The following is taken from the Constitutions of Discalced Carmelite Secular Order approved by the General Definitory in March 2003 and presented to the General Chapter in Avila; approved by the Holy See on June 16, 2003.
The great Teresian Carmelite family is present in the world in many forms. The nucleus of this family is the Order of Discalced Carmelites: the friars, the enclosed nuns, the seculars. It is the one Order with the same charism. The Order is nourished by the long tradition of Carmel, expressed in the Rule of Saint Albert and the doctrine of the Carmelite Doctors of the Church and the Order’s other saints.
I Our Identity, Values And Commitment
1. Carmelite Seculars, together with the Friars and Nuns, are sons and daughters of the Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St. Teresa of Jesus. As a result, they share the same charism with the religious, each according to their particular state of life. “It is one family with the same spiritual possessions, the same call to holiness” (cf. Ep 1:4; 1 P 1:15) and the same apostolic mission. Secular members contribute to the Order the benefits proper to their secular state of life.
2. Our membership of the Order goes back to the relationship established between laity and members of religious Orders born in the Middle Ages. Gradually these relationships took on an official character, forming part of the religious Institute and taking part in its charism and spirituality. In light of the Church’s new theology of the laity, Seculars live this membership with a clear secular identity.
3. The members of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites are faithful members of the Church, “called to live in allegiance Christ” “through a friendship with the one we know loves us” and in service to the Church. Under the protection of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, in the biblical tradition of the prophet Elijah and inspired by the teachings of St. Teresa of Jesus and St. John of the Cross, they seek to deepen their Christian commitment received in baptism.
4. The Virgin Mary is present in a special way, most of all as a model of faithfulness in listening to the Lord and in service to Him and to others. Mary is the one who preserved in her heart the life and actions of her Son and meditated on them, providing for us an example of contemplation. At Cana she counseled to do what the Lord commanded. Mary is an example of apostolic service. On another occasion, she waited, persevering in prayer with the apostles, for the coming of the Holy Spirit, thus giving witness to intercessory prayer. She is Mother of the Order. Secular Carmel enjoys her special protection and cultivates a sincere Marian devotion.
5. Elijah represents the prophetical tradition of Carmel and is an inspiration to live in the presence of God, seeking Him in solitude and silence with zeal for God’s glory. The Secular Carmelites live the prophetic dimension of Christian life and Carmelite spirituality by promoting God’s law of charity and truth in the world, above all by making themselves the voice for those who cannot, on their own, express this love and this truth.
6. The Rule of Saint Albert is the original expression of the spirituality of Carmel. It was written for the lay people who gathered on Mount Carmel to live a life dedicated to meditation on the Word of God, under the protection of Our Lady. The following principles of that Rule guide Carmelite life:
a) Living in allegiance to Jesus Christ;
b) Being diligent in meditating on the law of the Lord;
c) Giving time to spiritual reading;
d) Participating in the Church’s Liturgy, both the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours;
e) Being concerned for the needs and the good of others in the community;
f) Arming ourselves with the practice of the virtues, as we live an intense life of faith, hope and charity;
g) Seeking interior silence and solitude in our life of prayer;
h) Using prudent discretion in all that we do.
7. The origin of the Discalced Carmel is to be found in St. Teresa of Jesus. She lived with profound faith in God’s mercy which strengthened her to persevere in prayer, humility, love for her brothers and sisters, and love for the Church, leading her to the grace of spiritual matrimony. Her evangelical self-denial, disposition to service and perseverance in the practice of the virtues are a daily guide to living the spiritual life. Her teachings on prayer and the spiritual life are essential to the formation and life of the Secular Order.
8. Saint John of the Cross was the companion of Saint Teresa in the formulation of the Discalced Carmelite Order. He inspires the Secular Carmelite to be vigilant in the practice of faith, hope and charity. He guides the Secular Carmelite through the dark night to union with God. In this union with God, the Secular Carmelite finds the true freedom of the children of God.
II Following Jesus In The Teresian Secular Carmel
10. Christ is the center of our lives and of Christian experience. Members of the Secular Order are called to live the demands of following Christ in union with Him, by accepting His teachings and devoting themselves to Him. To follow Jesus is to take part in His saving mission of proclaiming the Good News and the establishment of God’s Kingdom (Mt 4:18-19). There are various ways of following Jesus: all Christians must follow Him, must make Him the law for their lives and be disposed to fulfil three fundamental demands: to place family ties beneath the interests of the Kingdom and Jesus himself (Mt 10:37-39; Lk 14:25-26); to live in detachment from wealth in order to show that the arrival of the Kingdom does not depend on human means but rather on God’s strength and the willingness of the human person before Him (Lk 14:33); to carry the cross of accepting God’s will revealed in the mission that He has confided to each person (Lk 14:33; 9:23).
11. Following Jesus as members of the Secular Order is expressed by the promise to strive for evangelical perfection in the spirit of the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience and through the beatitudes. By means of this promise the member’s baptismal commitment is strengthened for the service of God’s plan in the world. This promise is a pledge to pursue personal holiness, which necessarily carries with it a commitment to serving the Church in faithfulness to the Teresian Carmelite charism. The promise is taken before the members of the community, representing the whole Church and in the presence of the Delegate of the Superior of the Order.
12. By the promise made to the community in the presence of the Superior of the Order or his Delegate, the person becomes a full member of the Secular Order. By this commitment members strive to acquire the necessary training to know the reasons, the content and purpose of the evangelical lifestyle they are undertaking. The promise heightens and enriches the baptismal commitment in Secular Carmelites. This includes those called to married life, both as spouses and as parents. This promise is renewed once a year at Easter time.
The commitment to the promise to live the spirit of the evangelical counsel of chastity
13. The promise of chastity reinforces the commitment to love God above all else, and to love others with the love God has for them. In this promise the Secular Carmelite seeks the freedom to love God and neighbor unselfishly giving witness to the divine intimacy promised by the beatitude: blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God (Mt 5:8). The promise of chastity is a commitment to Christian love in its personal and social dimensions in order to create authentic community in the world. By this promise the Secular Carmelite also expresses the conscious desire to respect each person as required by God’s law and one’s state of life, as a single person or married or widowed. This promise does not prevent a change in state of life.
The commitment to the promise of living the spirit of the evangelical counsel of poverty
14. By the promise of poverty the Secular Carmelite expresses the desire to live in accordance with the Gospel and its values. In evangelical poverty there is a wealth of generosity, self-denial, and interior liberty and a dependence on Him who “Though rich, yet for our sake, became poor” (2 Co 8:9), “and who emptied Himself” (Ph 2:7), to be at the service of His brothers and sisters. The promise of poverty seeks an evangelical use of the goods of this world and of personal talents, as well as the exercise of personal responsibilities in society, in family, and work, confidently placing all in the hands of God. It also implies a commitment to the cause of justice so that the world itself responds to God’s plan. In combination with these, evangelical poverty recognizes personal limitations and surrenders them to God with confidence in His goodness and fidelity.
The commitment to the promise to live the spirit of the evangelical counsel of obedience
15. The promise of obedience is a pledge to live open to the will of God, “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Ac 17:28) imitating Christ who accepted the Father’s will and was “obedient unto death, death on a cross” (Ph 2:8). The promise of obedience is an exercise of faith leading to the search for God’s will in the events and challenges in society and our own personal life. For this reason the Secular Carmelite freely cooperates with those who have responsibility for guiding the community and the Order in discerning and accepting God’s ways: the Community’s Council, the Provincial and the General.
The commitment to the promise to live the spirit of the beatitudes
16. The beatitudes are a plan of action for life and a way to enter into relationship with the world, neighbors and co-workers, families and friends. By promising to live the beatitudes in daily life, Secular Carmelites seek to give evangelical witness as members of the Church and the Order, and by this witness invite the world to follow Christ: “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6).
III Witnesses To The Experience Of God
17. The vocation to the Teresian Carmel is a commitment to “live a life of allegiance to Jesus Christ”, “pondering the Lord’s law day and night and keeping watch in prayer”. Faithful to this principle of the Rule, St. Teresa placed prayer as the foundation and basic exercise of her religious family. For this reason, Secular Carmelites are called to strive to make prayer penetrate their whole existence, in order to walk in the presence of the living God (cf. 1 K 18:14), through the constant exercise of faith, hope and love, in such a way that the whole of their life is a prayer, a search for union with God. The goal will be to achieve the integration of experience of God with the experience of life: to be contemplatives in prayer and the fulfilment of their own mission.
18. Prayer, a dialogue of friendship with God, ought to be nourished by His Word so that this dialogue becomes that, “we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine word”. God’s Word will nourish the contemplative experience of Carmelite Seculars and their mission in the world. Besides personal contemplation, listening to the Word ought to encourage a contemplation that leads to sharing the experience of God in the Secular Order community. By this means, the Community together seeks to discern God’s ways, maintain a permanent energy of conversion, and live with a renewed hope. The Carmelite Secular will be able to see through events and discover God in everything.
19. Occupying a privileged place in nourishing the prayer life of Carmelite Seculars will be the study and spiritual reading of Scripture and the writings of our Saints, particularly those who are Doctors of the Church: St. Teresa, St. John of the Cross and St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus. The Church’s documents are also food and inspiration for a commitment to follow Jesus.
20. The Carmelite Secular will make sure to have special times set apart for prayer, as times of greater awareness of the Lord’s presence and an interior space for a personal and intimate meeting with Him. This will lead to prayer as an attitude of life, that will “always and everywhere recognize God…” seek His will in every event, see Christ in all people whether they be a relative or a stranger, and make correct judgments about the true meaning and value of temporal things both in themselves and in their relation to humankind’s final goal”. Thus they will achieve a union of contemplation and action in history, integrating faith and life, prayer and action, contemplation and Christian commitment.
21. Carmelite Seculars will commit themselves daily to spending a time in the practice of mental prayer. This is the time to be with God and to strengthen their relationship with Him so that they can be true witnesses to His presence in the world.
22. The way of Christian prayer demands a life of evangelical self-denial (Lk 9:23) in fulfilling one’s own vocation and mission, since “prayer and comfortable living are incompatible”. Carmelite Seculars accept from the viewpoint of faith, hope and love, the work and suffering of each day, family worries, the uncertainty and limitations of human life, sickness, lack of understanding and all that makes up the fabric of our earthly existence. They will strive to make all this, material for their dialogue with God, in order to grow in an attitude of praise and gratitude to the Lord. In order to live truly, simply, freely, humbly and completely confident in the Lord, the Secular Carmelite observes the practices of evangelical self-denial recommended by the Church. Of particular importance are those days and periods in the liturgical calendar that have a penitential character.
23. The personal prayer life of the Carmelite Secular, understood as friendship with God, is also nourished and expressed in the liturgy, an inexhaustible font for the spiritual life. Liturgical prayer enriches personal prayer and this, in its turn, gives a lively expression to liturgical participation. In the Secular Order a special place is given to the liturgy, understood as God’s Word celebrated in active hope, after having received it by faith and the commitment to live it in effective love. The Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation, need to be lived as signs and instruments of the freeing action of God and as an encounter with the Paschal Christ, present in the ecclesial community. They are grace-giving structures in opposition to the structures for sin in society. Carmelite Seculars strive to discover in liturgical prayer the presence of Christ and the Holy Spirit, living and demanding something of us in everyday life. In the liturgical year, they will experience the mysteries of redemption which inspire collaboration in bringing about God’s plan. The Liturgy of the Hours, for its part, brings the Secular Carmelite into communion with the prayer of Jesus and the Church.
24. The value of the sacramental and liturgical life in the Secular Order leads its members to take part in the celebration of the Eucharist, in as far as possible. They will try to recite Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer of the Hours in union with the Church spread throughout the world. When it is possible they will also recite Night Prayer. Their participation in the sacrament of Reconciliation and the other sacraments of the Church will assist the process of their conversion.
IV Serving God’s Plan
25. “The lay faithful, precisely because they are members of the Church, have the vocation and mission of proclaiming the Gospel: they are prepared for this work by the sacraments of Christian Initiation and by the gifts of the Holy Spirit”. The spirituality of Carmel will a waken in Secular Carmelites a desire for greater apostolic commitment, in becoming aware of all that their call to Carmel implies. Aware of the need the world has of witnesses to God’s presence, they will respond to the invitation the church directs to all Associations of the faithful followers of Christ, committing them to human society by means of active participation in the apostolic goal of the Church’s mission, within the framework of their own charism. As a fruit of this participation in evangelization, Carmelite Seculars will share a renewed taste for prayer, contemplation and the liturgical and sacramental life.
26. The vocation to the Secular Order is truly ecclesial. Prayer and apostolate, when they are true, are inseparable. The observation of St. Teresa that the purpose of prayer is “the birth of good works” reminds the Secular Order that graces received ought to have an effect on those who receive them. Individually or as a community and, above all as members of the Church, apostolic activity is the fruit of prayer. Where possible, in collaboration with religious superiors and with the necessary permissions of those in charge, the communities of the Secular Order participate in the apostolate of the Order.
27. The Carmelite Secular is called to live and witness the charism of the Teresian Carmel in the local Church, that portion of the People of God in which the Church of Christ is truly present and acts. All will try to be living witnesses of God’s presence and accept responsibility for the need the Church has of concrete help within the pastoral concerns in its evangelizing mission under the direction of the bishop. For this reason, each one will have an apostolate either collaborating with others in the community or individually.
28. To their apostolic commitment they will bring the wealth of their spirituality in the various forms it takes in evangelization: missions, parishes, houses of prayer, Spirituality Institutes, prayer groups, the ministry of spirituality. With their particular contribution as Secular Carmelites they can offer the Teresian Carmel fresh inspiration for “a renewed spiritual and apostolic dynamism”, with creative fidelity to their mission in the Church. The different apostolic activities of the Secular Order will be specified and evaluated in the Particular Statutes for the various geographical areas.
V With Mary, The Mother Of Jesus
29. In the interior dynamism of following Jesus, Carmel contemplates Mary as Mother and Sister, as “the perfect model of the disciple of the Lord” and, as such, a model for the life of the members of the Order. The Virgin of the Magnificat proclaims the break with the old order and announces the beginning of a new order in which God casts the mighty down from their thrones and exalts the poor. Mary places herself on the side of the poor and proclaims how God acts in history. For Secular Carmelites, Mary is a model of total commitment to God’s Kingdom. She teaches us to listen to God’s Word in Scripture and in life, to believe in it in every circumstance in order to live its demands. All this she did, without understanding many things; pondering all in her heart (Lk 2:19, 50-51) until light dawned through contemplative prayer.
30. Mary is also an ideal and inspiration for the Secular Carmelite. She lived close to people and their needs, being concerned about them (Lk 1:39-45; Jn 2:1-12; Ac 1:14). She, the “most perfect image of freedom and of the liberation of humanity and of the universe”, helps us understand the meaning of mission. She, Mother and Sister, who goes before us in a pilgrimage of faith and in following the Lord Jesus, keeps us company so that we may imitate her life hidden in Christ and committed to the service of others.
31. While giving life to Teresian Carmelite spirituality, Mary’s presence also shapes its apostolate. As a result, the Secular Carmelite is committed to knowing Mary better, daily, through the Gospel to communicate to others an authentic Marian devotion leading to imitating her virtues. Guided by the outlook of faith, members of the Secular Order will celebrate and promote the liturgical devotion to the Mother of God in light of the mystery of Christ and the Church. They will practice, in faith and love, the devotional exercises in her honor.