"We adore you, O Christ, and
we praise you.
Because by your holy cross,
you have redeemed the world."
Saint Francis of Assisi
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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. The Prologue, written by Saint Francis,
and Rule are provided below. Also on this page, the origin and development of the Rule is
outlined, including an examination of early documents, beginning with
THE RULE OF THE
SECULAR FRANCISCAN ORDER
Exhortation of St. Francis to the
Brothers and Sisters of Penance (cira
Those Who Do Penance
All who love the Lord with
their whole heart, with their whole soul and mind, with all their strength, and
love their neighbors as themselves and hate their bodies with their vices and
sins, and receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and produce
worthy fruits of penance.
Oh, how happy and blessed are
these men and women when they do these things and persevere in doing them,
because the spirit of the Lord will rest upon them and he will make his home and
dwelling among them, and they are the sons of the heavenly Father, whose works
they do, and they are the spouses, brothers, and mothers of our Lord Jesus
We are spouses, when by the
Holy Spirit the faithful soul is united with our Lord Jesus Christ, we are
brothers to him when we fulfill the will of the Father who is in heaven .
We are mothers, when we carry
him in our heart and body through divine love and a pure and sincere conscience;
we give birth to him through a holy life which must give light to others by
Oh, how glorious it is to have
a great and holy Father in heaven! Oh how glorious it is to have such a
beautiful and admirable Spouse, the Holy Paraclete.
Oh, how glorious it is to have
such a Brother and such a Son, loved, beloved, humble, peaceful, sweet, lovable,
and desirable above all: Our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave up his life for his
sheep and prayed to the Father saying:
"Oh holy Father, protect
them with your name whom you gave me out of the world. I entrusted to them the
message you entrusted to me and they received it. They have known that in truth
I came from you, they have believed that it was you who sent me. For these I
pray, not for the world. Bless and consecrate them, and I consecrate myself for
their sakes. I do not pray for them alone; I pray also for those who will belive
in me through their word that they may be holy by being one as we are. And I
desire, Father, to have them in my company where I am to see this glory of mine
in your kingdom."
Concerning Those Who Do Not
But all those men and women
who are not doing penance and do not receive the Body and Blood of our Lord
Jesus Christ and live in vices and sin and yield to evil concupiscence and to
the wicked desires of the flesh, and do not observe what they have promised to
the Lord, and are slaves to the world, in their bodies, by carnal desires and
the anxieties and cares of this life.
These are blind, because they
do not see the true light, our Lord Jesus Christ; they do not have spiritual
wisdom because they do not have the Son of God who is the true wisdom of the
Father. Concerning them, it is said, " Their skill was swallowed up "
and " cursed are those who turn away from your commands ". They see
and acknowledge, they know and do bad things and knowingly destroy their own
See, you who are blind,
deceived by your enemies, the world, the flesh and the devil, for it is pleasant
to the body to commit sin and it is bitter to make it serve God because all
vices and sins come out and " proceed from the heart of man " as the
Lord says in the Gospel. And you have nothing in this world and in the next, and
you thought you would possess the vanities of this world for a long time.
But you have been deceived,
for the day and the hour will come to which you give no thought and which you do
not know and of which you are ignorant. The body grows infirm, death approaches,
and so it dies a bitter death, and no matter where or when or how man dies, in
the guilt of sin, without penance or satisfaction, though he can make
satisfaction but does not do it.
The devil snatches the soul
from his body with such anguish and tribulation that no one can know it except
he who endures it, and all the talents and power and knowledge and wisdom which
they thought they had will be taken away from them, and they leave their goods
to relatives and friends who take and divide them and say afterwards, "
Cursed be his soul because he could have given us more, he could have acquired
more than he did. " The worms eat up the body and so they have lost body
and soul during this short earthly life and will go into the inferno where they
will suffer torture without end.
All those into whose hands
this letter shall have come we ask in the charity that is God to accept kindly
and with divine love the fragrant words of our Lord Jesus Christ quoted above.
And let those who do not know how to read have them read to them.
And may they keep them in
their mind and carry them out, in a holy manner to the end, because they are
spirit and life .
And those who will not do this
will have to render an account on the day of judgment before the tribunal of our
Lord Jesus Christ.
The Secular Franciscan Order
1. The Franciscan
family, as one among many spiritual families raised up by the Holy Spirit in
the Church, unites all members of the people of God--laity, religious, and
priests-- who recognize that they are called to follow Christ in the
footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi. In various ways and forms but in
life-giving union with each other, they intend to make present the charism
of their common Seraphic Father in the life and mission of the Church.
Franciscan Order holds a special place in this family circle. It is an
organic union of all Catholic fraternities scattered throughout the world
and open to every group of the faithful. In these fraternities the brothers
and sisters, led by the Spirit, strive for perfect charity in their own
secular state. By their profession they pledge themselves to live the gospel
in the manner of St. Francis by means of this rule approved by the Church.
3. The present rule,
succeeding Memoriale Propositi (1221) and the rules approved by the Supreme
Pontiffs Nicholas IV and Leo XIII, adapts the Secular Franciscan Order to
the needs and expectations of the Holy Church in the conditions of changing
times. Its interpretation belongs to the Holy See and its application will
be made by the General Constitutions and particular statutes.
The Way of Life
The rule and life of the
Secular Franciscans is this: to observe the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ
by following the example of Saint Francis of Assisi, who made Christ the
inspiration and the center of his life with God and people.
Christ, the gift of the Father's love, is the way to him, the truth into
which the Holy Spirit leads us, and the life which he has come to give
should devote themselves especially to careful reading of the gospel, going
from gospel to life and life to the gospel.
therefore, should seek to encounter the living and active person of Christ
in their brothers and sisters, in Sacred Scripture, in the Church, and in
liturgical activity. The faith of Saint Francis, who often said " I see
nothing bodily of the Most High Son of God in this world except his most
holy body and blood," should be the inspiration and pattern of their
6. They have been made living
members of the Church by being buried and raised with Christ in baptism;
they have been united more intimately with the Church by profession.
Therefore, they should go forth as witnesses and instruments of her mission
among all people, proclaiming Christ by their life and words.
Called like Saint Francis to
rebuild the Church and inspired by his example, let them devote themselves
energetically to living in full communion with the pope, bishops, and priests,
fostering an open and trusting dialogue of apostolic effectiveness and
7. United by their vocation
as brothers and sisters of penance, and motivated by the dynamic power of
the gospel, let them conform their thoughts and deeds to those of Christ by
means of that radical interior change which the gospel itself calls
conversion. Human frailty makes it necessary that this conversion be carried
On this road to renewal
the sacrament of reconciliation is the privileged sign of the Father's mercy
and the source of grace.
As Jesus was the true
worshipper of the Father, so let prayer and contemplation be the soul of all
they are and do.
Let them participate in
the sacramental life of the Church, above all the Eucharist. Let them join
in liturgical prayer in one of the forms proposed by the Church, reliving
the mysteries of the life of Christ.
The Virgin Mary,
humble servant of the Lord, was open to his every word and call. She was
embraced by Francis with indescribable love and declared the protectress and
advocate of his family. The Secular Franciscans should express their ardent
love for her by imitating her complete self-giving and by praying earnestly
10. United themselves to
the redemptive obedience of Jesus, who placed his will into the Father's
hands, let them faithfully fulfill the duties proper to their various
circumstances of life. Let them also follow the poor and crucified Christ,
witness to him even in difficulties and persecutions.
Trusting in the Father,
Christ chose for himself and his mother a poor and humble life, even though
he valued created things attentively and lovingly. Let the Secular
Franciscans seek a proper spirit of detachment from temporal goods by
simplifying their own material needs. Let them be mindful that according to
the gospel they are stewards of the goods received for the benefit of God's
Thus, in the spirit of the
Beatitudes, and as pilgrims and strangers on their way to the home of the
Father, they should strive to purify their hearts from every tendency and
yearning for possession and power.
12. Witnessing to the
good yet to come and obliged to acquire purity of heart because of the
vocation they have embraced, they should set themselves free to love God and
their brothers and sisters.
13. As the Father sees in
every person the features of his Son, the firstborn of many brothers and
sisters, so the Secular Franciscans with a gentle and courteous spirit
accept all people as a gift of the Lord and an image of Christ.
A sense of community will
make them joyful and ready to place themselves on an equal basis with all
people, especially with the lowly for whom they shall strive to create
conditions of life worthy of people redeemed by Christ.
14. Secular Franciscans,
together with all people of good will, are called to build a more fraternal
and evangelical world so that the kingdom of God may be brought about more
effectively. Mindful that anyone who follows Christ, the perfect man,
becomes more of a man himself, let them exercise their responsibilities
competently in Christian spirit of service.
Let them individually and collectively be in the forefront in
promoting justice by the testimony of their human lives and their courageous
initiatives. Especially in the field of public life, they should make definite
choices in harmony with their faith.
Let them esteem work
both as a gift and as a sharing in the creation, redemption, and service of
the human community.
In their family they
should cultivate the Franciscan spirit of peace, fidelity, and respect for
life, striving to make of it a sign of a world already renewed in Christ.
By living the grace
of matrimony, husbands and wives in particular should bear witness in the
world to the love of Christ for his Church. They should joyfully accompany
their children on their human and spiritual journey by providing a simple
and open Christian education and being attentive to the vocation of each
18. Moreover they should
respect all creatures, animate and inanimate, which bear the imprint of the
Most High, and they should strive to move from the temptation of exploiting
creation to the Franciscan concept of universal kinship.
Mindful that they are
bearers of peace which must be built up unceasingly, they should seek out
ways of unity and fraternal harmony through dialogue, trusting in the
presence of the divine seed in everyone and in the transforming power of
love and pardon.
Messengers of perfect joy
in every circumstance, they should strive to bring joy and hope to others.
Since they are immersed in
the resurrection of Christ, which gives true meaning to Sister Death, let
them serenely tend toward the ultimate encounter with the Father.
Life In Fraternity
Franciscan Order is divided into fraternities of various levels--local,
regional, national, and international. Each one has its own moral
personality in the Church. These various fraternities are coordinated and
united according to the norm of this rule and of the constitutions.
On various levels, each
fraternity is animated and guided by a council and minister (or president)
who are elected by the professed according to the constitutions.
Their service, which lasts
for a definite period, is marked by a ready and willing spirit and is a duty
of responsibility to each member and to the community.
the fraternities are structured in different ways according to the norm of
the constitutions, according to the various needs of their members and their
regions, and under the guidance of their respective council.
The local fraternity is to
be established canonically. It becomes the basic unit of the whole Order and
a visible sign of the Church, the community of love. This should be the
privileged place for developing a sense of Church and the Franciscan
vocation and for enlivening the apostolic life of its members.
Requests for admission to
the Secular Franciscan Order must be presented to the local fraternity,
whose council decides upon the acceptance of new brothers and sisters.
Admission into the Order
is gradually attained through a time of initiation, a period of formation of
at least one year*, and profession of the rule. The entire community is
engaged in this process of growth by its own manner of living. The age for
profession and the distinctive Franciscan sign are regulated by the
statutes. [* changed to 18 months in USA eff. July 2003]
Profession by its nature
is a permanent commitment.
Members who find
themselves in particular difficulties should discuss their problems with the
council in fraternal dialogue.
Withdrawal or permanent
dismissal from the Order, if necessary, is an act of the fraternity council
according to the norm of the constitutions.
To foster communion
among members, the council should organize regular and frequent meetings of
the community as well as meeting with other Franciscan groups, especially
with youth groups. It should adopt appropriate means for growth in
Franciscan and ecclesial life and encourage everyone to a life of
fraternity. This communion continues with deceased brothers and sisters
through prayer for them.
necessary for the life of the fraternity and the needs of worship, of the
apostolate, and of charity, all the brothers and sisters should offer a
contribution according to their means. Local fraternities should contribute
toward the expenses of the higher fraternity councils.
As a concrete sign of
communion and coresponsibility, the councils on various levels, in keeping
with the constitutions, shall ask for suitable and well-prepared religious
for spiritual assistance. They should make this request to the superiors of
the four religious Franciscan families, to whom the Secular Fraternity has
been united for centuries.
To promote fidelity
to the charism as well as observance of the rule and to receive greater
support in the life of the fraternity, the minister or president, with the
consent of the council, should take care to ask for a regular pastoral visit
by the competent religious superiors as well as for a fraternal visit from
those of the higher fraternities, according to the norm of the
Blessing of St. Francis (1226)May
whoever observes all this be filled
in heaven with the blessing of the most high Father,
and on earth with that of his beloved Son,
together with the Holy Spirit, the Comforter.
THE GENERAL CONSTITUTIONS
OF THE SECULAR FRANCISCAN ORDER
A profound document which
further explains the Rule and the Secular Franciscan Order. A must
read for all SFO's and those seeking a deeper understanding of this
Order. Click here.
Also on this website:
Statutes of the National Fraternity of the
Secular Franciscan Order in the United States of America
We, the National Fraternity of the
Secular Franciscan Order in the United States of America, called to follow
Christ in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi, in order to provide for
the life of the Order and specifically for its organization and function, do
establish and adopt these Statutes.
All regulations not in accordance with
these present National Statutes are abrogated [cf. General Constitutions of
the Secular Franciscan Order (hereafter General Constitutions), article #7].
OF THE SECULAR FRANCISCAN ORDER
AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE RULE OF THE SECULAR FRANCISCAN ORDER
by Ouida Tomlinson, SFO
First Life of Thomas of Celano refers to a “norm of life” that Saint
Francis gave to all who came to him (“To all he gave a norm of life, and
he showed in truth the way of salvation in every walk of life.”).
As to the "norm of
life," Rafffaele Pazzelli, T.O.R.,
(St. Francis and the Third Order: The Franciscan and
pre-Franciscan Penitential Movement) states that we do not have
sufficient information to identify the forma vitae positively from any of
the documents we possess, but we have irrefutable sources which enable us to
know the directives, the new ideals and aspirations which Francis wanted to
give to groups of penitents who became the Third Order.
are mainly two documents. First, there is the Recensio prior,
known as the Volterra text and included in "The Rule of the Secular
Franciscan Order." It is
also referred to as "First Letter to All the Faithful" (quoted here
as the Prologue to The Rule) and generally considered as an earlier version
of the more famous one, "The Letter to All the Faithful"). Second,
there is the "Letter to All the Faithful," which probably was
written around 1221. It deals
with much the same themes as the First Letter but in a more detailed way.
Both of these documents were written by St. Francis. Robert M. Stewart, O.F.M., in
The Rule of the Secular Franciscan
Order, states that the “primitive rule,” in its narrowest sense,
refers to the First Letter. (To
read "The Second Letter to All the Faithful," go to The Writings
of St. Francis: The
There is a third document, the "Memoriale Propositi"
("First Rule of the Third Order"), also written in 1221. According
to Fr. Pazzelli, "these three documents should be studied minutely,
because without them and their historical progression, we can understand
only very little of the Third Order as Francis wanted it."
First Letter to All the Faithful
“Memoriale Propositi” (1221)
read the Rule of 1221, click here.)
‘Memoriale Proposit’ was written by Cardinal Hugolino, Protector
of the Order of Friars Minor, and given to the Order of Penitents. It was
orally approved in 1221 by Pope Honorius III, and marks the first
legislative text of the Third Order of St. Francis.
The Rule is presented as ‘the memorial of what is proposed for the
Brothers and Sisters of Penance living in their own homes’. It is made up
of 8 chapters, dealing with (1) the daily life of the Penitents, regarding
their dress, and prohibition to take part in public entertainment; (2) rules
of abstinence; (3) rules of fasting; (4) prayer and the divine office; (5)
sacramental practice, prohibition to carry arms and to avoid oaths; (6) the
Eucharist and meeting of the fraternity once a month; (7) visiting the sick,
burying the dead and offering prayers for them, obligation to make the last
will, rules regarding the reception of new members in the fraternity; (8)
the visitor and disciplinary rules, election of the officials of the
‘Memoriale Propositi’ is built upon the notion of fraternity. The
Penitents are truly Brothers and Sisters, bound together by mutual charity.
The prohibition to carry arms was a courageous witness of evangelical peace
in a quarrelsome society, and it certainly dealt a blow to the feudal regime
and to the petty quarrels between rival Comuni in the Italian peninsula. The
acts of charity and mercy, including burial, and assisting the sick and
lepers, were aimed at eradicating poverty and misery. The spirit of sharing
of resources and the obligation to make the last will were a defense against
hatred and violence between rival families or even between individuals
within the same family. The Penitents were often persecuted for their
evangelical witness of peace. Gregory IX had to intervene on
30 March 1228
with the Bull ‘Detestanda’, in which he defended the Penitents'
right not to carry arms and to be free of military service. In this Bull the
Order of Penitents is called Third Order for the first time.”
Hugolino dei Conti di Segni,
the writer of the Rule of 1221,
as depicted in frescoes in the St. Gregory's Chapel
at Speco, Italy
Rule of Pope Nicholas IV (1289)
read the Rule of 1289, click here
and go to Documents.)
year 1289 marks the date when the Third Franciscan Order was given a new
Rule by Pope Nicholas IV, who issued the Bull ‘Supra montem’ in
the town of
. Nicholas IV had been a Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor. He
was Girolamo da Ascoli Piceno, Minister General from 1274 to 1279.
Rule of Nicholas IV does not add any new material to the ‘Memoriale
Propositi’ of 1221, but it gives a more legislative style to this
document. Nicholas IV made use of the ‘Memoriale Propositi’, as
well as of a Rule for Penitents written by a certain Friar Caro, a minorite
from the convent of Santa Croce in
Florence, who was also a visitator to the Franciscan and Dominican Penitents in
1284. For the first time in its long history, the Third Order was given a
Rule included within a Papal Bull. The Rule is addressed to the Brothers and
Sisters of the Order of Penitents.
Book of the Hours
Law of the Sodality
of the Franciscan Third Order
which is called Secular
The Rule of Leo XIII—1883)
read the Rule of 1883, click here.)
Leo XIII, a Third Order Secular, had a great devotion to St. Francis.
Both as bishop and as pope, he fostered the growth of the Franciscan
Third Order. In his encyclical Auspicato,
sent to all bishops of the world in 1882, he requested that they encourage
all Catholics to enter the Third Order.
In this encyclical, he said that the Way of Life proposed by Francis
for the laity was appropriate for all Catholics in the 19th century.
He proposed that the Franciscan Third Order was especially
advantageous because it called its members to live the Gospel within the
his attempt to rekindle the Gospel within the world, Pope Leo actually
presented his interpretation of that Way of Life.
He promulgated a new Rule for Secular Franciscans in the papal
constitution Misericors Dei Filiuis, dated
May 30, 1883
. In it, he modified the Rule of
1289 to remove obstacles to membership in the Order.
He greatly simplified the regulations of the Rule of 1289 in order to
make it acceptable to the greatest possible number.
He diluted the original call to radical metanoia and transformed the
Rule of Life into a simple praxis of the faith.
. . Whereas Francis challenged people to the true spirit of penance,
whereas Francis exhorted his followers to a radically different wisdom,
struggle, and sense of power in response to God’s love, here the Rule of
1883 merely exhorts these same followers to the simple and ‘not too
burdensome’ praxis of Catholicism.
dilution of the demands of the earlier Rules has drained the Rule of 1883
of the unique spirit or contribution of Francis.
The gospel life that Francis has rediscovered in all of its
radicality has not been translated well in the Rule of 1883. . . . Leo has
reduced the radical demands of Gospel metanoia announced in the Later
Exhortation [Letter to All the Faithful] to the ‘practices of piety and
good works’. Thus, rather
than preserving the Way of Life preached by Francis ‘altogether and
unchanged and intact’, the Rule of 1883 allowed for the evolution from a
Franciscan Order of Penitents to a Franciscan sodality [i.e., fellowship,
association, lay society for religious and charitable purposes].
Stewart, Robert M. “De
Illis Qui Faciunt Penitentiam”: The
Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order: Origins,
Development, Interpretation. Roma:
Istituto Storico Dei Cappuccini, 1991.
St. Clare of Assisi
Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order
Issued by Pope Paul VI,
June 24, 1978
II was the turning point for reform of the Third Order.
The process of drafting a new Rule officially began in November 1965.
Then on March 9, 1966, the four Comissaries General [composed of four
friars, one from each of the four branches of the Order (OFM, OFM Cap., OFM
Conv. and TOR) and appointed by the Minister General] sent a circular
letter, announcing the work and outlining the process to be used.
The letter limited discussion with the restriction that the base of
the new Rule would be the Rule of 1883.
So at the beginning of the process, others were not empowered to
return to one or several 13th century documents as sources for the basis of
the re-examination, and the resultant Rule of 1978 bears little resemblance
to the primitive Rule. The
drafting of a new Rule, meetings, and other events from 1965 until 1978 are
described by Robert M. Stewart, O.F.M., in his book noted below.
the period of drafting the new Rule, volumes of research emerged concerning
the origins of the Secular Franciscan Order, unfortunately near the end or
after the Rule Project. For
example, there were five major historical congresses which focused
specifically upon the Franciscan Order of Penitents, held in 1972, 1976,
1981, and 1987. The most
significant research that emerged was probably that of Kajetan Esser, O.F.M.
He made an extensive study of the Volterra text [i.e., the First
Letter to All the Faithful], which first appeared in
in 1975. He concluded that
the text concerns the brothers and sisters of penance living in their own
homes and that it must have been written many years before the "Letter
to All the Faithful." Fr. Esser
advanced the hypothesis that the "norm of life," spoken of by
Thomas of Celano, can be identified as the Volterra text.
to the new Rule, after the April 1977 Redaction, the Final Redaction of the
Rule of 1978 was sent to the Ministers General.
They introduced one very significant change in the text sent to the
Curia, a change which profoundly altered the Rule.
Without explanation, they included as a Prologue, St. Francis’
First Letter to All the Faithful, the primitive Rule.
They later defended their decision to the Sacred Congregation who
suggested that the First Letter be replaced with “The Letter to All the
Faithful.” The Ministers
General defended their choice with an implicit reference to Esser’s
research, arguing that the First Letter had been accepted as the earlier
version of “The Letter to All the Faithful.”
They also claimed that the First Letter was preferable because it was
“more concise and more adapted to the needs of today.”
The Sacred Congregation accepted the decision of the Ministers
General and officially approved the Rule of 1978 with the Prologue.
Stewart, Robert M. “De
Illis Qui Faciunt Penitentiam”: The
Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order: Origins,
Development, Interpretation. Roma:
Istituto Storico Dei Cappuccini, 1991.