Opus Dei, the official name of which is the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross, is a Roman Catholic organization founded in Madrid in 1928 by José María Escrivá de Balaguer (1902–1975), who was made St. Josémaría in 2002. Although its first priest members were ordained in the early 1940s, only in 1947 did the Holy See begin to grant pontifical approval. The organization lived in a legal limbo until 1950 when Pope Pius XII granted definitive approval to Opus Dei. In 1982 Pope John Paul II granted to Opus Dei the status of personal prelature. By the early 2000s, the organization had approximately eighty-five thousand members, some fifteen hundred of them priests, in sixty countries, mostly in Western Europe and the Americas. The headquarters are now located in Rome. One of the most significant aspects of Opus Dei is that both the laity—men and women—and priests may join. (There are three different levels of membership for men and four for women.) The organization closely reflects the founder's socially conservative and hierarchical concept of society, as exposed in his writings, the best known being Camino (1939; The Way, 2002), a collection of 999 sayings and brief reflections.
Both the origins and evolution of Opus Dei are closely linked to Escrivá's own life and strong personality. In the early 1930s, he started a little center that recruited university students in Madrid. The sociological profile of the members was middle class and politically conservative, a sector being very much alienated by the policies carried out by the democratic Second Republic (1931–1939). When, in July 1936, the civil war broke out, Escrivá went into hiding to avoid being killed. He managed to escape to the Francoist zone, where he offered his services to the rebel authorities. At the end of the conflict, he returned to Madrid because the new political circumstances proved very favorable to Opus Dei. The crucial factor that initially propelled the organization was the support it found among some prominent Francoist politicians, especially Luis Carrero Blanco, Franco's right-hand man from 1941 until he was assassinated by the ETA (a Basque terrorist organization) in 1973. The dictatorship pursued a policy of purging Republican civil servants, professionals, and professors, which left numerous vacancies in those fields and opened the doors to many members of Opus Dei to rapidly advance in their careers. The Spanish Council for Scientific Research, several professorships, and high offices of the state were soon staffed with people related to the organization. The focus on the recruitment and training of competent professionals would prove a great asset in the future.
The height of public and political prominence for Opus Dei came in 1957, when the dictatorship finally decided to abandon autarky, the disastrous economic and social policies carried out by the successive governments since the end of the war. The ministries in charge of the newly adopted policy of economic modernization and liberalization were members of Opus Dei. The new policies enjoyed a resounding success that paved the way for the "miracle" of the Spanish economic recovery during the 1960s and early 1970s. This led to a more visible public presence for Opus Dei, and accusations by other Francoist sectors, especially the Falange, of hidden agendas. The democratic opposition also denounced the close links between Opus Dei and the dictatorship. Opus Dei always denied that the professional activities of its experts or "technocrats" implied an official line adopted by the organization. The relationship between its leaders and those of the regime, however, was always fluid, and Escrivá himself accepted the title of Marquis of Peralta from the Francoist government. When democracy was restored in Spain in 1977, several ministers in the center and center-right governments that ruled from 1977 to 1982 and from 1996 to 2004 were members of Opus Dei.
The papacy of John Paul II, which began in 1978, opened a new period for Opus Dei after the not-always-fluid relationships with Pope John XXIII and, to a lesser degree, Pope Paul VI. Holding conservative moral ideas, the new pope believed that excesses and mistakes had been accepted in some sectors of the church after the Second Vatican Council, and he desired to correct some of these; in such endeavors, he found an excellent ally in Opus Dei. Its orthodox Catholicism and its material and human resources were put at the service of John Paul II's reorientation of the church. The reward came first in the granting of the long-sought personal prelature in 1982, which gave the organization complete independence from the local bishops, and later in 2002 with the unusually fast canonization of Escrivá, a move that was resented by many progressive Catholics and lay members in Spain for his links with the Francoist dictatorship.
Coverdale, John F. Uncommon Faith: The Early Years of Opus Dei, 1928–1943. Rev. ed. Princeton, N.J., 2002.
Escrivá de Balaguer, José María. The Way. Princeton, N.J., 2002.
Ynfante, Jesús. El santo fundador del Opus Dei: Biografía completa de Josémaría Escrivá de Balaguer. Barcelona, 2002.
The Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei is a personal prelature of the Roman Catholic Church, with its central offices located in Rome. The Second Vatican Council made provisions for the juridical format of personal prelatures to facilitate the carrying out of "specific apostolic tasks." Prelatures form part of the pastoral and hierarchical structure of the Church. They are dependent on the Congregation for Bishops.
The aim of the prelature of Opus Dei is to promote among Christians an awareness that all are called to seek holiness and to contribute to the evangelization of every sphere of society. The prelature provides for the pastoral and spiritual care of its members, extending this help to many other people, in accord with each one's situation and profession (cf. Statutes of Opus Dei, 2:1). The faithful of the prelature strive to put into practice the teachings of the Gospel by exercising the Christian virtues and sanctifying their ordinary work (cf. Statutes of Opus Dei, 2 ).
Msgr. Josemaría escrivÁ founded Opus Dei on Oct. 2, 1928. On Feb. 14, 1930, Blessed Josemaría understood by God's grace that Opus Dei was meant to develop its apostolate among women as well. From 1946 on, he resided in Rome. He died on June 26, 1975 and was beatified on June 26, 1992. From Rome he oversaw Opus Dei's apostolic expansion throughout the world, beginning with Portugal, England, Italy, France, Ireland, the United States, and Mexico. From the outset, he relied on the encouragement and stimulus of the episcopal hierarchy. From 1943, Opus Dei received all of the necessary approvals from the Holy See, culminating in its establishment as a personal prelature by Pope John Paul II on Nov. 28, 1982.
The prelature of Opus Dei spread throughout every continent, comprises the prelate, currently Bishop Javier Echevarría, 1,700 priests, and 90,000 laity who, with a divine vocation, are freely incorporated into the prelature. The clergy incardinated in the prelature come from among the laymen. "The laity incorporated in the Prelature do not alter their personal situation, either canonically or theologically. They continue to be ordinary lay faithful, and act accordingly in everything they do, specifically in their apostolate (Congregation for Bishops, Declaration concerning Opus Dei, Aug. 23, 1982, 2b).
The lay faithful of the prelature enjoy the same freedom as other Catholic citizens, their equals, in all professional, family, social, political, and financial activities. These activities do not fall under the prelature's jurisdiction, which extends only to the ascetical and apostolic commitments that each one freely assumes by means of a contractual bond. The prelature's lay faithful remain under the diocesan bishop's jurisdiction in everything established by common Church law for the Catholic faithful.
The Priestly Society of the Holy Cross, inseparably united to the Prelature of Opus Dei, is governed by the prelate of Opus Dei as its president general. The prelature's priests belong to the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross. In addition, diocesan priests who wish to seek holiness in the exercise of their ministry may be associated as well. Their tie to the priestly society in no way compromises their loyalty to their own bishop, who continues to be their only superior. The prelature of Opus Dei also relies on cooperators, some of whom are non-Catholics or even non-Christians. Although not incorporated into the prelature, cooperators collaborate in its apostolate by their prayer, work, and alms.
The prelature of Opus Dei directs the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, as well as the University of Navarre in Spain. Other apostolic undertakings, including universities in Latin America, Italy, and the Philippines, student residences, cultural centers, technical and agricultural institutes, medical clinics, and a variety of centers for the development of disadvantaged areas, have the pastoral assistance of the prelature which takes on responsibility for their Christian orientation.
Opus Dei's most important contribution to the Church's mission, however, is not its corporate apostolates but rather the effort of each member to sanctify his or her ordinary, daily work and to bring those around them closer to God. The process for beatification is underway for several members of Opus Dei, among them the Argentine engineer Isidoro Zorzano (1902–1943) and the young Spanish woman Montserrat Grases (1941–1959).
Bibliography: p. berglar, Opus Dei. Life and Work of its Founder Josemaría Escrivá (Princeton 1993). a. fuenmayor, f. ocariz, and j. l. illanes, The Canonical Path of Opus Dei (Princeton and Chicago 1994). j. l. illanes, On the Theology of Work (Dublin 1982). a. del portillo, Immersed in God: Blessed Josemaría Escrivá, Founder of Opus Dei (Princeton 1996). p. rodriguez, Particular Churches and Personal Prelatures (Dublin 1986). p. rodriguez, f. ocariz, and j. l. illanes, Opus Dei in the Church: An Ecclesiological Study of the Life and Apostolate of Opus Dei (Dublin and Princeton 1994).
The Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei—known best simply as Opus Dei ("The Work of God")—was founded by Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer y Albas, a Spanish priest born on January 9, 1902, in Barbastaro, Spain. Escrivá was ordained to the priesthood in March 1925. During a retreat in Madrid in 1928, he allegedly "saw" God's expectation of him in the creation of Opus Dei. Originally a males-only organization, after 1930 it opened a section for women.
In 1943, the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross, the association for lay affiliates of Opus Dei who aspired to the Opus Dei priesthood, was founded. In 1946 Escrivá moved to Rome. Two years later he set up the Roman College of the Holy Cross for training members of the men's sections. In June of 1950, Opus Dei received its definitive status as the first secular institute approved directly by the Pope.
Throughout his life, Escrivá worked on behalf of Opus Dei. On June 26, 1975, he died suddenly in Rome. At the time of his death, Opus Dei was in all five continents and comprised some sixty thousand members of eighty nationalities.
In 1982 Opus Dei was made a personal prelature. This means that its clerical and lay members take spiritual direction from their own prelate in Rome and not—like other Catholics—from their local bishop. In May of 1992, "the Founder," as he is known by members, was beatified by Pope John Paul II.
The hallmark of Opus Dei spirituality, found in Escrivá's best-known work, The Way (1939), is the emphasis on laypeople seeking holiness in the context of their ordinary life, through the free and responsible exercise of their everyday work, and through an apostolate carried out within the ordinary structures of society. The broader objective of The Work, as members call it, is to seek a new Christendom through spiritual and apostolic ferment in the spheres of civil society and professional activities.
Opus Dei operates an international network of universities, schools, study and health care centers, student residences, and professional and vocational training institutes of various kinds. In addition to the membership ranks of Opus Dei (numeraries, associates, supernumeraries) and its priests, "cooperators" help the movement through prayer, work, and financial assistance.
Opus Dei has grown under the special favor shown the movement by Pope John Paul II. Like several other such phenomena in the postconciliar church (Cursillo; Neocatechumenal Way), Opus Dei is a highly ascetic revitalization movement that draws together idealistic people.
Although Opus Dei purportedly prefigured the reforms of Vatican II—notably the rehabilitation of the laity and the call for all Catholics to achieve holiness—critics of the organization have charged it with sectarianism and cultlike activity regarding some of its practices.
Controversy has centered on Opus Dei's hierarchical and secretive corporate structure, its subordination of women to secondary roles, its control of the minutiae of members' lives, and its alleged clandestine manner of recruitment. Objections have also been raised regarding the organization's rigid ultra-conservatism and association with elites of wealth and power along with its members' excessive devotion to the founder.
Active concern over Opus Dei's "questionable practices" among American Catholics has come primarily from the Opus Dei Awareness Network, an organization of former members, concerned individuals, and families of some Opus Dei members.
Opus Dei came to the United States in 1949. There are currently over three thousand Opus Dei members with over sixty centers or residences for members in seventeen cities, typically located near large college campuses. The organization also operates a small number of high schools and sponsors retreat houses, programs for married Catholics, and outreach initiatives to the poor.
Le Tourneau, Dominique. What Is Opus Dei? 1984.
Martin, James. "Opus Dei in the United States." America (February 25, 1995): 8–27.
Tapia, Maria del Carmen. Beyond the Threshold: A Lifein Opus Dei. 1997.
Walsh, Michael. Opus Dei: An Investigation into the SecretSociety Struggling for Power Within the Roman CatholicChurch. 1993.
Woodward, Kenneth. Making Saints: How the CatholicChurch Determines Who Becomes a Saint and Why. 1996.
William D. Dinges
Opus Dei (ō´pəs dā´ē) [Lat.,=work of God], Roman Catholic organization, particularly influential in Spain, officially the Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei. Opus Dei was founded in 1928 by a wealthy lawyer turned priest, José María Escrivá de Balaguer y Albás, who objected to the liberal, secular atmosphere at the Univ. of Madrid. As a Catholic institution, it emphasizes that ordinary Christians can achieve holiness and change society for the better through how they live their everyday lives. Opus Dei gained national importance in Spain after the civil war, when it received support from goverment of Francisco Franco. In the 1950s and 60s it replaced the Falange as the most important conservative political and religious force in Spain. Its influence there, however, has waned since the early 1970s.
Receiving increased support from the Vatican since the late 1970s, the organization has grown to more than 85,000 members in more than 80 countries. In 1950 the Vatican recognized it as a secular institute; in 1982 it was given the status of "personal prelature." Its membership is now, therefore, considered a separate diocese with its own bishop.
Believing that a Catholic can lead a holy life without taking religious vows, lay members pledge to serve God in worldly vocations; roughly a third of the members live communally and celibately in Opus Dei centers. The movement seeks to promote traditional Catholic values and teaching and to oppose liberalism and immorality, and is noted for its emphasis on preaching to government officials, professionals, intellectuals, and business executives. Opus Dei has been controversial among some Catholics because of its secretive nature, its emphasis on discipline, its conservatism, and its historical association with the Franco regime in Spain. This controversy became pronounced in 1992 when the Vatican, under John Paul II, beatified Escrivá; Escrivá was canonized in 2002.
See M. del C. Tapia, Beyond the Threshold (1997); J. L. Allen, Opus Dei (2005).