are confronted immediately with the purpose of the Rule. The Apostles are exhorting us throughout the New Testament to practice such virtues as will reflect the holiness of God. "Be holy for I am holy."(10) We are not expected to just avoid sin but to be Holy! The perfect alignment of our living with Christ is a gradual process of the victory of grace over our all too natural way of acting. That is why St. Peter urges all who treasure the same faith to practice the virtues that will be kept together and brought to perfection by Divine Love.(11) St. Paul likewise prays earnestly that his converts at Ephesus may grow to the fullness of love.(12) Until that process of being made holy in all our activity is complete, we shall not be fit to live with God forever.(13)

The holiness of God is presented to us in Sacred Scripture in many ways, but it is especially evident to us in the New Testament. It is here, in the New Testament, within the fullness of revelation, that the holiness of God is revealed and also the holiness he requires of the members of Christ in the mystery of Salvation that was hidden from previous ages.(14)

There is no saint who could not have been a sinner and no sinner who cannot be a saint.

In the power of the Spirit of holiness we are made sharers of God's nature, we become children of God in name and in fact, co-heirs with Jesus Christ of eternal life. We are being continually transformed in the image of the Lord to reflect his holiness.(15) Having come as our Savior and having won for us the grace to be made children of God, Jesus commands us to be perfect in loving in order to be like our heavenly Father.(16)

From all this, we can see that the holiness of God is presented to us in the New Testament, not to dismay us, but to call us to the holiness God expects of us and which he wishes to share with us in Christ Jesus, his Beloved Son. In the Old Testament, the priests, the people, the temple, the vessels, the law were called holy because they were all dedicated to the service of God. In the New Testament, the baptized become the living stones of the Temple, and the very dwelling place of God, and the vessels which hold the love of God, poured into our souls. As in the Old Testament, so too in the New, the Apostles warn us that a mere external holiness will not satisfy God. If we are the home and temple of the Spirit of God, his fruits must be produced in us, namely, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.(17)


1. Please refer to the Secular Order's Rule of Life (OCDS Rule & Ritual).
2. Be Holy, Commentary on the Rule of Life of the Secular Order of the         Discalced Carmelites, by Fr. Hilary Doran, OCD; Carmelite Prior, Baars Hill,     Oxford England OX1 5HB.
3. A Commentary on the Rule of Life, by Fr. Michael D. Griffin, OCD; Teresian    Charism Press (ICS) 2131 Lincoln Road NE; Washington DC 20002. 4.    Companion to the Rule of Life, by Fr. Jerome Lantry, OCD; Wenzel Press,    P.O. Box 14789, Long Beach, CA 90803.


by Frances Martini, OCDS


Disciple: One who is trained in the way of another.

To live in and for Christ it is necessary for us to be men and women of discipline. Stemming as it does from the word "disciple," discipline reflects our adherence to the Lord as we live our lives in the Church on earth preparatory to our entry into the Church of eternity. The "Yeses" and Noes" of our daily struggle as we are guided by the Holy Spirit, especially as manifested by the God-given apostolic authority of the Church, fashion us and strengthen us to be conformed to Christ for service to Him and His Church. Discipline is expected - and joyfully and willingly accepted - by all who desire that the name "Christian" be an accurate description of one's identity.


Some Christians are called in the midst of the Mystical Body to embrace the further discipline of the Rule of Life of a religious family. To respond to a vocation to an Order of the Church it is not enough that we are attracted to the charisms of the Order, i.e. prayer, service to the poor, ministry to the sick, teaching, etc.; this is a beginning, but in order to arrive at a fruitful life as a Dominican, Jesuit, Carthusian, or Carmelite, one must take on the yoke of the Rule of one's respective Order. We have to enter into the discipline designed to form us to that Order's charism that we may be conformed to God's desire for us - what He has created us to be.

Just as one enters into marriage knowing (hopefully) that there must be a discipline of one's body, mind, and soul if that union is to be one of Christian fidelity and a sign of Christ's love for the Church, so, too, must one enter into the Discipline of a Rule of an Order if one wishes to be conformed to the charism of that order.

To live according to a rule of life can perhaps be seen - particularly in this free-wheeling society - to be quite medieval, at best, and spiritually stifling, at worst. This view we unfortunately find as rather common not just in our society, but also within the Church. Since we are members of a fallen race, what we see as "freedom" can be - and often is - a slavery to our fallen nature and to the evil which seeks to separate us from the life of true freedom in the love and the truth of Christ, who has redeemed us from that slavery.

What was the first "Rule of Life?" The Ten Commandments, wherein God, Who reveals Himself as personal and intimately involved in the lives of His people, instructs those people as to what is due to God and what is due to their neighbor if they are truly to be His.

In Christ all the commandments are accomplished and given sharpened focus as we see in the Great Commandment of loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. This Great Commandment calls us in Christ to communion with the life of the Trinity in the company of those who share with us the baptismal bond of sonship and also share the Eucharistic Meal which strengthens the Body of Christ.

Within this communion of believers we find those who, through God's grace, have been called by the Spirit to enter into bonds tied by specific charisms to serve the full Body of Christ. Thus we have the Religious Orders of the Church.(18)


The Rule of an Order is, therefore, a necessity if that Order is to exist. The Rule is the "bones" that hold the flesh that is the charism in form and enables it to move and act. The Spirit-given charism of an Order has been designed to function within the Mystical Body for the Body's benefit and for the benefit of the individuals called to that Order.

So it is that the Rule of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites has been designed, based on the Rule of the Fathers, to witness to the world that God lives and is intimately present within each soul and to strengthen us that we might strengthen the Church by fidelity to our Order's charism of prayer. Each article of the Rule is given for the fulfillment of this end. Daily Mass, regular confession, the practice of prayer, the monthly meeting, etc., are all given for the member's growth in Christ.


1. Canon Law 301.
2. Canon Law 303.
3. Canon Law 204.
4. Foreword to the Rule, par. 10.
5. Canon Law 301.3.
6. Article 1, par. 1.
7. The source addresses for these books are in the Bibliography.
8. M. Griffin's Commentary, p. 122.
9. Foreword, par. 1.
10. 1 Peter 1:16.
11. 2 Peter 1:3-11.
12. Eph. 3:16-19.
13. 1 John 3:2-3.
14. Romans 16:25-27.
15. 1 Peter 1:2-5; Romans 5:5; 1 John 3:1; 2 Cor 3:18.
16. 1 Peter 1:2-5; Mt. 5:48.
17. Gal 5:22-24; 2 Peter 1:5-11.
18. Rule of Life, Foreword.