Opus Dei, A Communio Beyond an Institution.

Opus Dei has 3 elements: 1) Laity, 2)Ministers, 3) Act of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which is the act of self-gift given to both priests and laity. As such Opus Dei is not (properly speaking) an “objective” institution but a “subjective” communion where each element cannot do/be without the others.

“… (O)n November 1982, Pope John Paul II signed the Apostolic Constitution Ut sit, establishing Opus Dei as a personal prelature. This was a decisive event in the process whereby Opus Dei assumed the canonical structure suited to its theological and spiritual reality. A few months later, on 19 March 1983, the oral promulgation of the Constitution took place in a ceremony during which Archbishop Romolo Carboni papal nuncio to Italy, solemnly presented the papal bull to the prelate of Opus Dei.”



Pedro Rodriguez writes:

“Opus Dei’s social arrangement as a ‘Christian community’ stems from what we have called the ‘internal dimension of the Church’s structure.’ That is, it is born of mutual relations of laity (christifideles) and ministerial priests (‘sacred ministers,’) or, if you prefer, it derives from the two ways of participating in Christ’s priesthood. That is also why Opus Dei as a social reality in the Church is organic and undivided. Its lay faithful (men and women) and the priests who act as its clergy complement each other in exemplary adherence to the basic aboriginal relationship obtaining in the Church between lay faithful – called to live out the requirements and implications of their baptism – and the priests, who bring in, besides, the ‘ministerial’ consequences of the sacrament of Orders. As the Work’s Statues (no. 1) put it: ‘Opus Dei is a prelature embracing in its bosom… clerics and lay people.’ This statement is then developed: ‘The ministerial priesthood of the clergy and the common priesthood of the lay people are so intimately linked[2] that both, in unity of vocation and government, require and complement each other… in striving for the end proper to the prelature’… (the spread of sanctity in ordinary life). “So, what we find in Opus Dei, different yet complementing one another are the two ecclesial forms of participating in Christ’s priesthood.” Both laymen and ministers are priests since they mediate to each other as self-gift. “We find both the ‘substantial’ priority of Opus Dei’s lay faithful, at whose service is the priestly ministry, and the ‘functional’ priority of the sacred ministry, in whose head (the prelate) resides the sacra potestas that governs the prelature. The clergy’s ‘functional’ priority was described by the founder when he said that the ministerial priesthood ‘impregnates with its spirit our personal life and all our apostolic work’… Graphically, the founder told the Work’s priests that their task is to be a ‘carpet’ for others. He wrote: ‘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.’”[3] (p. 38).
Hence, Opus Dei is not another structure in the Church, but “a little bit of the Church” herself, as remarked by the founder (Rodriguez, p. 1). The novelty of Opus Dei is that it is the Church itself writ small. It is not another structure of the Church, although it is a hierarchical communio in the Church. It can only be understood by analogy to a particular Church or diocese of the Church, but without geographical presence. Its specific characteristic[4] is “secularity” in that each faithful of the prelature, be he ministerial priest or lay faithful, achieves identity with Christ in the exercise of professional, secular work. Its mission is the diffusion of this spirit of becoming “another Christ,” and therefore Church, by the mastery of self and gift of self in the execution of work.
As “a little bit of the Church,” Opus Dei is not an added structural institution in the Church. It is like David who offered himself to do battle with Goliath. Saul, fearful himself, dressed David in his armor: helmet, shield, breast-plate, etc. David, however, having never used such an impediment was not able to walk and removed it all save the loin cloth and the sling shot. Ratzinger commented: “There are some very real grounds to fear that the Church may assume too many institutions of human law, which then become the armor of Saul making it difficult for the young David to walk. We must always ascertain if institutions which were once useful still serve a purpose. The only the people of God, centered on the Eucharist” (“30 Days” No. 5 – 1998 p. 22).

To be more explicit, the only powers the Church needs to conquer hearts are those of the Person of Christ: the sacrament of Baptism, the sacrament of Orders and the action of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. That is the reality of the prelature. Its mission is the diffusion of the flame of self-giftedness of the person.
And so, on May 2, 1986, Pope John Paul II did not accept the suggestion of St. Josemaria that La Hermita de la Santa Cruz be the site of the Prelatic Church, but rather the oratory of Santa Maria de la Paz of Cavabianca where Escriva himself is buried, giving us to understand that Escriva Himself as “Ipse Christus,” “alter Christus,” is the cornerstone on which Opus Dei rests. This brings me back to the letter sent to us by Javier Echevarria in 1995 that read: “In order to se rve the Church in Opus Dei, everyting must always be understood and carried out, taking as its starting point out Father’s foundational charism. This charism, which was a gratuitous supernatural reality, endures in the Work, endowing it with well defined characteristics. The Holy Spirit didn’t place it in our Father’s soul merely with a view to his personal response to God, but so that it would give shape for centuries to come to the Work our Lord was entrusting him with. This charism cannot become, therefore, a mere historical reference taking us back to the past. It is, through God’s mercy, a living and effective reality in Ops Dei, a power, a grace, from which we all ought to draw nourishment and which we all have the duty of guarding and passing on … At some time in the 1960’s we received an article about the Work written by a religious in very affectionate terms. Describing the early period of our history, he referred to ‘Don Josemaria Escriva and his companions.’ Don Alvaro wrote a note in the margin saying clearly that ‘we weren’t the Father’s companions,’ but his children, who sought to follow him faithfully.’ In the Work there have never been ‘companions’ of our Father – that was not the Will of God (in fact, this was another way in which God emphasized the unity which is proper to the Work). There were just sons and daughters: children, who were clearly ware that our Father, and he alone, was the Founder and Father of this portion of the People of God., which was coming into being like those Christian communities in the early days of the Church.


“On 2 October 1928 our Father, who in his humility used to describe himself as an inept and deaf instrument saw the Work for the first time. On that day God infused in his soul a powerful light, a profound interior motion, a clear awareness of the divine will and he saw the Work for the first time. On that day God infused in his soul a powerful light, a profound interior motion, a clear awareness of the divine will and he saw the nature and mission of Opus Dei in the Church and in the world. He saw, we could say, the essential nucleus of Opus Dei, in the way God had defined and planned it. That day, as our Father was later to comment and put in writing, our Lord founded his Work. Opus Dei, as an act of mercy of God in human history, was already a reality in time, through our Founder’s presence alone.
“That first radical manifestation of the foundational charism which took place on October 1928, that illumination regarding the whole Work, was later complete by other divine interventions which guided and directed our Father. He allowed himself to be led in complete docility to God’s Will. All the different aspects of the gift that our Father received, gradually unfolded throughout his personal life. Thus he carried the whole process of the foundation through to its conclusion, in that spirit of generosity with which at every moment of his life he responded to the grace he had received on that blessed 2 October 1928.”


[1] John F. Coverdale, “Saxum” Scepter 2014, 131.
[2] 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.
[3] Rodriguez, op cit. 38.
[4] See “Christifideles Laici” #15.

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