But what is a Capuchin? First, a Capuchin is a Franciscan. Capuchins are a 16th century reform of the Franciscan Order, recognized by the Church as a legitimate branch of the Order of Friars Minor founded by Saint Francis of Assisi.
The name given the Order by Saint Francis-Friars Minor-tells us two key things about Franciscan and Capuchin identity. Friar means brother. Franciscans are brothers. In his Testament, Saint Francis described his vocation and said, "the Lord gave me brothers." A Capuchin lives with his brother Capuchins. The brothers pray together, eat together, work together for the Church and share together the joys and sorrows of life. A Capuchin living alone would be an anomaly, not true to the essence of his Franciscan identity. Capuchins share all that they earn and they share daily life in community.
Minor connotes littleness or humility. Thus, Capuchins are to be "little brothers" both to one another andto all. A true Capuchin will act not as a superior, master or teacher to others, but as an equal, as a brother. Perhaps he will even come across as less than others, lower and humble. At a recent meeting when friars of various ages were asked what attracted them to be Capuchins, many stories were told of meeting a Capuchin who seemed approachable, humble and concerned about others.
What are some other characteristics of a true Capuchin? The Capuchin reform started when a group of friars wanted to live a more radical life of prayer and contemplation. Capuchins are missionaries and hard workers in the Lord's vineyard, but Capuchins are also a contemplative Order and it is a Capuchin's duty and identity to spend significant time alone in silence with God.
A Capuchin is a man of the Church. Saint Francis insisted that his brothers be "thoroughly Catholic" and that they celebrate liturgy according to the norms of the Church. There was no place in Francis' Order for men who challenged, criticized and disobeyed the Church or its bishops. The Capuchin reform began just after the Protestant reformation and the early Capuchins were leaders in the Counter Reformation, helping the Church to ' respond to the need for reform and new' energy. Capuchins became the great missionaries taking the gospel to the ends of the earth, with a special focus on reunion between eastern and western Christian churches.
A Capuchin is a man of the church, who lives a humble, poor life with his brothers.