Opus Dei

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The Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei, commonly known as Opus Dei (Latin for "Work of God") or the Work, is an international organization of the Roman Catholic Church whose mission is to spread the Christian message that God calls everyone to become a saint and that ordinary life is a path to sanctity. The Opus Dei prelature comprises ordinary lay people and secular priests governed by a prelate.

Founded in 1928 by a Catholic priest, Saint Josemaría Escrivá, Opus Dei was established as a personal prelature by Pope John Paul II in 1982. The first, and so far the only one, this prelature now coexists with episcopal dioceses as an official part of the Church's institutional structures. Opus Dei has around 87,000 members.

Various Popes and Catholic Church leaders strongly support what they see as Opus Dei's innovative teaching on the sanctifying value of work in the secular world and its loyalty to the Church. Still, since its foundation Opus Dei has been subjected to criticism and opposition. Liberals and secularists accuse it of secrecy, elitism, ultraconservatism, and support for the extreme right-wing in politics. Some ex-members accuse it of cult-like recruitment and of violating their rights.

CNN's Vatican analyst, John L. Allen, Jr., and Dr. Vittorio Messori, journalists and Catholics, stated that these accusations are mere myths, a far cry from Opus Dei's reality. In 1994, Dr. Massimo Introvigne, a prolific sociologist and conservative Catholic scholar, stated that Opus Dei had been the target of secularists intolerant of what he saw as a "return to religion" in society. In his view, its opponents unfairly stigmatize Opus Dei. Allen describes Opus Dei as "the most controversial force in the Catholic Church", receiving both support and opposition. Due to this, many Catholics see Opus Dei as a sign of contradiction.

Teachings of Opus Dei

As an organisation within the Catholic Church, Opus Dei shares its doctrines, while emphasising certain Catholic spiritual teachings:[1]

Universal call to holiness
Opus Dei lays stress on the universal call to holiness that is embodied in Jesus’ command: Love God with all your heart. Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect. Sanctity is not just for monks and priests, says Escrivá; it is also easily accessible for ordinary Christians.[2] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (2002) said that Escriva corrected a mistaken idea of holiness as being reserved to some extraordinary people who are completely different from us ordinary sinners. Even if he can be very weak, with many mistakes in his life, a saint is nothing other than to speak with God as a friend speaks with a friend, allowing God to work, the Only One who can really make the world both good and happy, states Ratzinger.[3]
Holiness in ordinary life
Escrivá —a "Christ-centred" saint, says Ratzinger— emphasised that ordinary Christians follow Jesus, God the Son, who worked as a carpenter and lived as a son in a Jewish family in a small village for 30 years.
Sanctifying work
Since the Bible stated that man was created "to work" (Gen 2:15) and that Jesus "did all things well" (Mk 7:37), Escrivá encouraged Christians to work excellently out of love. By doing so, their work is a service to society and a fitting offering to God. "'Great' holiness consists in carrying out the 'little duties' of each moment", says Escrivá.
Secularity and freedom
Opus Dei stresses that each person is free —in control of his actions— and thus responsible for his spiritual and social life. Jesus redeemed us with the free choice of love: As man, he obeyed his Father's will throughout his life of work, "unto death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:8). Each one then directs himself with autonomy in earthly affairs towards eternal union with or separation from God, the two ultimate ends of life.
Contemplatives in the middle of the world
In Escriva's doctrine, all of creation is sanctified by the God-made-flesh: movies, boardrooms, gardens, sports are meeting points with the Father God who is near. This message, says Franz Cardinal König (1975), the perceived leader of the "progressivists" in Vatican II, shows that the two separated worlds of religious life and professional life "should in fact walk together."
Charity and daily evangelization
Holiness, according to Catholic theology, is a response of love to God's self-sacrificing love. And love is nurtured by regular acts of prayer ("norms of piety") which are centred on Christ in the Eucharist. Charity consists of understanding, compassion, courtesy, helping the needy, fraternal correction, and cheer, Escrivá says. Love is orderly and should start with one's duties. Charity entails apostolate, leading people to God.
Unity of life
By practicing these teachings, a Christian has no double life, according to Escriva. He has a unity of life. This is a profound union with Jesus Christ, both fully God and fully man, one person in whom divine power is fused with ordinary human activity. With this, a Christian's work becomes God's redeeming work, opus Dei. It is thus that a Christian is alter Christus, ipse Christus, another Christ, Christ himself in whatever role he plays.
Divine filiation and joy
According to Escrivá, the foundation of the Christian life is one's "divine filiation": being children of God, "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Pt 1:4), the deep awareness of which brings about immense happiness: "Joy comes from knowing we are children of God." Opus Dei, Escrivá says, is "a smiling asceticism."

That everyone is called to sanctity was already taught by Augustine of Hippo, Francis of Sales, and Alphonsus Liguori, but their emphasis was on prayer and liturgical devotions, basically monastic spirituality applied to lay people. "Escrivá is more radical", writes Cardinal Luciani (1977), who later became Pope John Paul I. "For him, it is the material work itself which must be turned into prayer and sanctity", thus providing a lay spirituality.


Opus Dei has about 87,000 members in more than 90 different countries.[4] About 60% of Opus Dei members reside in Europe, and 35% reside in the Americas.[5] For the most part, Opus Dei members belong to the middle-to-low levels in society, in terms of education, income, and social status.[6]

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.[8] 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.[8] 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.[9] Numeraries generally have careers and devote the bulk of their income to the organization.[10]

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

Associates are unmarried, celibate members who typically have family or professional obligations.[10] Unlike numeraries and numerary assistants, the associates do not live in Opus Dei centers.[11]

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.[8] 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 diocesan priests — clergymen who remain under the jurisdiction of a geographically-defined diocese. These priests are considered members of Opus Dei who are given its spiritual training. They do not however report to the Opus Dei Prelate but to their own diocesan bishop.[12]

The Cooperators of Opus Dei are non-members who 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.[12]

In accordance with Catholic theology, membership is granted when a vocation, or divine calling is presumed to have occurred.[13]


  1. See works of Escrivá and commentaries such as Belda, M.; Escudero J.; Illanes, J.L.; & O'Callaghan, P. (Eds.) (1997). Holiness and the World: Studies in the Teachings of Blessed Josemariá Escrivá. Scepter Publications. — collection of contributions to a theological symposium; contributors include Ratzinger, del Portillo, Cottier, dalla Torre, Ocariz, Illanes, Aranda, Burggraf and an address by John Paul II ISBN 1-890177-04-0
  2. In order to reach sanctity, an ordinary Christian — who is not a religious — has no reason to abandon the world, since that is precisely where he is to find Christ. He needs no external signs, such as a habit or insignias. All the signs of his dedication are internal: a constant presence of God and a spirit of mortification. Josemaria Escriva, Christ is Passing By, No. 9[1]
  3. ibid.
  4. John Coverdale (2002). Uncommon Faith: The early years of Opus Dei, 1928-1943. Four Courts Press. 
  5. Opus Dei: Its Mission, Structure and Members. Zenit News Agency. Retrieved on 2006-11-27.
  6. Messori, Vittorio (1997). Opus Dei, Leadership and Vision in Today's Catholic Church. Regnery Publishing. ISBN 0-89526-450-1. 
  7. Opus Dei. BBC Religion and Ethics. Retrieved on 2006-11-27.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Catholics scrutinize enigmatic Opus Dei. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved on 2006-11-27. mirrored on RickRoss.com
  9. Conservative Catholic Influence in Europe. Center for Research on Population and Security. Retrieved on 2006-11-27.
  10. 10.0 10.1 James Martin, S.J.. Opus Dei In the United States. America: The National Catholic Weekly. Retrieved on 2006-11-27.
  11. Opus Dei. Cephas Library. Retrieved on 2006-11-27.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Pedro Rodriguez, Fernando Ocariz, Jose Luis Illanes (2003). Opus Dei in the Church. Scepter. 
  13. The Vocation to Opus Dei. Retrieved on 2008-09-07.