Opus Dei: Its Mission, Structure and Members

Perspective on a Prelature

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ROME, OCT. 6, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Opus Dei saw the canonization of its founder, Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, as a moment for humility, not hubris.

«For Opus Dei people, the canonization is an invitation to conversion; it is not a day of exaltations, but of humility, an ideal moment to renew the desire to seek God in one’s work and in ordinary life,» explained Marta Manzi, a spokeswoman for the Organizing Committee for today’s canonization.

According to the organization’s Information Office on Internet (www.opusdei.org) Opus Dei «serves the Church and society by fostering individual holiness and apostolic commitment among the Christian faithful, helping them to discover and take on the demands of their baptismal vocation in the specific place they occupy in the world.»

Opus Dei is a prelature, a worldwide diocese, that has its own autonomy and ordinary jurisdiction to carry out its mission for the Church. It is directly under the Pope, through the Vatican Congregation for Bishops.

The prelature, like military ordinariates, is an ecclesiastical structure of a personal nature established to carry out a specific pastoral task.

The authority of the prelate extends to matters dealing with the specific mission of the prelature, and is in harmony with the authority of the diocesan bishop as regards anything pertaining to the ordinary pastoral care of the faithful.

Opus Dei is governed by the provisions of the general law of the Church, by the apostolic constitution «Ut Sit,» and by its own statutes. The Code of Canon Law of 1983 sets out the basic provisions covering personal prelatures in canons 294-297.

Priests of the prelature are under the authority of the prelate. He assigns to them their pastoral responsibilities, which they fulfill with due regard to the pastoral guidelines for the diocese in which they live. The prelature is responsible for the financial support of its priests.

The lay faithful also come under the authority of the prelate in all that refers to the specific mission of the prelature. They are subject to the civil authorities in the same way as any other citizen, and to other ecclesiastical authorities in the same way as any other lay Catholic.

The prelate, and the vicars who represent him, have jurisdiction in Opus Dei. The prelate is the proper ordinary of the prelature.

One of the characteristics of Opus Dei is its collegial style of government. The prelate and his vicars are assisted in their work by councils, made up largely of laity. The prelate is helped in his work of government by one council for women (called the Central Advisory) and another for men (the General Council). Both are based in Rome.

«The idea that inspired Blessed Escrivá was that of collegiality; to have all apostolic activity carried out on the basis of collegial work and not on the personal ideas of one or another individual,» explained Francesco Calogero, the spokesman of the Press Office for the canonization ceremony.

«Moreover, there was the idea of decentralization and that the Work be incarnated in the mentality and way of living of every nation, and respond to the needs of that country,» he emphasized.

Who is a member?

Those who ask to join Opus Dei do so moved by a divine calling. Formal incorporation into the prelature is carried out by means of a bilateral agreement which stipulates the mutual commitments taken on by the person and the prelature itself.

The majority of the faithful of Opus Dei are supernumerary members. Generally they are married men or women, for whom the sanctification of their family duties is the most important part of their Christian life. Supernumeraries now account for about 70% of the total membership.

The rest of the faithful of the prelature are men and women who commit themselves to celibacy, for apostolic reasons. Some live with their families, or wherever is convenient for professional reasons. These are the associates of the prelature.

For other members, circumstances allow them to be more available to attend to the apostolic undertakings and the formation of the other Opus Dei members. These are the numeraries, and they are usually able to live in centers of Opus Dei. The principal task of the women assistant numeraries is that of the domestic responsibilities in the centers of the prelature, which constitute for them their ordinary professional activity.

Priestly Society

The Priestly Society of the Holy Cross is an association of clergy intrinsically united to Opus Dei.

It is made up of the clergy of the prelature, who are automatically members, and other diocesan priests and deacons. The prelate of Opus Dei is the president of the society.

The diocesan clergy who belong to the Priestly Society seek exclusively spiritual help and strive for holiness in the exercise of their ministry, according to the spirit of Opus Dei.

Their membership of the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross does not involve incorporation into the presbyterate of the prelature. Each one continues to be incardinated in his own diocese and comes under the authority of his own bishop. In regard to his pastoral work he gives an account only to his bishop.

The prelature comprises about 84,000 people, including 1,800 priests. Europe has 48,700 members; America, 29,000; Asia and Oceania, 4,700; and Africa, 1,600.

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