Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites

The Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites, officially Ordo Carmelitarum Discalceatorum Saecularis (OCDS), and formerly the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel and of the Holy Mother Saint Teresa of Jesus, is a religious association of the Roman Catholic Church composed primarily of lay persons and also accepted secular clergy.

Professing promises to strive to live evangelical perfection in the spirit of the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, obedience, and of the beatitudes,[1] they live a "fidelity to contemplative prayer with the spirit of detachment it entails".

Commonly known as Secular Carmelites, they are an integral part of the Discalced Carmelite Order (OCD),[2] juridically dependent upon the Discalced Carmelite Friars,[3] and in "fraternal communion" with them and the cloistered Nuns of the Order. They share the same charism with the Friars and Nuns, each according to his or her particular state of life, forming a single family with the same spirituality, and called by God to holiness and apostolic mission.[2]

There are two Carmelite orders in the Church, the Carmelite Order of the Ancient Observance (O. Carm.) and the Discalced Carmelite Order (OCD). The Discalced became a separate order under Teresa of Ávila, so as to return to the more austere and contemplative life lived by the first Carmelites, and eventually by the end of the 17th century the Discalced developed their own secular order.[4] "Discalced", meaning "shoeless", signifies this greater austerity. However, Seculars do not consider forgoing shoes to be a necessity for living internal austerity and poverty. Members of the OCDS are distinct from the secular order known as the Lay Carmelites (T. O. Carm.).

Vocation and Promise

The Seculars' vocation is to live the Carmelite spirituality as Seculars and not as mere imitators of Carmelite monastic life.[5] They practice contemplative prayer while living lives of charity in their common occupations. They profess a promise to the Order patterned on the monastic vows which guides their life. The Promise is to live according to the Rule of St. Albert and the OCDS Constitutions and to live the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience and the beatitudes according to their lay state of life.

Spiritually mature members receiving the recommendation of the local council of their OCDS community and the approval of their provincial superior are permitted to profess vows of chastity and obedience to their community, which are strictly personal and do not translate into a separate class of membership.[6]

Way of Life

Secular Carmelites order their lives according to the ancient Rule of St. Albert, as does the whole Discalced Carmelite Order, according to the OCDS Constitutions specific to the Secular Order, and according to the provincial statutes applicable to the particular province of the Order which includes their communities. These three sources of legislation, in that order, move from general to more particular rules which are approved by the Church for their particular vocation and circumstances.

The primary, daily obligations of the Seculars are to engage in silent, contemplative prayer or "recollection", to pray Morning Prayer (Lauds) and Evening Prayer (Vespers) of the Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office), and to attend daily Mass and pray Night Prayer (Compline) when possible. Lectio Divina and spiritual retreats are also highly encouraged.

As models of this ancient way of life, they study the writings and imitate the lives of the many saints of the Discalced Carmelite Order, especially St. Teresa of Jesus and St. John of the Cross, both doctors of the Church. They "gladly mortify themselves in union with the Sacrifice of Christ," and their "interior life must be permeated by an intense devotion to Our Lady." They wear the brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which is the habit of the Secular Order and the entire Discalced Carmelite Order.[7] Larger scapulars of various sizes are worn for ceremonial purposes. They attend the monthly meetings of the local communities of which they are members, and members of each community serve terms on the community's council, which coordinates the formation of members and the other aspects of the community. In their communities the Seculars find the fraternity necessary to advance in the spiritual life, often coupled with liturgies and lectures presided over by the Friars, where available.

Finally, the intense prayer life of Seculars is intended to flow over into many varied works of charity and justice in the world.


Depending on their existing provincial statutes and with the approval of their local council, their communities accept Catholics in good standing in the Church who meet the age requirement into formation.[8][9] Admission into formation depends on a clear indication of a Carmelite vocation and maturity in faith as discerned by the local council of the community petitioned, and permission to profess the Promise of the Seculars requires a number of years spent in spiritual formation and the study of contemplative prayer under the direction of the community's formators.[10] Catholics called to this vocation by God begin by discovering a community of Seculars which they visit for monthly meetings and may eventually join. Communities are listed in online provincial directories (see bibliography below).

Seculars are not members of the Scapular Confraternity,[11] a newer development that is merely a pious association of Catholics who wear the small Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, commonly known as the Brown Scapular, and may or may not practice the primary principles of Carmelite spirituality. Any Catholic can be invested with the Carmelite Scapular by a Catholic priest, and indeed it is the most popular of Catholic scapulars because of the special promises made to its wearers by the Blessed Virgin Mary in apparitions. But the garment is properly the habit of the Discalced Carmelite Order, including the Seculars. Candidates for admission to the Order are clothed in the Scapular at the beginning of formal formation, usually during a Mass.

Seculars, after the tradition of the Friars and Nuns, take a religious name and title of devotion. The custom is increasing of retaining the person's surname and/or given name depending on suitability. The name taken is generally only used in Carmelite contexts, and members use the post nomial initials "OCDS" after their legal names.


When the Discalced Carmelite Order was juridically erected in 1593, its superiors retained the power granted by Pope Nicholas V in the bull "Cum nulla fidelium conventio" of 7 October 1452 to incorporate lay persons as members of the Order. However, the Order forbade lay persons from membership and incorporated this decision into the Constitutions of 1581 and 1592.[12] After the Order was divided in 1600 into the Spanish and Italian congregations, both of these maintained exclusion of lay persons but included as an apostolate investing lay persons with their Scapular. In the late 17th Century efforts were made that led to the erection of a secular order, beginning in Belgium and then in France and Italy. In 1699 a rule of life for seculars was privately published with provincial approval in Liege, Belgium. In 1708 in Marseille, France, a full Carmelite rule of life for secular women was published, being the first known and true rule of life for the Third Secular Order (as it was them styled), and ostensibly bearing the authority of the whole Order. The Rule of Marseille seems to recognize the presence of already existing Third Secular Order communities in France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and Belgium and attempt to impose some degree of uniformity on independent Secular Order communities. The Rule of Marseille was translated into Latin during the end of the 18th Century. In 1848 a short book on the Third Order, the "Breve [C]ompendio", was published in Florence, Italy, being merely an abridged version of the Rule of Marseille. On 8 January 1883 the Definitor General of the Order revised the Breve Compendio and officially imposed it on the whole Third Order. This was in force until it was superseded on 25 October 1911, when the Definitor General imposed the "Manuale of the Third Secular Order". The Manuale was approved by the Holy See on 3 March 1921. This document was revised on 26 October 1970 and approved by the Holy See as the Rule of Life.[13] The Rule of Life was superseded by the current OCDS Constitutions, which were approved by the Holy See on 16 June 2003.

The Order throughout the World

Seculars are spread throughout the world in various communities, with each community canonically erected,[14] and subject to the direction of the provincial superiors of each province and the General Superior of the Discalced Carmelite Order in Rome.[15]

The Order has grown tremendously in the United States in recent years, but membership may be decreasing in Europe. There is a large number in the Philippines due to the great devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel in that nation.[16]

Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

St. Pope John Paul II was an honorary member of the Order and devout wearer of the Carmelite Scapular.[17] All Faithful to whom the Brown Scapular is installed, become of a member the Confraternity of the Brown Scapular, a Carmelite Confraternity.[18]


  1. OCDS Constitution #11
  2. 1 2 OCDS Constitution #1
  3. OCDS Constitution #41
  4. Otilio Rodriguez, OCD, Appendix I: The Third Order of the Teresian Carmel; Its Origin and History, page 131, in Michael D. Griffin, OCD, Commentary on the Rule of Life (superseded) (The Growth in Carmel Series; Hubertus, Wisconsin: Teresian Charism Press, 1981), pages 127-36
  5. Carmelite Seculars and the Apostolate of the Order by P. Aloysius Deeney, OCD
  6. OCDS Constitution #39
  7. OCDS Constitution #36b
  8. OCDS Provincial Statutes-Washington Province
  9. OCDS Philippines Provincial Statutes
  10. OCDS Philippines Provincial Statutes
  11. A Catechesis on the Brown Scapular
  12. Otilio Rodriguez, OCD, Appendix I: The Third Order of the Teresian Carmel; Its Origin and History, pages 128-30, in Michael D. Griffin, OCD, Commentary on the Rule of Life (superseded) (The Growth in Carmel Series; Hubertus, Wisconsin: Teresian Charism Press, 1981), pages 127-36
  13. Otilio Rodriguez, OCD, Appendix I: The Third Order of the Teresian Carmel; Its Origin and History, pages 130-4, in Michael D. Griffin, OCD, Commentary on the Rule of Life (superseded) (The Growth in Carmel Series; Hubertus, Wisconsin: Teresian Charism Press, 1981), pages 127-36
  14. OCDS Constitution #49
  15. OCDS Constitution #48
  16. OCDS Philippines
  17. "Message of John Paul II to the Carmelite Family", 6 (25 March 2001)
  18. "Brown Scapular Confraternity", downloaded on 5 (May 2014),



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