In relation to religious orders, a third order is an association of persons who live according to the ideals and spirit of a Catholic, Anglican, or Lutheran religious order, but do not belong to its "first order" (generally, in the Catholic Church, Franciscans, Dominicans or Carmelite friars), or its "second order" (contemplative nuns associated with the "first order"). Members of third orders, known as tertiaries (Latin tertiarii, from tertius, third), are generally laypersons, i.e. men and women who do not take religious vows, but participate in the good works of order and may be allowed to wear at least some elements of the order's habit, such as a scapular. Less often, they belong to a religious institute (a "congregation") that is called a "third order secular").
Roman Catholic canon law states:
- Associations whose members share in the spirit of some religious institute while in secular life, lead an apostolic life, and strive for Christian perfection under the higher direction of the same institute are called third orders or some other appropriate name.
The old monastic orders had attached to their abbeys confraternities of lay men and women, going back in some cases to the 8th century. The Confraternity Book of Durham is extant and embraces some 20,000 names in the course of eight centuries. Emperors and kings and the most illustrious men in church and state were commonly confraters of one or other of the great Benedictine abbeys. The confraters and consorors were made partakers in all the religious exercises and other good works of the community to which they were affiliated, and they were expected in return to protect and forward its interests; but they were not called upon to follow any special rule of life.
Religious orders that arose in the 12th-13th centuries often had a first order (the male religious, who were first established), the second order (nuns, established second), and then the third order of laity who were established third. Saint Francis of Assisi, for example, is said to have established the Friars Minor, the Poor Clares, and the Third Order of Saint Francis.
In some cases the members of a third order, wishing to live in a more monastic and regulated way of life, became "regulars" (religious living under a rule, in Latin, regula) as members of a religious institute. These religious institutes or "congregations" are classified as belonging to the third order regular.
Members of third orders are thus either (a) regulars, living in common under a religious rule of life, or (b) seculars, living in the world. The regulars take the three canonical religious vows; the seculars make promises, which are not considered binding under pain of sin, as are the vows of religious institutes, or in some cases may take private vows of poverty, chastity and obedience (all according to their lay state). Their link with a religious institute is what distinguishes them from members of other "associations of the Christian faithful" and entitles their associations to be "called third orders or some other appropriate name".
The general idea of lay people affiliated to religious orders, as seen in the Benedictine Oblates or confraters (Taunton, "Black Monks of St. Benedict", London, 1897, I, 60-63; for Norbertines cf. Hurter, "Papst Innocenz III", Schaffhausen, 1845, IV, 148), is too natural for there to be any need to seek its origin. Founders and benefactors of monasteries were received in life into spiritual fellowship, and were clothed in death in some religious habit.
So too the Templars had a whole system whereby layfolk could partake in some sort in their privileges and in the material administration of their affairs (English Hist. Rev., London, April, 1910, 227). But the essential nature of the tertiary is really an innovation of the thirteenth century.
At that date many of the laity, impatient of the indolent and sometimes scandalous lives of the clergy in lower Europe, were seized with the idea of reforming Christendom by preaching. This admirable intention caused the rise of the Waldensians under Peter Waldo ("Anecdotes Historiques tirés du Recueil inédit d'Etienne de Bourbon, O.P.", ed. by Lecoq de La Manche, Paris, 1878, 290-314), and under somewhat more curious conditions the Fratres Humiliati. The Waldensians were at first welcomed by the pope, Alexander III, who authorized their preaching, but as they were unacquainted with theological teaching and had pursued no clerical studies, their sermons were not seldom dogmatically inaccurate and eventually defiantly heretical. The Humiliati also soon became suspect and were forbidden by Lucius III to preach, till in 1207 Innocent III gave a section of them permission to resume their work, provided that they limited themselves to moral questions and did not venture on doctrinal subjects ("De articulis fidei et sacramentis ecclesiae", cf. Denifle, O.P., "Archiv für Litteratur und Kirchengeschichte des Mittelalters", I, 419). Moreover some became priests, were gathered into a cloister, and took up religious life. The others remained outside, yet spiritually dependent on the clerical portion, and now for the first time in history called a Third Order, Tertius Ordo (Mandonnet, "Les Origines de l'Ordo de Pœnetentia"; the Bull is to be found in Tiraboschi, "Vetera Humiliatorum monumenta", II, Milan, 1766–68, 139).
The name "tertiary" comes from the Latin tertiarius meaning basically "third". Hence it has been used for centuries to denote those who belonged to a third order. This was due to the historical reality of the Tertiaries of the Humiliati. They were the third form of this life.
The Humiliati seem to have been the first to have 'tertiaries' in the twelfth century. These lived a rule of life within the world. The name was used to a great extent in the Franciscan Order, which was possibly had the most popularized third order. Other orders too had tertiaries such as the Trinitarians (we find true tertiaries from the beginning at the end of the 12th Century within the Order of the Holy Trinity, even if this name was not used per se) and the Dominicans. These were followed over time by a number of others such as the Carmelites, Servites, Augustinians, Augustinian Recollects, Discalced Carmelites and others. But by whatever name they were called in the inception, there have been lay persons who have professed to live according to either the Rule of the brothers adapted to their secular life or a rule drawn up particularly for them. They had the joy of sharing the same spirituality, the same superiors, and even aspects of the same habit such as the scapular. Eventually the name "tertiary" became popularized and attached to all who lived in this way. It is very interesting that if one looks at the beatified or canonized tertiaries, one finds this name attached to them.
With the advent of the Second Vatican Council came an elaboration of the lay vocation. The lay vocation is a vocation distinct from that of the consecrated state. It involves the sanctification of ordinary life, of ones work, of family life, of all the various secular occupations. It is the leaven in the midst of the world to order the temporal world to God. See Christifedelis Laici (by Pope John Paul II)
As the various third orders secular began to look at each of their houses after the Council they began to revise their Rules and Statutes. This has been a long and fruitful process. The Orders, as they felt they were ready, often after drafts and experimentations, have submitted one by one their new Statutes or Rules or Constitutions to the Holy See for review and approbation. Thus the new Statutes etc. are steeped in the doctrine of the Council regarding the universal call to holiness and the theology of the lay vocation including the secular character of the laity. Interestingly the various Orders have opted to change the name from "Third Order Secular" to "Secular Order" (or add least add it to usage) to emphasize the secular nature of the Order or they used the term "Lay or Laity" to the same effect. Of course "third order" and "tertiary" is still used but other names were added or used in a formal sense. The various documents show how the laity of the various Orders are part of the Order (or family etc.) but fully within their particular lay and secular state. They show how tertiaries are to live fully their Christian lay vocation, as well as how they are to live the charism of the Order they belong to within secular life. They also provide various means to tending towards holiness in the midst of the world, which very much is part of the vocation of the tertiary—to strive for Christian perfection (CIC 303).
Any Roman Catholic or Anglican may join a Third Order of their respective religious tradition. The laying aside of the distinctive sign or prayers for any space of time does not in itself put an end to membership with a Third Order, but the deliberate wish to dissociate oneself from it is sufficient to produce that effect (S. Cong. Indulg., 31 January 1893).
 Third orders
 Third Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
The Third Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (also named Lay Carmelites) are the third order associated with the Carmelites. It was established in 1476 by a bull of Pope Sixtus IV and is known for devotion to Virgin Mary, under her title as Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
The Discalced branch is termed Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites.
 Third Order of St. Francis
The Third Order of St. Francis in the Roman Catholic Church is part of the Franciscan family of religious orders. It is the best known and most widely distributed of the third orders, and has both regular and secular branches.
There are several theories regarding its foundation. When early writings and early papal Bulls bearing on the penitential movement and with the account given by Mariano of Florence (end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth century), it can be stated that the preaching of St. Francis of Assisi, as well as his own living example and that of his first disciples, exercised such a powerful attraction on the people that many married men and women wanted to join the First or the Second Order. This being incompatible with their state of life, St. Francis found a middle way: he gave them a rule animated by the Franciscan spirit. The place of founding is also uncertain, with Mariano of Florence, or Faenza, offering Florence, whilst the "Fioretti" assigns Cannara.
This oldest preserved rule was published by P. Sabatier and H. Boehmer (see bibliography), and contained originally twelve chapters, to which at the time of Gregory IX (1227) a thirteenth was added; however, different communities appear to have observed different rules until Pope Nicholas IV. The same might be said as to the government of the confraternities. Nicholas IV introduced unity of rule and of direction into the Third Order, which henceforward was entrusted to the care of the Friars Minor.
Through the prohibition against carrying arms a deadly blow was given to the feudal system and to the ever-fighting factions of Italian municipalities; through the admission of poor and rich, nobles and common people, the social classes were brought nearer each other.
How far the religious ideal of St. Francis was carried out by the secular Third Order we may judge from the great number (about 75) of saints and blessed of every condition it produced. Since the adaptation of the rule by Leo XIII, the Third Order has grown more active than ever. In the early 20th century total number of members was esteemed about two and a half millions, spread all over the world.
Although something of the kind existed among the Humiliati in the 12th century, the institution of Tertiaries arose out of the Franciscan movement. It seems to be certain that Francis of Assisi at the beginning had no intention of forming his disciples into an Order, but only of making a great brotherhood of all those who were prepared to carry out in their lives certain of the greater and more arduous of the maxims of the Gospel; The formation of the Franciscan Order was necessitated by the success of the movement and the rapidity with which it spread.
When the immediate disciples of the saint had become an order bound by the religious vows, it became necessary to provide for the great body of laity, married men and women, who could not leave the world or abandon their avocations, but still were part of the Franciscan movement and desired to carry out in their lives its spirit and teaching. And so, probably in 1221, St. Francis drew up a Rule for those of his followers who were debarred from being members of the order of Friars Minor. At first they were called "Brothers and Sisters of the Order of Penance"; but later on, when the Friars were called the "First Order" and the nuns the "Second Order," the Order of Penance became the "Third Order of St. Francis" whence the name Tertiaries: this threefold division already existed among the Humiliati.
In 1901 Paul Sabatier published a Rule of Life of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, which probably contains, with additions, the substance of the original Rule of 1221. It prescribes severe simplicity of dress and of life, and certain abstinences and prayers and other religious exercises, and forbids the frequentation of the theatre, the bearing of arms and the taking of oaths except when administered by magistrates. In 1289 Pope Nicholas IV approved the Third Order by a Papal bull, but made some alterations in the Rule, and this form of the Rule remained in force until our own day.
Immediately on its establishment in 1221 the Third Order spread with incredible rapidity all over Italy and throughout western Europe, and embraced multitudes of men and women of all ranks from highest to lowest. Everywhere it was connected closely with the First Order, and was under the control of the Friars Minor.
In time a tendency set in for members of the Third Order to live together in community, and in this way congregations were formed who took the usual religious vows and lived a fully organized religious life based on the Rule of the Third Order with supplementary regulations. These congregations are the Regular Tertiaries as distinguished from the Secular Tertiaries, who lived in the world, according to the original idea. The Regular Tertiaries are in the full technical sense religious, and there have been, and are, many congregations of them, both of men and of women.
There can be little doubt, whatever counter claims may be set up, that the Third Order was one of St. Francis' creations, and that his Third Order was the exemplar after which the others were fashioned; but at an early date the other Mendicant Orders formed Third Orders on the same lines, and so there came into being Dominican Tertiaries, and Carmelite, and Augustinian, and Servite, and also Premonstratensian and many others. These followed the same lines of development as the Franciscan Tertiaries, and for the most part divided into the two branches of regular and secular Tertiaries. The Rules of the various Third Orders have proved very adaptable to the needs of modern congregations devoted to active works of charity; and so a great number of teaching and nursing congregations of women belong to one or other of the Third Orders.
The Franciscan Third Order has always been the principal one, and it received a great impetus and a renewed vogue from Pope Leo XIII in 1883, in his approval of a new Rule for the seculars. Pope Paul VI in 1978 caused the separate Rules for both regulars and seculars to be recast and made more suitable for the requirements of devout men and women at the present day. The secular wing of the Order was renamed as the Secular Franciscan Order. It is estimated that the number of lay Franciscan Tertiaries now exceeds two million.
One of the most serviceable authorities on the Franciscan Tertiaries is probably Max Heimbucher, Orden und Kongregationen (1933), ii. f 103, 104, f 105, where an ample bibliography is supplied. The same work gives information on the other Tertiaries at the end of the sections on the various Orders. Similarly information will be found in Pierre Helyot, Histoire des Ordres religieux (1714), after the chapters on the different Orders. Heimbucher names Tachy, Les Tiers Ordres (1897), and Adderley and Marson, Third Orders (1902).
 Third Order Regular (male and female)
The origin of the Regular Third Order, both male and female, can be traced back to the second half of the thirteenth century, but no precise date can be indicated. It was organized, in different forms, in the Netherlands, in the south of France, in Germany, and in Italy. Probably some secular tertiaries, who in many cases had their house of meeting, gradually withdrew entirely from the world and so formed religious communities, but without the three substantial vows of religious orders. Other religious associations such as the Beguines (women) and Beghards (men) in the Low Countries, sometimes passed over to the Third Order, as has been clearly shown.
Throughout the fourteenth century, the regular tertiaries of both sexes had in the most cases no common organization; only in the following century we can observe single well-ordered religious communities with solemn vows and a common head. Pope Martin V submitted in 1428 all tertiaries, regular and secular, to the direction of the Minister-General of the Friars Minor (Bull. Franc., VII, 715), but this disposition was soon revoked by his successor Pope Eugene IV. We meet thus in the same fifteenth century with numerous independent male congregations of regular tertiaries with the three vows in Italy, Sicily, Dalmatia, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, and in the Netherlands. Contemporaneously there existed sister congregations of the Third Order with solemn vows, for instance, the Grey sisters of the Third Order, serving in hospitals, spread in France and the Netherlands. Leo X, to introduce uniformity into the numerous congregations, gave in 1521 a new form to the rule, now in ten chapters, retaining of the rule as published by Nicholas IV all that could serve the purpose, adding new points, especially the three solemn vows, and insisting on subjection to the First Order of St. Francis. For this last disposition the Rule of Leo X met with resistance, and never was accepted by some congregations, whilst it serves till the present day as the basis of the constitutions of many later congregations, especially of numerous communities of sisters.
 Single congregations after Leo X
The two Italian congregations, the Lombardic and Sicilian, which had constituted themselves in the course of the fifteenth century, were united by Pope Paul III, and since Sixtus V enjoyed entire independence from the First Order. It had then already 11 provinces.
The dress is that of the Conventuals, from whom they can hardly be distinguished. The residence of the minister-general is at Rome, near the Church of Sts. Cosmas and Damian. After the time of Pope Leo X, the Spanish congregation often had troubles on the question of its submission to the First Order. After Pius V (1568) had put the whole Third Order again under the care of the Minister-General of the Friars Minor, the superiors of the three provinces constituted in Spain could, after 1625, partake at the General Chapters of the Friars Minor and since 1670 they have had even a definitor-general to represent them.
 Congregations of Sisters
Whilst Leo X in the reform of the rule had left it free to the congregations to adopt papal enclosure or not, Pius V (1568) prescribed it to all convents of tertiary sisters with solemn vows. Still this order was not carried out everywhere. In this regard the custom prevailed that the Friars Minor refused to take the direction of those convents which had only episcopal enclosure. Besides those already mentioned above, we may add the different offshoots of the Sisters of St. Elizabeth in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, and France (there, under the name of Soeurs du Refuge, some of them still exist). The first Ursulines, also, founded by St. Angela Merici (1540), belonged to the Third Order.
In the nineteenth century many of the new congregations adopted the Rule of the Third Order, but most of them have no further connection with the First Order. Many of them have widely varying names; a good many are of mere local character, others again are of international importance. As to their activities, almost all dedicate themselves to works of charity, either in hospitals, homes, or ateliers; others work in schools, not a few are in foreign missions. We can give here scarcely more than a list of the names, with the dates of the foundation.
 The Third Order, Society of St. Francis (Anglican Communion)
The Third Order, Society of St. Francis (TSSF), was founded in 1950. The TSSF consists of men and women, lay and ordained, married and single. It is divided into five provinces: Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and the Americas.
 Third Orders of St. Francis (Lutheran Church)
Also in Lutheran Churches, there are Lutheran Franciscan Third Orders in Germany, Sweden and North America.
 Third Order of St. Dominic
This was one of the earliest developments of St. Dominic's Ordo de Poenitentia. It was not indeed the primal organism from which the Friars Preachers evolved, but rather represents that portion of the Order of Penance which came under Dominican influence. At first vaguely constituted and living without system or form, its members gradually grew more and more dependent on their spiritual guides.
 Anglican Order of Preachers (Dominican)
The Third Order of St Dominic within the Anglican Communion is known as the Anglican Order of Preachers (Dominican). Its members, who follow the Dominican Rule, and are a designated 'Christian Community' (secular religious order), may be male or female, and it includes both single and married members. It is the primary manifestation of the Order of St Dominic within Anglicanism, which has no primary religious orders in the Dominican tradition.
 The Third Order of St. Andrew
The Order of Saint Andrew is an Anglican ecumenical religious order of both men and women, single and married, living and working in the world. Any member in good standing of any Christian Church in apostolic succession may make application to join. 
 The Third Order of Servites
The Servite Order has had both a secular and regular Third Order. The secular Third Order was established in the United States in 1893.
The Sisters of the Third Order of Servites was founded by St. Juliana Falconieri of Florence, who received the habit ca. 1385 from Philip Benizi, then Prior General of the Servite friars. The Servite Sisters' traditional habit consisted of a black tunic, secured by a leather belt, and a white veil. The sisters devoted themselves especially to the care of the sick and other works of mercy; because the gown had short sleeves to facilitate work, people called the Sisters of the new order "Mantellate."
There were, in the early 20th century, two congregations, with a membership of 400.
 Third Order of St. Augustine
These are the men and women who follow the spirit of the Rule of St. Augustine in their daily lives under the spiritual guidance of the Augustinian friars.
 Secular Augustinian Recollects
The Secular Augustinian Recollects (Spanish: Agustinos Recoletos Seglares) is the official Third Order of the Order of Augustinian Recollects. Today, the SAR is present in 19 countries in 111 Local Chapters with at least 3,500 members.
 See also
- Orlando O. Espín, James B. Nickoloff, An Introductory Dictionary of Theology and Religious Studies (Liturgical Press 2007 ISBN 9780814658567), p. 1363
- Code of Canon Law, canon 303
- Code of Canon Law, canon 1192 §1
- Cf. Angelus a S.S. Corde, O.C.D., "Manuale juris communis Regularium", Ghent, 1899, q. 1067
- Society of St. Francis
- The Third Order, Society of St. Francis, Province of the Americas
 Sources and references
 Roman Catholic
- National Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order in the U.S.A.
- Third Order of St. Dominic
- Third Order Secular of the Most Holy Trinity
- Secular Order of the Servants of Mary (Secular Servites)
- international Augustinian Order's website
- site of Secular Augustinians in Canada
- Secular Augustinian Recollects
- Secular Trinitarian Way -Third Order of the Holy Trinity
- VocationNetwork.org Information about various Catholic religious vocations, including Third Order.
 Independent Churches
 Third Order, Society of St. Francis, Anglican Communion
- Province of Australia, Papua New Guinea and East Asia
- European Province
- Province of the Americas
- New Zealand Province