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Opus Dei text image

Opus Dei Symbol

 

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Opus Dei

Opus Dei, formally known as The Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei, is an organization of the Roman Catholic Church that teaches the Catholic belief that everyone is called to holiness and that ordinary life is a path to sanctity.[1][2] Opus Dei is made up of lay people, the majority of its membership, and secular priests under the governance of a prelate appointed by the Pope.[1] Opus Dei is Latin for "Work of God", hence the organization is often referred to simply as "the Work".[3][4]

Opus Dei was founded in Spain in 1928 by the Roman Catholic priest Josemaría Escrivá,[5] and given final approval in 1950 by Pope Pius XII.[6] In 1982, it was made into a personal prelature — its bishop's jurisdiction is not linked to one specific geographic area, but instead covers the persons in Opus Dei, wherever they are.[6] Opus Dei is the first and so far the only Catholic organization of this type.[7]

Opus Dei has been described as the most controversial force within the Catholic church.[8] Controversies about it have centered around criticisms of its recruiting methods, the alleged strict rules governing members, its alleged secretiveness and elitism, the alleged right-leaning politics of the majority of its members and its alleged support of right-wing governments, especially the Francoist Government of Spain until 1978.[9]

According to Catholic journalists, much of the criticisms against Opus Dei are mere myths created by its opponents.[8][10] Several Popes and other Catholic leaders have endorsed what they see as its innovative teaching on the sanctifying value of work. [11] In 2002, in a move interpreted by both sides of the debate as signaling his approval of Opus Dei, Pope John Paul II canonized Escrivá.[12]

Opus Dei has about 87,000 members in more than 80 different countries. About 70% of Opus Dei members live in their private homes, leading traditional Catholic family lives with secular careers,[7][13] while the other 30% are celibate, of whom the majority live in official Opus Dei centers. As well as working in more traditional charitable work through its members, Opus Dei is involved in setting up and running universities, university residences, schools, publishing houses and technical and agricultural training centres.

Opus Dei was founded by a Catholic priest, Josemaría Escrivá, on 2 October 1928 in Madrid, Spain. According to Escrivá, on that day he experienced a "vision" in which he "saw Opus Dei".[14][15] He gave the organization the name "Opus Dei", which in Latin means "Work of God,"[16] in order to underscore the belief that the organization was not his (Escrivá's) work, but was rather God's work.[17] Throughout his life, Escrivá maintained that the founding of Opus Dei had a supernatural character.[18] Escrivá summarized Opus Dei's mission as a way of helping ordinary Christians "to understand that their life… is a way of holiness and evangelization... And to those who grasp this ideal of holiness, the Work offers the spiritual assistance and training they need to put it into practice."[19]

Initially, Opus Dei was open only to men, but in 1930, Escrivá created a women's branch.[6] In 1936, the organization suffered a temporary setback with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War as many Roman Catholic priests and religious, including Escrivá, were forced into hiding (the many atrocities committed on all sides during the civil war included the murder and rape of religious by government loyalists).[20][citation needed] After the civil war was won by General Francisco Franco's Nationalists, a coalition of Roman Catholic traditionalists, monarchists and falangists that rebelled against the democratically elected Popular Front government of the Second Spanish Republic, Escrivá was able to return to Madrid.[21] Escriva himself recounted that it was in Spain where Opus Dei found "the greatest difficulties" because of traditionalists who he felt misunderstood Opus Dei's ideas.[22] Despite this, Opus Dei flourished during the years of the Franquismo, spreading first throughout Spain, and after 1945, expanding internationally.[6]

In 1939, Escrivá published The Way, a collection of 999 maxims concerning spirituality.[23] In the 1940s, Opus Dei found an early critic in the Jesuit leader Wlodimir Ledochowski, who told the Vatican that he considered Opus Dei "very dangerous for the Church in Spain," citing its "secretive character" and calling it "a form of Christian Masonry."[24]

In 1946, Escrivá moved the organization's headquarters to Rome.[6] In 1950, Pope Pius XII granted definitive approval to Opus Dei, thereby allowing married people to join the organization.[6] In 1975, Escriva died and was succeeded by Álvaro del Portillo. In 1982, Opus Dei was made into a personal prelature. This means the Opus Dei related objectives of the members fall under the direct jurisdiction of the Prelate of Opus Dei wherever they are. As to "what the law lays down for all the ordinary faithful," the lay members of Opus Dei, being no different from other Catholics, "continue to be ... under the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop," in the words of John Paul II's Ut Sit.[25] In 1994, Javier Echevarria became Prelate upon the death of his predecessor.

One-third of the world's bishops sent letters petitioning for the canonization of Escrivá.[26] In 2002, approximately 300,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square on the day Pope John Paul II canonized Josemaría Escrivá.[27][28] According to one author, "Escrivá is... venerated by millions".[8]

There are other members whose process of beatification has been opened: Ernesto Cofiño, a father of five children and a pioneer in pediatric research in Guatemala; Montserrat Grases, a teenage Catalan student who died of cancer; Toni Zweifel, a Swiss engineer; and Bishop Álvaro del Portillo.

In September 2005, while blessing a newly installed statue of Josemaria Escriva placed in an outside wall niche of St Peter's Basilica, pope Benedict XVI said he hoped it would serve as inspiration to "do one's daily work in the spirit of Christ." [29]

Doctrine

Opus Dei is an organization within the Catholic Church. As such, it shares the theology of the Catholic Church.

Opus Dei places special emphasis on certain aspects of Catholic doctrine. A central feature of Opus Dei's theology is its focus on the lives of the ordinary Catholics who are neither priests nor monks.[30][31][32] Opus Dei emphasizes the "universal call to holiness": the belief that everyone should aspire to be a saint, that sanctity is within the reach of everyone, not just a few special individuals.[33] Opus Dei does not have monks or nuns, and only a minority of its members are part of the priesthood.[34] A related characteristic is Opus Dei's emphasis on uniting spiritual life with professional, social, and family life. Whereas the members of some religious orders might live in monasteries and devote their lives exclusively to prayer and study, members of Opus Dei lead ordinary lives, with traditional families and secular careers,[35] and strive to "sanctify ordinary life". Indeed, Pope John Paul II called Escrivá "the saint of ordinary life".[36]

Similarly, Opus Dei stresses the importance of work and professional competence.[37][38] While some religious orders encourage their members to withdraw from the material world, Opus Dei's members are exhorted to "find God in daily life" and to perform their work excellently as a service to society and as a fitting offering to God.[39][40] Opus Dei teaches that work not only contributes to social progress but is "a path to holiness",[41] and its founder advised members to: "Sanctify your work. Sanctify yourself in your work. Sanctify others through your work."[42]

The basis for this Catholic doctrine, according to the founder, is in the Bible's teaching that "God created man to work" (Gen 2:15) and Jesus's long life as an ordinary carpenter in a small town.[43] Escrivá, who stressed the Christian's duty to follow Christ's example, also points to the gospel account that Jesus "has done everything well" (Mk 7:37).[44]

According to its official literature, some other main features of Opus Dei are: divine filiation, a sense of being children of God and bearers of Christ's mission; freedom, personal choice and responsibility; and charity, love of God above all and love of others.[35]

At the bottom of Escriva's understanding of the “universal call to holiness” are two dimensions, subjective and objective. The subjective is the call given to each person to become a saint, regardless of his place in society. The objective refers to what Escriva calls Christian materialism: all of creation, even the most material situation, is a meeting place with God, and leads to union with Him.[45]

Structure and activities

Leaders of Opus Dei describe the organization as a teaching entity, whereby Catholics are taught to assume personal responsibility in sanctifying the secular world from within.[46][16] Its lay people and priests organize seminars, workshops, retreats, and classes to help people put the Christian faith into practice in their daily lives. Spiritual direction, one-on-one coaching with a more experienced lay person or priest, is considered the "paramount means" of training. Through these activities they provide religious instruction (doctrinal formation), coaching in spirituality for lay people (spiritual formation), character and moral education (human formation), lessons in sanctifying one's work (professional formation), and know-how in evangelizing one's family and workplace (apostolic formation).

Supporters often liken Opus Dei to a family, and many say members of Opus Dei resemble the members of the early Christian Church — ordinary workers who seriously sought holiness with nothing exterior to distinguish them from other citizens.[47][48][49] In Pope John Paul II's 1982 decree known as the Apostolic constitution Ut Sit, Opus Dei was established as a personal prelature, an official structure of the Catholic Church like a diocese which contains lay people and secular priests who are led by a bishop.[1] In addition to being governed by Ut Sit and by canon law, Opus Dei is governed by the Vatican's Particular Law concerning Opus Dei, otherwise known as Opus Dei's statutes. This specifies the objectives and workings of the prelature. [50]

The head of the Opus Dei prelature is known as the Prelate.[1] The Prelate is the primary governing authority and is assisted by two councils — the General Council (made up of men) and the Central Advisory (made up of women).[51][52] The Prelate holds his position for life. The current prelate of Opus Dei is Monsignor Javier Echevarria, who became the second Prelate of Opus Dei in 1994.[53] The first Prelate of Opus Dei was Monsignor Álvaro del Portillo, who held the position from 1982 until his death in 1994.[53]

Leaders of Opus Dei describe the organization as a teaching entity, whereby Catholics are taught to assume personal responsibility in sanctifying the secular world from within.[46][16] Its lay people and priests organize seminars, workshops, retreats, and

classes to help people put the Christian faith into practice in their daily lives. Spiritual direction, one-on-one coaching with a more experienced lay person or priest, is considered the "paramount means" of training. Through these activities they provide religious instruction (doctrinal formation), coaching in spirituality for lay people (spiritual formation), character and moral education (human formation), lessons in sanctifying one's work (professional formation), and know-how in evangelizing one's family and workplace (apostolic formation).

Supporters often liken Opus Dei to a family, and many say members of Opus Dei resemble the members of the early Christian Church — ordinary workers who seriously sought holiness with nothing exterior to distinguish them from other citizens.[47][48][49] In Pope John Paul II's 1982 decree known as the Apostolic constitution Ut Sit, Opus Dei was established as a personal prelature, an official structure of the Catholic Church like a diocese which contains lay people and secular priests who are led by a bishop.[1] In addition to being governed by Ut Sit and by canon law, Opus Dei is governed by the Vatican's Particular Law concerning Opus Dei, otherwise known as Opus Dei's statutes. This specifies the objectives and workings of the prelature. [50]

The head of the Opus Dei prelature is known as the Prelate.[1] The Prelate is the primary governing authority and is assisted by two councils — the General Council (made up of men) and the Central Advisory (made up of women).[51][52] The Prelate holds his position for life. The current prelate of Opus Dei is Monsignor Javier Echevarria, who became the second Prelate of Opus Dei in 1994.[53] The first Prelate of Opus Dei was Monsignor Álvaro del Portillo, who held the position from 1982 until his death in 1994.[53]

Spiritual practice

All members - whether married or unmarried, priests or laypeople - are trained to follow a 'plan of life', or 'the norms of piety', which are some traditional Catholic devotions. This is meant to follow the teaching mentioned in the Catholic Catechism to "pray at specific times...to nourish continual prayer,"[62] which in turn is based on Jesus' "pray always" (Lk 18:1), echoed by St. Paul's "pray without ceasing" (1 Thes 5:17).

Daily norms:

Heroic minute, waking up on the dot and saying "Serviam!" (Latin: I will serve)
Morning offering, fixing one's intentions to do everything for the glory of God
Spiritual reading and reading the New Testament, a practice recommended by St. Paul and other saints
Mental prayer, conversation with God
Mass, Communion and Thanksgiving after Communion
Rosary, a traditional Catholic prayer to the Virgin Mary,
The Preces (the common prayer of Opus Dei)
Angelus prayer which recalls Christian belief in God's becoming man, said at noon
Memorare prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary offered for the Opus Dei member in most need at that exact moment
Visit to the Blessed Sacrament, a Catholic practice of greeting Jesus in the Eucharist
Examination of conscience at the end of the day:
Three Hail Marys before bed to pray for the virtue of purity
Short, spontaneous prayers throughout the day, offering up to God one's work, sufferings etc.

Weekly norms:

Confession, in pursuit of the Catholic recommendation on frequent confession
a group meeting of spiritual formation ("the Circle")
the praying of a Marian antiphon on Saturdays
taking Psalm 2 as the basis of mental prayer on Tuesdays
Additionally, members should participate yearly in a spiritual retreat; a three-week seminar every year is obligatory for numeraries, and a one-week seminar for supernumeraries. Also members are expected to make a day-trip pilgrimage where they recite 3 5-decade rosaries on the month of May in honor of Mary.

The observance of these acts of piety lead, through the sanctification of work and everyday life, to a spirit of joy and peace, according to Catholic spirituality.

Close-up of a cilice-- a small metal chain with inwardly-pointing spikes. Much public attention has focused on Opus Dei's practice of mortification — the voluntary offering up of discomfort or pain to God. Mortification has a long history in many world religions, including the Catholic Church. It has been endorsed by Popes as a way of following Christ who died in a bloody crucifixion and who gave this advice: "let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me." (Lk 9:23)[63] Supporters say that opposition to mortification is rooted in having lost (1) the "sense of the enormity of sin" or offense against God, (2) the notions of "wounded human nature" and of concupiscence or inclination to sin, and thus the need for "spiritual battle,"[64] and (3) a spirit of sacrifice for love and "supernatural ends," and not only for physical enhancement.

As a spirituality for ordinary people, Opus Dei focuses on performing sacrifices pertaining to normal duties and to its emphasis on charity and cheerfulness. Additionally, Opus Dei celibate members practice "corporal mortifications" such as sleeping without a pillow or sleeping on the floor, fasting, or remaining silent for certain hours during the day.[65][66] They may also wear a cilice, a small metal chain with inward-pointing spikes that is worn around their upper thigh. The cilice's spikes cause discomfort and may leave small marks, but typically do not cause bleeding.[67] Numeraries in Opus Dei generally wear a cilice for two hours each day.[65][68]

Although use of the cilice is no longer common, its practice in the Catholic Church is "more widespread than many observers imagine."[8] In modern times it has been used by Blessed Mother Teresa, Saint Padre Pio, and slain archbishop Óscar Romero. On the other hand, critics state that self-mortification is a "startling," "extreme," and "questionable" practice — one that borders on masochism.[69]

Escrivá's opponents refer to his personal mortification practices that were even more extreme than those typically performed by Opus Dei numeraries— in one incident, Escrivá flailed himself over a thousand times.[70][71] Opponents likewise criticize Escrivá's maxim on suffering: "Loved be pain. Sanctified be pain. Glorified be pain!" [65][72] Critics have cited mortification as one of the reasons for their opposition to Opus Dei.

Types of membership

Opus Dei is made up of several different types of membership:[7]

Supernumeraries, the largest type, currently account for about 70% of the total membership.[73] Typically, supernumeraries are married men and women with careers. Supernumeraries devote a portion of their day to prayer, in addition to attending regular meetings and taking part in activities such as retreats. Due to their career and family obligations, supernumeraries are not as available to the organization as the other types of members, but they typically contribute financially to Opus Dei, and they lend other types of assistance as their circumstances permit.

Numeraries, the second largest type of members of Opus Dei, comprise about 20% of total membership.[73] Numeraries are celibate members who usually live in special centers run by Opus Dei. Both men and women may become numeraries, although the centers are strictly gender-segregated.[74] Numeraries generally have careers and devote the bulk of their income to the organization.[75]

Numerary assistants are unmarried, celibate female members of Opus Dei. They live in special centers run by Opus Dei but do not have conventional jobs outside the centers — instead, their professional life is dedicated to looking after the domestic needs of the centers.

Monsignor Javier Echevarria, the current Prelate of Opus DeiAssociates are unmarried, celibate members who typically have family or professional obligations.[75] Unlike numeraries and numerary assistants, the associates do not live inside the special Opus Dei centers.[76]

The Clergy of the Opus Dei Prelature are priests who are under the jurisdiction of the Prelate of Opus Dei. They are a minority in Opus Dei— only about 2% of Opus Dei members are part of the clergy.[73] Typically, they are numeraries or associates who ultimately joined the priesthood.

The Priestly Society of the Holy Cross consists of priests associated with Opus Dei. Part of the society is made up of the clergy of the Opus Dei prelature — members of the priesthood who fall under the jurisdiction of the Opus Dei prelature are automatically members of the Priestly Society. Other members in the society are traditional diocesan priests — clergymen who remain under the jurisdiction of a geographically-defined diocese. Technically speaking, such diocesan priests have not "joined" Opus Dei membership, although they have joined a society that is closely affiliated with Opus Dei.[77]

The Cooperators of Opus Dei are those who, despite not being members of Opus Dei, collaborate in some way with Opus Dei — usually through praying, charitable contributions, or by providing some other assistance. Cooperators are not required to be celibate or to adhere to any other special requirements. Indeed, cooperators are not even required to be Christian.[77]

In accordance with Catholic theology, membership is granted when a vocation, or divine calling is presumed to have occurred.


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