“TO OBSERVE THE HOLY GOSPEL OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST”
The foundations of our order
§1 The Order of Friars Minor, founded by St. Francis of Assisi, is a fraternity.1 In this fraternity the friars follow Jesus Christ more closely under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; through profession they dedicate themselves totally to God whom they love above all, living the Gospel in the Church according to the form observed and proposed by St. Francis.2
§2 The friars, as followers of St. Francis, are bound to lead a radically evangelical life, namely: to live in a spirit of prayer and devotion and in fraternal fellowship; they are to offer a witness of penance and minority; and, in charity towards all mankind, they are to announce the Gospel throughout the whole world and to preach reconciliation, peace and justice by their deeds;3 and to show respect for creation.
§1 The Rule of the Friars Minor, confirmed by Pope Ho?norius III4 is the foundation of the life and legislation of the Order. Everything contained in it is to be understood and observed in a living context5 according to the mind of St. Francis especially as expressed in his writings, and in keeping with the understanding of the Church and the sound traditions of the Order.
§2 For an ever-deeper knowledge and faithful observance of “the spirit of the Founder and his aims”,6 the friars are to endeavour to study, understand and venerate not only the Rule, but also the writings of St. Francis and his followers.
§1 The Order of Friars Minor is made up of clerical friars and lay friars.7 By their profession, all friars are completely equal in their religious rights and obligations except for those that arise from Sacred Orders.
§2 The Order of Friars Minor is included by the Church amongst the clerical Institutes.
§1 The Friars Minor, embodied in the People of God, paying attention to the new signs of the times8 and responding to the conditions of a developing world, are always to be of one mind with the Church; they are to adopt as their own and foster as much as they can the Church’s undertakings and aims.9
§2 All the friars are to show obedience and reverence to the Lord Pope, to whom they are bound in a special way by their Rule and by their vow of obedience.10 In pastoral matters, however, they are to be subject to the authority of the Bishop.11 Moreover, they are always to follow bishops and priests with due honour and reverence, according to the desire and example of St. Francis.12
§1 In a more complete fulfilment of their baptismal consecration and in answer to the divine call, the friars give themselves totally to God, their supreme love;13 through profession of obedience, poverty and chastity, which they are to live in the spirit of Saint Francis, they contract a covenant with God and life becomes, as it were, for their whole existence, a sacrifice offered to God in charity.14
§2 In our Order, profession is made into the hands of one’s legitimate minister in these words:
To the Praise and Glory of the Most Holy Trinity,
I, Brother N.N.,
since the Lord inspired me
to follow more closely the Gospel
and the footprints of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
before the Brothers here present and
in your hands, Brother N.N.,
with firm faith and will:
vow to God, the Holy and Almighty Father,
to live all the days of my life
[or: for… year(s)]
in obedience, without anything of my own and in chastity,
and, at the same time, I profess
the life and Rule of the Friars Minor,
confirmed by Pope Honorius,
and promise to observe it faithfully
in accordance with the Constitutions of the Order
of Friars Minor.
Therefore, I give myself to this fraternity with all my heart
so that, through the efficacious action of the Holy Spirit,
guided by the example of Mary Immaculate,
through the intercession of our Father St. Francis
and of all the Saints
and supported by your fraternal help,
I can constantly strive for perfect charity
in the service of God, of the Church and of mankind.
§1 In religious profession, the friars promise, by a public vow, to observe the three evangelical counsels, are consecrated to God through the ministry of the Church and are incorporated into the Order of Friars Minor with rights and duties determined by universal and proper law.15
§2 Not only must friars observe the evangelical counsels faithfully and in their entirety, but they must also conduct their life in accordance with the Rule of Saint Francis, these General Constitutions and other regulations of proper law and thus strive for the perfection of their state.16
§1 By their vow of obedience, the friars follow Jesus Christ who “placed his will at the will of the Father”;17 they deny themselves;18 and they submit their own wills to their legitimate Ministers and Guardians “in all those things which they have promised the Lord to observe”.19 In this way they may attain more completely to personal maturity and the freedom of the children of God.20
§2 For the good of the Church and the Order, all the friars owe to the Minister General, the legitimate successor of St. Francis, the highest obedience and respect, as a sign of the unity and fellowship of the whole fraternity.21
§3 “Through charity of the Spirit”, the friars “should voluntarily serve and obey one another”;22 together they should seek out the signs of the will of the Lord God.
§1 By their vow of poverty, Friars Minor follow Jesus Christ who “made himself poor for us in this world”;23 they renounce the right to use and dispose of material goods without the permission of their Ministers and Guardians; indeed, after solemn profession they also renounce the right of ownership. As humble servants they entrust themselves to the providence of the heavenly Father.24
§2 The friars are to recall that the highest poverty has its source in Christ and his poor Mother; mindful of the words of the Gospel, “Go, sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor”,25 they are to seek to share the lot of the poor.
§3 For the poor life of the Friars Minor, it is not sufficient that they submit totally to their Ministers and Guardians in the use of things; rather they ought to be poor materially and spi?ritually and ought to lead an industrious and sober life.26 After the example of Christ they ought to rejoice “when they live among people [who are considered to be] of little worth and who are looked down upon, among the poor and the powerless, the sick and the lepers, and the beggars by the wayside.27 They ought to give clear evidence of all these things in an individual and communal manner as well as in new ways.
§1 By their vow of chastity, the friars, “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven”,28 lead a celibate life in purity of soul29 and body, so that with an undivided heart, they may ponder on the things of the Lord,30 and so that, in their evangelical and fraternal life, they may love “the Lord God with every effort, with every affection, every emotion, every desire and every wish”.31
§2 All the friars are to consider chastity as a gift of God, which is a sign of the world to come and a source of greater fruitfulness. All the aids, both natural and supernatural, recommended by the Church and the Order are to be used in order to preserve this gift.32
§3 Ministers, Guardians and all friars are to remember that chastity is preserved more securely when charity thrives in community life; therefore, they are to give great attention to fostering brotherly love in the fraternity.33
§4 To live the vow of chastity, the friars are to preserve purity of heart, and are to endeavour to regard all creatures with humility and devotion, conscious that they have been created for the glory of God.34
Laws of the Order
The authentic interpretation of the Rule of Saint Francis is reserved to the Holy See. The General Chapter, however, has the right to adapt the same Rule to the changing times; it also has the right to make interpretations of the Rule, but these need the approval of the Holy See.
Those elements of the Rule which have been accepted in current Canon Law or which, with the Holy See’s approval, have been declared authentically in the General Constitutions, are to be understood and observed in the sense in which they have been accepted or declared there.
§1 The General Constitutions provide the basic norms to regulate the life of all friars everywhere in accordance with the Rule.35
§2 All the friars are to strive to observe with the greatest care, the laws contained in these General Constitutions. Unless these are faithfully observed, fraternal fellowship and evangelical perfection can hardly be achieved in a manner proper to the Order.
§3 The friars of Eastern-Rite Churches, who constitute an outstanding sign of the universality of the Franciscan charism, are likewise to strive to observe these Constitutions and their particular law.
The General Chapter is competent to enact, change, derogate from, complete and abrogate the General Constitutions, with due regard for the requirements of C.587, 2.
§1 As complementary norms of the General Constitutions, the General Statutes are to be observed by all.
§2 The General Chapter is competent to enact, change, derogate from, complete and abrogate the General Statutes.36
§1 The declarative interpretation of the General Constitutions belongs to the General Chapter; their authentic interpretation however, is reserved to the Holy See.
§2 An interpretation of the General Constitutions made by the Plenary Council of the Order or by the General Definitory as an administrative act, has force only for the cases for which it was given.
§3 The authentic interpretation of the General Statutes belongs to the General Chapter. Outside of Chapter, it belongs to the Plenary Council of the Order and the General Definitory; such an interpretation has force only for those cases for which it was given until the next General Chapter, unless it is approved by that same Chapter.
§1 Provinces and other entities of the Order (by whatever name they are designated) must have their own particular Statutes, drawn up to meet the needs of places and times and in a way that is not contrary to the norms of these General Constitutions and General Statutes.37
§2 Special statutes and rules of order for the whole Order or for any one of its entities are to be drawn up by the competent authority.38
§1 No Minister can dispense from matters that pertain to the substance of religious life, or from constitutive laws of the General Constitutions unless the contrary is expressly stated. However, for a just and reasonable cause the Minister General can, with the consent of his Definitory, dispense from laws contained in the General and particular Statutes.
§2 For a just and reasonable cause, even habitually in particular cases, the following can dispense from disciplinary laws made by the Order, unless an exception has been expressly made:
1. the Minister General in favour of individual friars in the whole Order;
2. the Minister Provincial in favour of his own friars, wherever they reside, and of other friars staying in his Province, unless the dispensation is reserved to the Minister General;
3. the Guardian in favour of his own friars, wherever they reside and of others staying in his district, unless the dispensation is reserved to the Ministers.
§3 However, the habitual dispensation in favour of the friars of an entire Province belongs to the Minister General, while that in favour of the friars of an entire House belongs to the Minister Provincial.
§1 Dispensations and other concessions of any kind granted in writing by the Ministers to individual friars or fraternities do not lose force when the authority of the one who granted it has expired, unless it appears otherwise from clauses added to the document.39
§2 A favour denied by the Minister General or Minister Provincial cannot be granted validly by the respective Vicar, even should the denial be mentioned, without the Minister’s approval.40