carmelite_shield_sepia.pngWhat is a Carmelite?

The origin of the Carmelite Order was very simple. Near the middle of the twelfth century, after the victory of the Crusaders in Palestine and the recapture of the Holy Places, a group of pious pilgrims settled on Mount Carmel to lead an eremitical life in imitation of the Prophet Elijah who, with his followers, had inhabited the rock formations of the mountain centuries before Christ. Zeal, ardor and renunciation of the honors and goods of the world characterized this great man who intensely experienced God's living Presence and fearlessly proclaimed His truth. The main elements of Elijah's life, totally dedicated to God -solitude, penance, prayer and contemplation- became the way of life for the first Carmelites. His provoking challenge to the vacillating people of Israel, "how long will you straddle the issue? If the Lord is God, follow Him...," continues to sound down the years and inspire his contemporary sons and daughters to a like absoluteness in their unequivocal commitment to renounce the world and "seek the things that are above."

Discalced Carmelites

The Discalced Carmelites, or Barefoot Carmelites, is a mendicant order with roots in the eremitic tradition of the Desert Fathers and Mothers in the Holy Land. The order was established in 1593, pursuant to the reform of the Carmelite Order by two Spanish saints, St. Teresa of Jesus (Ávila) and St. John of the Cross.

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.

In the 16th century, St. Teresa of Jesus work of reform began with herself. She made a vow always to follow the most perfect course, and resolved to keep the rule as perfectly as she could. A group of nuns assembled in her cell one September evening in 1560, taking their inspiration from the primitive tradition of Carmel and the discalced reform of St. Peter of Alcantara, proposed the foundation of a monastery of an eremitical type.

On August 24, 1562, the new monastery dedicated to St. Joseph was founded. Then in Duruelo, with John of the Cross and Anthony of Jesus, they founded the first convent of Discalced Brethren in November 1568.

Each day is marked by silence to create an environment for a house of prayer. In addition to the daily celebration of the full Liturgy of the Hours, two hours are set aside for uninterrupted silent prayer. The life is well balanced: community life is marked by much laughter around the meal table and during recreation. Communities are kept fairly small to nourish an atmosphere of genuine sisterhood/brotherhood and sharing.

While the sisters live an enclosed cloistered life, the friars live a life that is both contemplative and apostolic, in imitation of Jesus who lived both the prayer in the desert and the ministry of compassion with the multitudes. Their life of contemplation is primarily a service designed for the whole Church. The life is also marked by a serious commitment to a broadly based and thorough discipline of study to more fully develop a knowledge of the human heart that is marked by great personal sensitivity.

OCDS | Secular Carmelites

The Order of Carmel Discalced also claims a third or "Secular Order" membership which is comprised of lay people living their vocation in the world. 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. [1]

Our OCDS Constitutions read:

The Rule of Saint Albert is the original expression of the spirituality of Carmel. It was written for the laypeople 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
g) Seeking interior silence and solitude in our life of prayer;
h) Using prudent discretion in all that we do. [2]


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 fulfillment of their own mission.[3] 

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.[4] 

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 Therese of the Child Jesus. The Church’s documents are also food and inspiration for a commitment to follow Jesus.[5]

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.[6]

Read the entire OCDS Constitutions here.

[1] - Order of Carmel Discalced Secular. OCDS Constitutions  Section 1 Paragraph 1
[2] - Order of Carmel Discalced Secular. OCDS Constitutions Section 1 Paragraph 6
[3] - Order of Carmel Discalced Secular. OCDS Constitutions Section 3  Paragraph 17
[4] - Order of Carmel Discalced Secular. OCDS Constitutions Section 3  Paragraph 18
[5] - Order of Carmel Discalced Secular. OCDS Constitutions Section 3  Paragraph 19
[6] - Order of Carmel Discalced Secular. OCDS Constitutions Section 3  Paragraph 20