The Physiognomy of Opus Dei on the Occasion of Another February 14th Shows Off the Beauty of the Church.

Three Recognitions of Opus Dei by the Holy See: 1943 “Appositio Manuum” (Nihil Obstat); 1947 “Decretum Laudis” (Secular Institute); 1950 Definitive Approval.

I) “Appositio Manuum,” October 11, 1943: Nihil Obstat on Opus Dei: Today should be a feast for the universal Church since what happened for Opus Dei today in 1943 happened for the universal Church in the promulgation of Lumen Gentium (The “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church”) on November 21, 1964 during the Second Vatican Council. On this date in 1943, the Holy See put its hands [“apposition manuum”] over Opus Dei approving the radical equality of laity and priests as “sharing one and the same basic theological condition and belong (ing) to the same primary common category.”[1] The founder of Opus Dei, St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer remarked: “In Opus Dei we’re all equal. There’s only a practical difference: [the ministerial] priests are more bound to place their hearts on the floor like a carpet, so that their brothers and sisters may tread softly.”[2]

II) Decretum Laudis: February 24, 1947.The Pontifical Approval of Opus Dei: February 24, 1947: The Secular Institute.

The Fact: On February 24, 1947 “The Priestly Society of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei” was granted pontifical approval de iure as a Secular Institute – in fact, the first – which was formalized in the Decretum laudis, “Primum Institutum.” De facto, Opus Dei’s real nature transcended this juridical conceit, but had to wait for the Second Vatican Council and its provision for the “personal prelature” (see below).

III) The Definitive Approval. June 16, 1950. Opus Dei is not another institution in the Church, but, as Prelature, the Church-itself-writ-small. Three years after the Decretum Laudis in 1947, with a surge of vocations and extension to many countries, the founder of Opus Dei petitioned for definitive approval on February 11 and received it on June 16 that same year. He said at the end of 1949: “the definitive approval, my daughters and sons, will give a new stability, an arm of defense, greater ease in apostolic work; it will firmly set the fundamental principles of the Work: secularity, the sanctification of work, the fact that we are ordinary citizens and, above all, especially in the spiritual aspect, the conviction that we are sons of God.”

This brings us again to consider the real nature of Opus Dei. It is a portion of the People of God, with its own Prelate who ihas the function of a bishop, its laity and priests who do not form a group apart but foster unity in the parish, diocese and universal Church. John Paul II asserted, “I wish to emphasize that the lay faithful, by belonging both to their own particular Church and also to the Prelature (Opus Dei), in which they are incorporated, enable the specific mission of the Prelature to blend with the evangelizing task of each particular Church, as was foreseen by the Second Vatican Council in its vision of personal Prelatures” (Address at an audience for participants at a seminar on `Novo Millennio Ineunte’ organized by the Opus Dei Prelature, March 17, 2001).

D. Pedro Rodriguez affirmed that Opus Dei “is an institution whose internal structure replicates the basic ecclesial connection between the common priesthood of the faithful laity possessed by virtue of baptism, and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood, possessed by the clerics incardinated in it” (“Opus Dei in the Church,” Scepter Publishers (1994) 38).

Again, priesthood means mediation. The priesthood of the Old Testament and paganism were extrinsic mediations, i.e., between this thing or person and the deity. As we saw above in the footnote 1, the priesthood of Jesus Christ is radically different in that He, Jesus, mediates between Himself and the Father for us. He, both God and man, masters himself as man to make the gift of His divine Self to the Father in His Humanity. He is Priest of his own existence.[1]

The Christian is baptized into this intrinsic priesthood of Christ and shares in its dynamic of self-giving. He becomes “priest of his own existence.” By another sacrament, Orders, the baptized person shares in an irreducibly different way in the one and same priesthood of Christ whereby he is empowered to act “in persona Christi.”

 “The Christian laity are charged with carrying out an apostolic mission. Their specific competence in various human activities is, in the first place, a God-given instrument to `enable the proclamation of Christ to reach people, mould communities, and have a deep and incisive influence in bringing Gospel values to bear in society and culture.’ They are thereby spurred on to place their own skills effectively at the service of the `new frontiers,’ which are seen as challenges to the Church’s saving presence in the world.”

“The priests, for their part, have a primary and irreplaceable role: to help souls, one by one, through the sacraments, preaching and spiritual direction, to open themselves to the gift of grace. A spirituality of communion will best strengthen the role of each ecclesial element” (“Address at an audience for participants at a seminar on `Novo Millennio Ineunte’ organized by the Opus Dei Prelature,” March 17, 2001).

The role of the Prelate is to affirm both laymen and priests to make the respective gift of self and thus form the “communio personarum,” while directing them on their secular mission to place Christ at the summit of all human activities. Hence, the  Prelate governs by engendering them as sons and daughters – loving them – as Father. Hence, the Prelate in Opus Dei is, and will always be, “the Father” for both laymen and priests.

As a result, the physiognomy of Opus Dei is configured on the dynamic of the sacraments of Baptism and Orders each of which confers “character” and hence establishes the ontological irreducibility of each (Lumen Gentium #10) as the diversely directed relations of self-gift: laity to the world, minister to the laity. The act of this self-giving is taken from participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which comes to be lived out “in the street” according to the “dimension” and “character” of secularity (See John Paul II’s “Christifideles Laici” #15).

              This is the “Spirituality of Communio” that John Paul II called for in “Novo Millennio Ineunte” #43). We find here John Paul’s description of the “substantial priority” of the “Church of Mary” (the laity) that is served by the Church of Peter that has a “functional” priority in that the laity cannot exercise their sharing in the priesthood of Christ without the ministering of the minister. In the graphic phrase of St. Josemaria, “In Opus Dei we’re all equal. There’s only a practical difference: priests are more bound to place their hearts on the floor like a carpet, so that their brothers and sisters may tread softly” (“Opus Dei in Church,” ibid. 38). The sacramental/sacrificial gift of self becomes act in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Hence, Opus Dei is essentially the “organic convergence” of these two irreducibly different ways of living the one priesthood of Christ dynamized by the act of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on the occasion of work in the secular world.


[1] Jesus Christ is prototype of priest, understood as mediator between persons and God. The Church, in the Council of Chalcedon (451), defined Christ as one Person and two natures, divine and human, the human nature being endued with a human intellect, human will,  human feelings, etc. Since only persons are understood as the protagonists of free actions, the Person of Christ is the protagonist of His human acts.  He is not moved by anything but His own divine “I.” To obey the will of the Father to go to death on the Cross, the divine “I” must subdue His human will and His entire Humanity to make the gift of Himself, and in so doing He mediates between Himself and the Father. This is the prototypical meaning of priesthood, and it could take place only where to act as man, the God-man must subdue His human will and His entire human nature by which He gives Himself  to the Father. Jesus Christ is the prototypical Priest.  All other priesthood involves being in the image and likeness of Christ and/or being baptized into Him.

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