I’ll Be Doing Opus Dei No Matter What

The organization Opus Dei has always had difficulty fitting into the greater structure of the Catholic Church. But the fundamental mission of Opus Dei is still fundamentally the mission of the baptized.

No matter what happens with the Vatican, I’ll keep doing Opus Dei. 

This should not be viewed as a challenge to or disrespect for Pope Francis, or even of his canonical advisers. May God bless them abundantly one and all. This statement is merely the reality of my baptismal promises. 

Opus Dei is both complicated and quite simple. It is complicated in how it fits as an institution into the Church and simple in what it calls its adherents to do. 

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First, the complication. It was both a new thing and a newish thing. 

It was newish in that the Church seemed to have forgotten the lay vocation. The rise of the religious orders through the Middle Ages implied to many that the friars and monks and nuns were the spiritual athletes, and we could achieve holiness insofar as we attached ourselves to them. To be sure, this view was not universal, but it was wide and deep enough that the universal call to holiness in 1928 seemed new. It was, in fact, ancient but maybe a tad forgotten.  

The new thing was the idea that men and women, celibate and married, lay and ordained, could have “a single unique vocation” within the same institution. That was new and certainly seemed a bad—even threatening—idea to many. How could it possibly be that a layman would have the same “unique vocation” as a priest? And where would such an institution connect to the Church?

And so, with this new and newish thing, St. Josemaría went looking for a home in the Church. Where could this new and newish thing plug into Rome? It was not an easy path and appears uneasy now. In its essential organizational structure, Opus Dei must be unitary and interdiocesan. Nothing quite seemed to fit. The path proceeded along, in the words of St. Josemaría, “the least unsuitable way.” 

First came a diocesan “Pious Union” in 1941. Pious Unions were created to “carry out any work of piety or charity.” This allowed Opus Dei, then no more than 50 members, to present itself to bishops as an institution of the Church. Not long afterward, as Opus Dei expanded to 100 members, it became clear that Opus Dei needed priests of its own, ordained from its ranks. The bishop of Madrid allowed for the creation of a “society of common life without vows” that became the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross. The members of the Priestly Society were members of Opus Dei as were the lay faithful. But this arrangement was not suitable because it appeared that the lay faithful were secondary to the ordained. The search for a canonical home continued. 

Next came a temporary dwelling called a “Secular Institute.” There were conversations in those days about what were then called “new forms of Christian life.” This led to an apostolic constitution that allowed for what became known as “Secular Institutes.” The benefit here for Opus Dei was that it became clear that the new institute, approved by the Holy See, was the whole of Opus Dei, and not the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross with an association of laymen tacked on. The problem was that the Secular Institutes connected into the Vatican at the Sacred Congregation for Religious; religious vows have never been a part of Opus Dei. 

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The search continued. In 1960, St. Josemaría sent a letter to the Vatican Secretary of State asking him to consider proposing that John XXIII revise the juridical status of Opus Dei. The proposal specifically asked that Opus Dei connect to the Church through the Congregation for Bishops. 

And then came Vatican II, which created “Personal Prelatures.” Personal Prelatures are institutions in the Church that allow for priests with their Prelate to be incardinated for a specific pastoral mission, rather than incardinated in a territorial diocese or a religious order. The idea of a Personal Prelature was proposed in the Second Vatican Council and later codified in canon law. In 1982, Pope St. John Paul II established the first and only Personal Prelature, Opus Dei. 

It now appears that the old bugaboo of priests and laymen having the same vocation has arisen in Vatican conversations about what is proper to a Personal Prelature—and what is not. Last year, the Holy Father disconnected Opus Dei from the Congregation of Bishops and connected Opus Dei into the Dicastery for Clergy. And the recent document from Rome appears to say that laymen cannot be members of a Personal Prelature, only “collaborates,” while membership is reserved only for the ordained. This would mean the lay faithful of Opus Dei would not have the same vocation and dedication as the priest members.  

Whole books have been written about the canonical status of Opus Dei. Even my small précis shows how complicated it has been for Opus Dei to find a home in the Church. 

And now for the simple part. I said at the top that I would be doing Opus Dei no matter what. What that means is that I am called to live continuously in the presence of God, to be a contemplative in the middle of the world, to sanctify my work and family life, to sanctify others through my work, and to do apostolate. This is the vocation to Opus Dei.  I am called to live continuously in the presence of God, to be a contemplative in the middle of the world, to sanctify my work and family life, to sanctify others through my work, and to do apostolate. This is the vocation to Opus Dei.Tweet This

It is not as if the canonical status of Opus Dei is not important, it is, but throughout the history of Opus Dei, from 1928 to the present, no matter where our home in the Church has been, this has been the same identical vocation of all members, by divine design—lay and ordained, celibate and married. And no matter where we end up within the Church, this is what we will continue to do.  

Opus Dei was inspired by the Holy Spirit, and as St. Josemaría assured us from the beginning, God revealed to him that it will last until the end of time. 

St. Josemaría prayed an aspiration, “Most Sweet Heart of Mary, Prepare a Safe Way.” It was his prayer that Opus Dei find its proper home in the Church. Our prayer continues. 


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