Love For Christ, The Church and The Work

This a meditation Preached on Monday September 19, 2016

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The Ordination of the First Three Priests of the Personal Prelature Opus Dei

The Supernatural Intervention For the Existence of the Hierarchical Priesthood in Opus Dei

1) February 14, 1943: The Priestly Society of the Holy Cross Escriva could find no juridical structure that could sustain the presence of priests and laity with the same vocation to sanctity and apostolate with the characteristic of secularity. That is, there was no juridical path in the Church where laymen and priests could have the same vocation to sanctity through the exercise of secular work. The Vatican had told him, previous to that date [2/14/43], that he was 100 years ahead of his time and that he should come back and try again in 100 years. the juridical path to sanctity existed for an elite in the Church who were called to renounce the world and take vows of poverty, chastity (celibacy) and obedience. There was no juridical way to stay in the world and pursue sanctity. Christ had called all to the perfection of sanctity, and the way was open to all. But there was no experience of a beaten path and the recognition of a spirituality of doing so. And the reason for the priests was not to be an elite, but to serve the laity in the triple function of celebrating Mass, preaching the Word, and administering the sacraments, especially confession. They were to be as a carpet so that the others could step softly: to do (priestly work) and disappear. So Beautiful!! Down with clericalism!

Undaunted and determined, he had three numerary (celibate) laymen begin studies for ordination under his orientation, together with prestigious professors he enlisted. He wrote: “Time went by. We prayed. The three who were to be ordained [engineers] as the first priests of the Work were studying very hard, putting their hearts into it. Then, one day…”

Before going on, consider that Opus Dei was an eminently secular reality from first sighting it on October 2, 1928. St. Josemaria “saw” laymen – not women – and priests. The women came in 1930 and the priests in 1943, both on February 14, during Holy Mass. He did not know who they were to be, or how they were to fit. In 1940, he wrote: “Two topics of capital importance: the women and the priests.” Vazquez de Prada (Andres Vazquez de Prada, “The Life of Josemaria Escriva,” Scepter, 2003, VOl. II continues: “Both groups were essential, and in the 1930’s Father Josemaria had launched initiatives with both, only to see them fail. Yet in both cases the efforts were renewed. It was as if, after preliminary drafts, God had given the founder fresh pages on which to compose the definitive versions. Certain by now that the priests had to come from within Opus Dei itself, Father Josemaria retraced his steps. He wrote:

“In the early years, I accepted the help of a few priests who wanted to bind themselves to Opus Dei in some way. But God soon made it quite clear to me that, although they were good people (some of them outstandingly good), they were not the ones called to carry out that mission. And so, in an early document, I indicated that for the time being – I would later let them know till when – they should limit themselves to administering the sacraments and to strictly ecclesiastical functions…. At the end of 1930, Father Josemaria had written: `The priest members have to come from among the lay members.”

Given the fact of the pre-eminently lay character of Opus Dei, the fact that the priests were to come from the laity meant that the priest in Opus Dei had to be nothing but priest. What was needed from the priest was that he be priest and nothing but priest since everything else was given in the lay members of the Work. Hence, St. Josemaria, shortly after the Ordination of the first three on June 25, 1944, wrote:

“We need priests with our spirit: priests who are well prepared, cheerful, and effective, with a sportsmanlike attitude toward life, who joyfully sacrifice themselves for their brothers and sisters without seeing themselves as victims, and who know that everyone in the Work loves them wholeheartedly. My children, pray hard that they be very cheerful, very holy, that they do not think about themselves, but only about the glory of god and good of souls.

“Our priest must have in their souls a basic disposition to spend themselves entirely in the service of their brothers and sisters, convinced that the ministry to which they have been called, within Opus Dei, is a great honor, but above all a great burden – easy to bear, however, if they strive to be very united to our Lord, since his yoke is always easy and his burden light – `iugum meum suave est, et onus meum leve.’

He then repeatedly said to them:

“Be priests first of all. And then, priests. And always and in everything, only priests.
“Speak only of God.
“When a penitent wants you, drop whatever you are doing and take care of him.”

* * *

Then, “On the morning of February 14, 1943 – already a day of thanksgiving for the Work as the anniversary of the founding of the women’s branch on February 14, 1930 – Father Josemaria left early to say Mass for his daughters in the oratory of Jorge Manrique. They all participated with great devotion, and he was immersed in God throughout the Holy Sacrifice.

“As soon as Mass was over, he took out his notebook and wrote on the page for February 14, feast of Saint Valentine, `In the house of the women, during Holy Mass: “Societas Sacerdotalis Sanctae Crucis” [The Priestly Society of the Holy Cross].” And then, on that same page, he made a little drawing, of a circle with a cross inside it. After making his thanksgiving, he went downstairs, asked for a sheet of paper, and went into a small reception room, while his daughters waited for him in the vestibule.

Encarnita later wrote:

“A few minutes later he reappeared in the vestibule, and it was clear he was deeply moved. `Look,’ he told us, pointing to a sheet on which he had drawn a circle with a cross of special proportion in its center, `this will be the seal of the Work. The seal, not the coat of arms.’ Opus Dei will not have a coat of arms. It represents the world, and, in the very heart of the world, the Cross.”

With the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross in Opus Dei but not part of its juridical structure but intimately connected to its spirit, the first three (professionally engineers), who had already been doing the theological and philosophical requirements for hierarchical priesthood, were now poised for ordination to be at the service of their lay brothers and sisters – and the world.

Opus Dei was an eminently lay reality from first sighting it on October 2, 1928. St. Josemaria “saw” laymen – not women – and priests. The women came in 1930 and the priests in 1943, both on February 14, during Holy Mass. He did not know who they were to be, or how they were to fit. In 1940, he wrote:  “Two topics of capital importance: the women and the priests.” Vazquez de Prada continues: “Both groups were essential, and in the 1930’s Father Josemaria had launched initiatives with both, only to see them fail. Yet in both cases the efforts were renewed. It was as if, after preliminary drafts, God had given the founder fresh pages on which to compose the definitive versions. Certain by now that the priests had to come from within Opus Dei itself, Father Josemaria retraced his steps. He wrote:

“In the early years, I accepted the help of a few priests who wanted to bind themselves to Opus Dei in some way. But God soon made it quite clear to me that, although they were good people (some of them outstandingly good), they were not the ones called to carry out that mission. And so, in an early document, I indicated that for the time being – I would later let them know till when – they should limit themselves to administering the sacraments and to strictly ecclesiastical functions…. At the end of 1930, Father Josemaria had written: `The priest members have to come from among the lay members.”[1]

Given the fact of the pre-eminently lay character of Opus Dei, the fact that the priests were to come from the laity meant that the priest in Opus Dei had to be nothing but priest. What was needed from the priest was that he be priest and nothing but priest since everything else was given in the lay members of the Work. Hence, St. Josemaria, shortly after the Ordination of the first three on June 25, 1944, wrote:

“We need priests with our spirit: priests who are well prepared, cheerful, and effective, with a sportsmanlike attitude toward life, who joyfully sacrifice themselves for their brothers and sisters without seeing themselves as victims, and who know that everyone in the Work loves them wholeheartedly. My children, pray hard that they be very cheerful, very holy, that they do not think about themselves, but only about the glory of god and good of souls.

             “Our priest must have in their souls a basic disposition to spend themselves entirely in the service of their brothers and sisters, convinced that the ministry to which they have been called, within Opus Dei, is a great honor, but above all a great burden – easy to bear, however, if they strive to be very united to our Lord, since his yoke is always easy and his burden light – `iugum meum suave est, et onus meum leve.’

             He then repeatedly said to them:

“Be priests first of all. And then, priests. And always and in everything, only priests.

“Speak only of God.

“When a penitent wants you, drop whatever you are doing and take care of him.”[2]

* * *

       Concerning the juridical nature of the “Priestly Society of the Holy Cross,” Vazquez de Prada wrote: “The founder was anxious to make sure that this difficult juridical operation did not give rise to the least deviation from the true nature of Opus Dei. Studying all the juridical possibilities, he concluded that the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross would have to be a ‘society of common life without vows.’ ‘This,’ the Code specified, ‘is not a religious institution, properly speaking, nor can its memebers be designated by the term ‘religious’ in its proper sinse.’ Such societies could vary greatly in their setups and rules and, by concesssion of the Holy See, could incorporate priests as members on a stable basis. Taking this route would go a long way toward solving two problems that of how to safeguard the secular nature of Opus Dei, and that of how to obtain for the new priests a title allowing them a ministry unreservedly dedicated to Opus Dei…. To emphasize that the priests of the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross would not form a separate group but would have a unity of vocaton and life with the rest of the members of Opus Dei, the founder established that they would have to come from the ranks of the lay members and that, once ordained, they would provide service exclusivley to their brothers and sisters in the Work, most of whom would remain ordinary Christians under the name of Opus Dei, ‘ a work proper to, united to, and inseparable from the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross.’

Vaquez de Prada puts in a foot note that this language of “proper to, united to, and inseparable from the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross” makes it sound

Footnote #55 of John Paul II in his encyclical “Dignity and Vocation of Women:”

The priority of the priesthood of the layman (and therefore the woman) over the ministerial priesthood (Orders):              

The point being the “substantial priority” of the lay faithful [the Marian dimension] over the ministerial priest [the Petrine dimension], and the “functional priority” of the ministerial priest over the lay faithful.

This Marian profile is also—even perhaps more so—fundamental and characteristic for the Church as is the apostolic and Petrine profile to which it is profoundly united…. The Marian dimension of the Church is antecedent to that of the Petrine, without being in any way divided from it or being less complementary. Mary Immaculate precedes all others, including obviously Peter himself and the Apostles. This is so, not only because Peter and the Apostles, being born of the human race under the burden of sin, form part of the Church which is ‘holy from out of sinners,’ but also because their triple function has no other purpose except to form the Church in line with the ideal of sanctity already programmed and prefigured in Mary”[i]

[i] “Address to the Cardinal and Prelates of the Roman Curia” (December 22, 1987) in L’Osservatore Romano, December 23, 1987.

[1] Andres Vazquez de Prada, “The Founder of Opus Dei,” Volume II: God and Daring, Scepter (2003) 420.

[2] Ibid 454.

 

The Importance of Opus Dei with regard to the spirituality asked of laity and priests – and marriage

It must be made clear that the call to sanctity in the Church became quickly restricted to a special state in life of an elite few which was the religious state charcacterized by the separation from ordinary secular life and the taking of the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience – where poverty meant owning nothing, chastity meant celibacy, and obedience meant to be as a cadaver before the will of the superior.

I hasten to add that Chapter nine of “Amoris Laetitia” (nor the entire document) would make no sense if the spirit of Opus Dei had not entered into the mainstream of the Church. Consider AL #316:

  1. A positive experience of family communion is a true path to daily sanctification and mystical growth, a means for deeper union with God. The fraternal and communal demands of family life are an incentive to growth in openness of heart and thus to an ever fuller encounter with the Lord…. Since “the human person has an inherent social dimension”,372 and “the first and basic expression of that social dimension of the person is the married couple and the family”,373 spirituality becomes incarnate in the communion of the family. Hence, those who have deep spiritual aspirations should not feel that the family detracts from their growth in the life of the Spirit, but rather see it as a path which the Lord is using to lead them to the heights of mystical union.”

 

Three Recognitions of Opus Dei by the Holy See  prior to the establishment of the Personal Prelature on Nov. 28, 1982: 1943 “Appositio Manuum” (Nihil Obstat); 1947 “Decretum Laudis” (Secular Institute); 1950 The Definitive Approval.

 

  1. I) “Appositio Manuum,” October 11, 1943: Nihil Obstat concerning 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 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] Blogger: Basically this nihil obstat was the beginning of the dagger pluned into the heart of Clericalism

 

  1. 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)June 16, 1950: The Definitive Approval. 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 is 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, 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).

  1. 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).

 

Priesthood means mediation. The priesthood of the Old Testament and paganism were extrinsic mediations, i.e., between this thing or person and the deity. 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.

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 priesthood of layman and priest is one and the same, that of Christ, but shared in essentially different ways (Lumen Gentium #10). As Christ the Priest, they are radically equal, but with a functional diversity, as is so with the entire Church. But, of course, what is Opus Dei except a small portion of the Church to be understood and explained by analogy to a particular Church or diocese. The mission of the layman is to make the gift of self to the world on the occasion of his professional secular work. The mission of the priest is serve the layman, activating his priesthood by preaching the Word, celebrating Holy Mass and administering the sacraments, particularly the sacrament of penance. John Paul II said it this way: “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.