The Secular Franciscan Order
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.
This Rule is necessary for a couple of reasons: 1) to demonstrate that the Secular Franciscan order has continued from the very beginning by a request from St. Francis in 1221 and has continued over the years with several updates; 2) that this “new” Rule replaces all of the previous Rules and is now the guiding Rule for all Secular Franciscans.
The Rules replaced by this Rule are the original written in 1221, the Rules approved by Pope Nicholas IV in 1289 and by Pope Leo XIII in 1883. The present Rule was approved by Pope Paul VI on June 24, 1978.
The original rule “Memoriale Propositi” was written in 1221 by Cardinal Hugolino dei Conti di Segni(Pope Gregory IX) at the request of St. Francis of Assisi. In those times, we were called the Brothers & Sisters of Penance – later the Third Order of St. Francis. Chapter headings are Daily Life, Abstinence, Fasting, Prayer, The Sacraments--Other Matters, Special Mass and Meeting Each Month, Visiting the Sick and Burying the Dead, and Correction, Dispensation, Officers. This Rule followed St. Francis’ Exhortation to the Brothers and Sisters in Penance from 1210 – 1215 that we know as the Prologue to our Rule of today. This Rule was promoted by Cardinal Hugolino and verbally approved by Pope Honorious III.
The second rule, the one from 1289, was approved by Nicholas IV, the first Franciscan Pope. This Rule established some items that had been in question up until that time: the monthly meeting needed a visitator who was from the Order of Friars Minor; the somewhat “independent” Penitentials were corralled under the supervision of the OFM; affirmed that the group is Franciscan having been formulated by St. Francis; designated the habit as gray; gave the order a more religious nature; and, allowed both the original “home church” and community life to develop.
Following a decline in Third Order participation in the 18th and 19th Centuries, the Rule approved by Pope Leo in 1883 was shorter and less rigorous that the Rule of Nicholas. Pope Leo was a “convinced, enthusiastic and tenacious supporter” of the Third Order. He promoted participation in the Third Order. The entire idea was to make this Rule appealing enough to involve many Catholics. He even “…involved the entire episcopate in the propagation of the Franciscan Third Order.” Over the years, the Third Order moved toward a more devotional approach in its mission.
Following Vatican II, an extensive multi-year project began with several iterations of the Rule being proposed, reviewed, critiqued, revised, and re-proposed. This process even included the input of lay people (folks who would be living it). This Assisi Congress of 1969 developed 17 essential points of Franciscan spirituality. The project being completed in 1978, was promulgated by Pope Paul VI on June 24. The current Rule transitions the Order “from a ‘less devotional’ to a ‘more apostolic’ Order.”
So, today we have a Rule of Life that began as a simple project by St. Francis to help folks live a more Franciscan way. Under this Rule, we are all more involved in apostolic activities. May we spend time each day studying our Rule and finding new ways to go from Gospel to Life and Life to Gospel.
(ED NOTE: The information presented in this article is take from William Wicks, OFS excellent work “A Brief History of the Secular Franciscan Order and Its Rules.” This can be found on the internet by browsing for the title.)