Some people find a foundation and structure for contemplative prayer in monastic practices described in some of the earliest Christian writings.
Major Third orders and lay groups are the:
Third Order Lay Franciscans,
Lay Carmelites - Third Order, T.O.C.s or T.O.Carm.s,
Secular Carmelites, Discalced Carmelite Secular Order, O.C.D.s, (1)
Fraternities of St. Dominic,
Norbertine Lay Associations,
Lay Missionaries of Charity,
and my favorite lay associates, Benedictine oblates.
My web site for people just starting to learn about Benedictine oblates is the Oblate Spring.
The lay associates such as Benedictine oblates are “regular” people who live in the world with jobs and spouses, don't wear special clothing, but who often practice Lectio Divina, for example, which is a commonly used method for contemplative prayer, and who also live by the principles of their Order/group as much as their state in life allows.
The association of contemplative prayer with monastic principles is not surprising. Author Mike Casey writes that long ago the term monastic applied to a broader group of people than we sometimes think of today.
Today some people may think of monastics as only monks and nuns who live cloistered lives separate from the rest of the world. In the first several centuries after the resurrection of Jesus, a monastic life also applied to Christians who lived in the world, but who sought a deeper spirituality in contemplative prayer and a more ascetic lifestyle.
In other words, those people today who pursue contemplative prayer in ancient monastic practices are following long-established traditions.
Here is a short video by the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration on Benedictine monastic practices. It is a beautiful, inspiring video. I recommend it to anyone seeking the contemplative life, even while you “keep your day job!”
There are about 2 million Third Order Franciscans, about 30,000 Third Order Carmelites, and about 25,000 Benedictine oblates in the world today.
As I find links to Third Orders and lay groups since the date of this blog, I will add them to a web page on the Oblate Spring web site. For a list of all the links I have found to Third Orders, please visit here.
There exist two traditions in the Carmelite community. The differences are described here, scroll down to the FAQs paragraph 7.