Lay Carmel and the Wider Carmelite Family

Lay Carmel

and the wider Carmelite Family

'Lay Carmel' is the largest branch of the Carmelite Family. It is particularly active in Britain, and a section of this website is dedicated specifically to Lay Carmel. The following additional information is offered to help place Lay Carmel within the broader picture of the Carmelite Family.

A Carmelite friar and Lay Carmelites gathered together in Carmelite Street, York.

Carmel's roots in the Laity
The Carmelite Family originated with a group of hermits living on Mount Carmel. It is likely that these were largely lay men (i.e. unordained men who were not priests), who dedicated their lives to the service of God and neighbour. Since its foundations, therefore, Carmel's spirituality has struck a chord with lay people. Although Carmel is best known for its 'religious' (friars, nuns, sisters and hermits), in fact the most numerous and widespread branch of the Carmelite Family is 'Lay Carmel'.

What is meant by 'Lay Carmel'?
The term 'Lay Carmel' can refer to any lay person connected with the Carmelite Family, but more usually it refers to the Third Order Secular (usually known as the 'Third Order' or 'Secular Order').

In the Ancient Observance of the Carmelite Order (O.Carm.) the term 'Lay Carmelites' usually refers to the members of the Third Order Secular (also referred to as Secular Carmelites or Tertiaries) who have formally made profession of promises. However, 'Lay Carmel' is also used by the Ancient Observance as a catchall term that incorporates the laity of the wider Carmelite Family, such as the Brown Scapular Confraternity and members of Secular Institutes (described below). In the Teresian or Discalced Carmelite Order (O.C.D.) the term 'Lay Carmelite' is usually more restricted to mean only professed members of the 'Secular Order' (a term used by them in preference to 'Third Order'). The term 'Lay Carmel' is somewhat problematic when describing the Secular/Third Orders because there are a number of ordained ministers (deacons, priests and bishops) who are not lay people but who are professed members of the Secular/Third Orders.

The origins of Lay Carmel
In the Middle Ages the Carmelite hermits became a mendicant order of friars (religious brothers), but lay people continued to be inspired by 'Carmel' and wanted to be associated with the Order in some way. Confraternities (brotherhoods) of the laity became established alongside convents of friars that gave people a link to the religious brothers. Often members of these confraternities were distinguished by making promises to live the Carmelite way of life according to their own circumstances, and wearing a reduced version of the Carmelite habit.

A modern-day Carmelite confraternity in Italy.
lay people dress in a version of the Carmelite habit on special occasions.

The Carmelite Third Order (Secular)
In the Middle Ages there was no formal 'Third Order' as such within Carmel; instead most communities of Carmelite friars had lay people associated with them who shared something of their spirit and way of life, sometimes in a structured way, but there was no organised system for lay membership of the Order across Carmel as a whole.

The seventeenth century has been called the 'Golden Age' of the Carmelite Third Order, because it was in this period that it became organised for the first time.

In the 1600s the Reform of Touraine (a movement for renewal within the Carmelite Order) was such a successful and inspiring movement that many lay people were once again attracted to the Carmelite way of life. In the 1630s the Carmelite Prior General Fr. Theodore Straccio (sometimes written Strazio or Stratius) decided to organise groups of lay people who were inspired by Carmelite spirituality. Fr. Straccio followed the model of the Francisan Third Order and composed a separate Rule specifically for Carmelite tertiaries. His 1627 Rule of Life for the Carmelite Third Order Secular became extremely influential. In 1678 a later Carmelite Prior General, Emilio Giacomellli (sometimes spelt Jacomelli), produced a revised Rule of Life for the Third Order. A year later a set of Statutes to interpret the Third Order Rule was compiled by the Procurator (legal expert) of the Order, Ferdinand Tartaglia. This Rule/Statutes was adopted by the Discalced Secular Order (which did not exist in the early years of St. Teresa's reform). The first known English translation of the 1678/9 Rule/Statutes appeared in Ireland about 1845, and another Rule - that of John Baptist Bettini - became popular in Italy, Germany and Holland after its publication in 1849. Different Third Order Rules by different people appeared in different languages in different provinces in the nineteenth century, suggesting that in fact there were different Third Orders. The latest legislation of the Third Order (T.O.C.) issued in 2003 still speaks of Third Orders in the plural, recognising the diversity of Lay Carmelite life to this day.

Today most of the Third Order - like the rest of the Carmelite Family - looks to the Rule of Saint Albert as its primary 'Rule', and the Rule for the Third Order issued in 2003 is effectively regarded as a set of Constitutions that interpret Albert's Rule for contemporary life.

Today tens of thousands of lay men and women worldwide are professed members of the Carmelite Third Order Secular. They live in their own homes, often raising families and having their own occupations, but they receive formation in Carmelite spirituality and - when possible - participate in regular meetings of Lay Carmelite communities. They try to live the Carmelite charism of prayer, community-building and service in whatever circumstances they find themselves.

In Britain the Third Order experienced a particular growth following the return of the Carmelite friars to Britain in the 1920s, and again after the re-establishment of Aylesford Priory in 1949, with a number of Third Order communities (known as 'Chapters') being formed across England, Wales and Scotland.

The Third Order in Britain has gone through a further period of renewal since the late 1990s. It is hard to give a precise figure, but there are probably over 500 professed members of the Carmelite Third Order Secular in Britain. There are approximately 30 Third Order Chapters and related Lay Carmelite communities in existence in Britain (click here to see the communities map).

There are a similar number of communities in England and Wales of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites.

In the Ancient Observance the abbreviation 'T.O.C.' refers to 'Third Order Carmelite'. In the Discalced tradition the abbreviation 'O.C.D.S.' refers to the 'Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites'.

For more information about the Third Order in Britain, click here.

One of the branches of the Third Order is known as the Donum Dei Missionary Workers ('Travilleuses Missionnaire' in French). They have residential communities in various parts of the world, and had a presence in the British Province at Aylesford Priory until 2008.

A painting depicting friars and members of the Third Order
at the National Shrine of St. Thérèse at Darien, Illinois, U.S.A.

Carmelite Spirituality Groups
Carmelite Spirituality Group (CSGs) have developed in the British Province of Carmelites since the late 1990s. Originally they were communities of Lay Carmelites in new locations who did not have enough members to constitute a formal 'Chapter' of the Third Order. However, from 2006 a new form of Spirituality Group has developed that seeks to offer an experience of 'Carmel' in a contemporary and inclusive way. For more information about Carmelite Spirituality Groups in Britain, click here.

Manchester Carmelite Spirituality Group, established in 2011, and built on the foundations of the Third Order Chapter established in the city in 1955.

Carmelite Secular Institutes
Secular Institutes offer a formal belonging to the Carmelite Order for laity that is distinct from, but similar to, the Third Order.

In Britain there is a Carmelite Secular Institute known as The Leaven (The Institute of Our Lady of Mount Carmel) for single people who wish to live a consecrated life in their own homes and workplaces. Founded in 1949 and formally affiliated to the Carmelite Order in 1965, it offers a deep experience of Carmelite spirituality to its members, who profess the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience.

For more information about The Leaven, click here.

There is also a Secular Institute present in Britain known as 'Notre Dame de Vie' (Our Lady of Life) that is associated with the Discalced Carmelite Order. For further information click here.

The Wider Lay Carmelite Family
Through profession - that is a public statement of Carmelite identity and belonging - members of the Third/Secular Orders and Secular Institutes are formally part of the Carmelite Order.

However, the 'Carmelite Family' also extends a sense of belonging to other lay individuals and groups, often associated with Carmelite-served parishes and chaplaincies, or inspired by a particular Carmelite devotion or saint. These are sometimes called the 'wider' or 'extended' Carmelite Family. Such people are not canonically (legally) part of the Carmelite Order, and make no public profession of promises or vows, but nevertheless receive from and contribute to our spirituality.

In a certain sense, through their contact with Carmelite friars and laity,
parishioners at Carmelite-served parishes such as Walworth in South London
are part of the wider or extended Carmelite Family.

For more information about other lay groups associated with Carmel in Britain, click here.

Carmelite Scapular Confraternity
Lay people and clergy who want less formal affiliation to the Order but who are attracted by devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel can join the Carmelite Scapular Confraternity. Millions of people around the world wear the small brown cloth around their shoulders known as the Carmelite Brown Scapular. This sacramental - one of the most popular across the Church - is a miniature version of the Carmelite habit. It is a symbol of belonging to the wider Carmelite Family, and of pledging oneself to the protection of Our Lady and the service of her son Jesus Christ.

For more information about the Carmelite Scapular Confraternity click here.

Members of a Carmelite Scapular Confraternity in Rome

Young People and Carmel
Many young people are associated with the Carmelite Order in a number of ways, often outside of formally constituted groups. As such these young people form part of the 'wider Carmelite Family'.

For more information about Young People and Carmel, click here.

A Carmelite friar and young person sharing conversation.

More Information on Lay Carmel
You can learn more about Lay Carmel and its various branches by visiting the dedicated section of this website.