Opus Dei (Latin, "The Work of God", "God's Work") is a Roman Catholic organization founded on October 2, 1928, by St. Josemaría Escrivá, a Spanish priest.

Table of contents
1 Introduction
2 Activities
3 Membership and practices
4 Criticisms of Opus Dei
5 Opus Dei and Catholic politics
6 Reading list
7 External links


Opus Dei has approximately 85,000 members in 60 countries, and is based in Rome. It was erected as a Personal Prelature by Pope John Paul II in 1982, who also canonized its founder on October 6, 2002.

The aim of Opus Dei is "to contribute to [the] evangelizing mission of the Church by spreading the universal call to holiness"; it "encourages Christians of all social classes to live consistently with their faith, in the middle of the ordinary circumstances of their lives, especially through the sanctification of their work."

Critics have described it as an authoritarian organization that borders on being a religious cult.

The organization is also controversial for its practices of mortification of the flesh; its founder is recorded as having whipped himself until the wall of the room was splattered with blood. In his writings, he stated: "Blessed be pain. Loved be pain. Sanctified be pain. . . Glorified be pain!" (The Way, 208).


Opus Dei's activities consist of "offer[ing] spiritual formation and pastoral care to its members, as well as to many others," via religious retreats and classes in Catholic doctrine. Its members also undertake many social initiatives: Opus Dei operates several hospitals, clinics, schools, and inner-city tutoring programs. For example, in the United States, it operates one college and five secondary schools, and tutoring programs in Chicago, New York City, St. Louis and Washington, DC. In Spain, Opus Dei founded Universidad de Navarra and many lower schools.

Membership and practices

The Vatican Yearbook indicates that Opus Dei includes about 1,800 priests. The remainder of the 85,000 members are laypersons. Approximately a quarter of Opus Dei's members are "numeraries," who have committed themselves to celibacy in order to be more available for the organization's activities. The majority of the lay members are "supernumeraries," who are involved in Opus Dei's activities but do not make a commitment of celibacy. Opus Dei additionally has many "cooperators," who assist its activities through prayer, donations, or other means.

There are three types of members in the men's branch: numeraries, associates and supernumeraries. The distinction is in their availability to direct and assist in the apostolic activities of the prelature.

Numeraries are the most available. They live in celibacy and devote all their free time and money to Opus Dei. As a general rule, they live in Opus Dei centers. They receive intense training in the philosophy and theology of the Church. Most of them hold regular secular jobs, but for some their professional work is to direct the apostolic activities of Opus Dei or to hold an internal position in the governance of the prelature. For most of those who hold internal positions, this is a temporary situation. The numeraries are the primary givers of spiritual direction to the rest of the membership. They are at the disposal of the prelature and are ready to move wherever the prelature needs them.

In addition to the practice of celibacy, the numerary members follow practices of mortification of the flesh. This has led some to criticize the organization and led others to compare it to a religious order. Opus Dei's supporters have said that these are all traditional Catholic practices that can be suitable for the lay state as well as religious orders, and that the organization's secular mentality and emphasis on living the Christian faith in the secular world distinguish it from a religious order.

It is generally from the numeraries that the prelate calls men to the priesthood. When a man becomes a numerary, he does so with the willingness to consider becoming a priest if the prelate should ever ask him. However he always remains free to decline the invitation. A very important point is that he does not become a numerary with the intention of becoming a priest. Rather, he simply remains open to seriously considering the possibility if it is offered to him.

Associates are the next type of member, in order of availability. Associates are similar to numeraries, in that they live in celibacy, but they typically do not live in Opus Dei facilities. Their personal circumstances do not permit them to be as available to Opus Dei as a numerary, perhaps because they have an elderly parent they have to take care of, or they run a family business that would interfere with their ability to move to another city. There are a whole host of reasons they would be less available than a numerary. Associates also are involved in giving spiritual direction to other members of the prelature and to non-members, too. The prelate can also ask associate members to become priests. Like numeraries, they remain free to say no.

Supernumeraries are the third type of member. These are the least available to Opus Dei. Supernumeraries may be married or unmarried. They live wherever they want. Most of the members are supernumeraries. They assist with the apostolic aims of the prelature as their personal circumstances permit. Their vocation is essentially identical to that of associates and numeraries — it is not a second class membership. They nevertheless form the 'coal-face' of Opus Dei in that they epitomize fully the life of the Christian struggling to live sanctity in daily life be it in the family, the workplace or both. They may be less available for specific apostolic tasks but are expected to strive just as assiduously to support them through turning their work into prayer. Through their friendships with others, they strive to bring others closer to God. Sometimes this leads to people joining Opus Dei, although often it doesn't. Even so, the so-called 'apostolate of friendship' is fundamental to the charism of Opus Dei.

Supernumeraries' training, though less intensive than that of numeraries and associates, is nevertheless substantial.

Both the women's branch and the men's branch have numeraries, associates and supernumeraries, and they perform the same functions in each branch. While the women numeraries can't be ordained (as with the Roman Catholic priesthood), they receive the same philosophical and theological training as the male numeraries.

There is another type of member in the women's branch called "numerary assistant". Numerary assistants attend to the domestic needs of the centers of Opus Dei, both for the men and for the women. They run Opus Dei's conference centers. They do the cooking and cleaning.

To understand Opus Dei, one has to go beyond distinctions beyond the various categories of members and their roles. It is more important to understand the unique combination of prayer, work and participation in the sacraments common to each and every member's striving for holiness. It is a vocation, not a club. Many good people find it doesn't suit them — God doesn't call everyone to be a member and respect for people's vocational pathway is integral to Opus Dei.

Criticisms of Opus Dei

Opus Dei has been criticized, by both secular and some Roman Catholic groups, for promoting an overly conservative vision of the Roman Catholic faith and allegedly engaging in questionable practices. Some critics have gone even further, alleging that it is an elitist, secretive cult, and that it attempts to infiltrate other organs of the Catholic Church, supports South American dictatorships, and is influenced by fascist ideas. Opus Dei has also been accused of focusing on recruiting students from prestigious universities, who can then enter professions where they could influence public policy from an Opus Dei perspective. Others point to the humanitarian and spiritual relief missions that it has undertaken, such as the one located in the Mountains of Yauyos, Peru. Critics in Ireland, including some ex-Opus Dei members, accused the organisation of 'sexist exploitation' of women, whom they claimed were restricted in Opus Dei run hostels to doing manual work such as cooking and cleaning and denied any role in leadership. Others state that Opus Dei is divided into two branches, men and women. both have parallel hierarchical structures, which meet at the top, in the person of the prelate.

Some conservative critics focus on its support for the Second Vatican Council's teachings on ecumenism and the role of the laity in the Church. Others have alleged that Opus Dei was looked upon with suspicion by Pope John XXIII and Paul VI, though supporters claim that, in fact, those popes supported the organization. In fact, there is documentary evidence that both Paul VI and John Paul I looked fondly on Opus Dei.

John Paul I wrote just before the start of his brief papacy:

"Msgr. Escriva, with Gospel in hand, constantly taught: 'Christ does not want us simply to be good, he wants us to be saints through and through. However, he wants us to attain that sanctity not by doing extraordinary things, but rather, through ordinary common activities. It is the way that they are done which must be uncommon'. There, nel bel mezzo della strada (in the middle of the street), in the office, in the factory, we can be holy provided we do our job competently, for love of God, and cheerfully, so that everyday work does not become a daily tragedy, but rather a daily smile". (Article in Il Gazzettino, Venice, 25-VII-1978)

Paul VI also wrote to the founder:

"We have seen in your words the vibration of the generous and enlightened spirit of the whole Institution, born in our times as an expression of the perennial youth of the Church... We consider with paternal satisfaction all that Opus Dei has done and continues to do for the kingdom of God: the desire to do good that guides it, the ardent love for the Church and its visible head which characterizes it, the ardent zeal for souls which leads it along the difficult and arduous paths of the apostolate of presence and of witness in all sectors of contemporary life." (Handwritten letter to Msgr. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, October 1, 1964)

The late Cardinal Basil Hume, Archbishop of Westminster and head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, implicitly criticised Opus Dei when he issued a set of "Guidelines for Opus Dei within the Diocese of Westminster" in December, 1981. However, towards the end of his life there was a rapprochement, and he was principal celebrant at Opus Dei's 70th anniversary Mass in London, in October 1998.

Some Irish bishops also privately are critical of Opus Dei and its behaviour within their dioceses, with a number of bishops indicating that they do not wish Opus Dei to operate in their diocese. They cannot enforce this straightaway because Opus Dei received previously (from themselves or the previous Bishop) the permission to do it. The statutes of Opus Dei explicitly require the permission from the Bishop to start working in any Diocese.

Opus Dei and Catholic politics

Critics and supporters alike agree that Pope John Paul II has been a strong supporter of Opus Dei. John Paul II's press spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, is perhaps the most famous member of the organization.

In 1960s Spain, Francisco Franco appointed as ministers several members of Opus Dei. These ministers are viewed as bringing a Capitalist technocrat ideology, contrasting with previous Falangist, Carlist or military ministers. At the same time, some other notorious members of Opus Dei were exiled because of their political ideas, like the founder of Diario Madrid who lived in Paris and had a leading role in the Spanish transition into democracy.

In current Spain, members of Opus Dei have been appointed as ministers by Partido Popular leader José María Aznar. Members of Opus Dei (alongside other religious or political organisations) have for decades been required to declare their membership, if asked to serve in Irish governments. In modern Irish history Opus Dei members have generally been refused appointment to cabinet posts.

In the United States, former FBI Director Louis Freeh is rumored to belong to the organization, as are Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Opus Dei denies these rumors. The Boston Globe reported connections between the Opus Dei priest Father C. John McCloskey and some conservative Catholic politicians, and convicted spy Robert Hanssen was an Opus Dei supernumerary.

Opus Dei states that its members are completely free in their personal, professional and political lives, and that the organization plays no role in the professional decisions made by members, including those who work in politics, and therefore cannot be held responsible for them.

Reading list

External links