[ sign in ] small large larger

Carmelite Family


The Carmelite Family




A painting depicting members of the Carmelite Family gathered around Christ
and his mother (dressed in the habit of Our Lady of Mount Carmel),
in the Carmelite-served parish of Calle Real in El Salvador.



Introducing the notion of 'Carmelite Family'

The collective term 'Carmelite Family' refers to the different types of people who feel inspired by the spirituality of Carmel, such as friars, hermits, enclosed nuns, active sisters, and lay people. All these people live out the Carmelite way of life quite differently according to their own circumstances, and in juridically distinct institutions, yet they are united as one great family through the sharing of Carmel's spiritual heritage.

In this section of our website you can learn more about some of these different expressions of 'Carmel', as well as how the notion of 'Carmelite Family' has developed and continues to develop.


Members of the Third Order gathered with Carmelite friars for prayer

The traditional terminology within the Carmelite Family

To understand the term Carmelite Family it helps to know some of the older terminology that historically has been used to distinguish different vocations within Carmel.

It was the Servite Order and Humiliati which originally categorised members into various branches of first, second and third orders. The numbering of these branches is not meant to be hierarchical, but simply reflects the historical sequence in which each group was formalised.

Within a religious congregation the term first order refers to the male religious: hermits and friars (brothers), ordained or unordained, who have publically professed vows of chastity, poverty and obedience.

The second order refers to the enclosed nuns. It was commonly said that these women had 'left the world', though this language is now seen by many nuns as not entirely accurate because they are very much concerned with praying for the Church and Society at large. Although the sisters largely remain within the monastery enclosure, and much of their life is a hidden one, most communities of Carmelite nuns are in contact with 'the world' in various ways.

The third order in fact has two branches: the third order regular, which refers to active religious (such as sisters living the 'apostolic life' out and about 'in the world'); and the third order secular which refers to formally professed members, mostly lay people, also living 'in the world'. The term regular comes from the Latin meaning 'following a rule of life', and the term secular derived from the Latin for 'world', means 'living in the world'. However, the terminology can be a little confusing because members of the Third Order Regular usually live active lives 'in the world', and members of the Third Order Secular follow a rule of life. The distinctions are not always precise! in some more modern religious congregations there are lay affiliates or associates but they are not normally full 'members' of the Order, unlike Tertiary/Secular Carmelites who are fully professed members of Carmel.

Carmelites agree that whether people are in the first, second or third orders, they are all fully members of the Order. All have received formation, and all make some form of profession, that is, a public statement of Carmelite identity and commitment.

The information above comes from: Johan Bergström-Allen, (ed.), Climbing the Mountain: The Carmelite Journey, (Faversham & Rome: Saint Albert's Press & Edizioni Carmelitane, 2010), pp. 372-73.


Different branches of the Carmelite Family - friars, nuns and sisters
(with laity out of shot) - at York Minster in 2009.


The following pages give further information about the first, second and third orders, as well as other vocations within the broader Carmelite Family.