The Secular Franciscan Order is an official organization within the Catholic Church for people who seek to follow the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi without becoming monks like other Franciscans. Members, which include both men and women, live with their families and perform normal jobs but gather regularly in fraternities for meetings. There are several different rites that followers undergo during the course of their membership, and the procedures for these rites are known collectively as the order's "ritual."
Rite of Admission
When new members seek to join the Secular Franciscan Order, a simple admission rite is conducted in the presence of the fraternity and usually a priest. The ceremony begins with a hymn, an "admonition" of dedication to the Franciscan way, a prayer and readings from the Bible and the writings of St. Francis. The candidate or candidates then formally request admission into the fraternity, are formally accepted by the fraternity president and are confirmed as members by the priest if present. The president then reads the order's creed and offers the fraternity's commitment to supporting the new members. The rite ends with the sign of peace, a hymn and the Blessing of St. Francis.
Rite of Commitment
After one year, followers can complete their membership in the order through the rite of commitment to the Gospel life, also known as profession. This rite is the members' promise that they will live their lives according to the Gospel in the way of St. Francis. The main part of the rite occurs at church during the Mass, just after the reading of the Gospels. Like the rite of admission, it begins with a formal request by the candidate and a formal acceptance by the fraternity president. After the homily, the candidates are asked a series of questions about whether they are ready to commit to the ways of the order and answer "Yes, this is what I want" to each one. They then read a vow of dedication and are formally confirmed as professed members.
Rite of Annual Renewal
In order to allow some believers to come into the Secular Franciscan Order more gradually, it is possible to commit only temporarily, renewing the commitment up to a period of three years until they decide whether to commit permanently. For members who follow this path, it is necessary to renew the commitment annually through a separate rite. This rite is especially simple and does not call for the presence of a priest. The leader of the ceremony begins by addressing the fraternity with an admonition of the order's beliefs and calling and a brief prayer by the fraternity. The renewing member then recites his or her vow of commitment, which is accepted by the fraternity president. The rite is concluded with several short prayers.
There is also a special rite to celebrate a member's 25th and 50th anniversaries of professing commitment to the order and a number of prayers that are to be said during regular fraternity meetings. These prayers, which largely come from the writings of St. Francis, include opening and closing prayers, a special set of prayers for fraternity elections and a rite for establishing a new fraternity as an official unit within the Secular Franciscan Order.
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