People of all kinds belong to Opus Dei: priests and lay people, men and women, young and old, married and single, of every occupation and social level. Men and women have the same status in Opus Dei. Most members are married and have families – these are called supernumeraries. Some members (numeraries and associates) make a commitment to celibacy, and so generally have more time and availability to dedicate to the various activities promoted by Opus Dei.
Some male celibate members are ordained as priests, who form roughly 2% of the membership. There are currently about 85,000 members of Opus Dei worldwide, of whom around 500 are in Britain.
To help them in their quest for holiness, members of Opus Dei receive training, support and guidance (“spiritual formation”), including philosophy and Catholic theology. Activities of spiritual formation for individuals or groups are held separately for women and men.
All members attend weekly and monthly meetings, a yearly retreat, and a formation course lasting between one and three weeks, depending on personal availability.
Spiritual commitments include daily Mass, the reading of Sacred Scripture and other spiritual books, the Rosary, and a time spent each day in personal prayer.
Members also try to incorporate an element of sacrifice into their lives. Although traditional Catholic practices of penance are not discouraged, Opus Dei places more emphasis on the sacrifices involved in daily life: carrying out one’s duties conscientiously, putting others’ needs before one’s own, finding a smile in annoying circumstances, and so on.
Members are aware of their duty to bear witness to their Christian faith wherever they are. Like the first Christians, they strive to change the world for the better, and find fulfilment in taking seriously the Christian duty to help those in need.
Joining Opus Dei
People join Opus Dei because they feel they have a vocation: a personal, intimate call from God to place their whole life at his service in the middle of the world. Although there are practical differences in the way they live it out, the vocation of supernumeraries, associates and numeraries is one and the same: to seek holiness in their ordinary lives.
Any lay Catholic may ask to join Opus Dei. People who think they may have such a vocation are advised to attend activities of spiritual formation and take on the commitments of members for some time to discern whether it really is God’s will for them. When they have matured in their decision, after a suitable time, they may ask for admission.
After a further eighteen months, if it is still their firm belief that God is calling them, they may make a commitment to Opus Dei. The minimum age for making this commitment is 18. It needs to be renewed each year for at least five years before a lifelong commitment is possible.
People join Opus Dei by choice, and they remain equally free to leave.
There is no outward change in the lives of those who join Opus Dei. They work in the same jobs and live in the same social settings, but now they see their work and relationships as opportunities for coming closer to God.
Opus Dei does not publish members’ names but leaves it to them to tell people themselves, respecting their freedom. While members do not ordinarily announce their membership to the general public, neither do they conceal it. Friends, relatives and acquaintances will naturally know of it. Indeed, it would be impossible for Opus Dei to carry out its mission if members were not open about their involvement.
Opus Dei has no views of its own on politics, economics, or social matters. Members are totally free in their professional lives and political opinions, and are personally responsible for their actions.
As an expression of their personal desire to serve society, members of Opus Dei, together with others (Catholics, non-Catholics, non-Christians, and even some of no faith at all) have set up many educational, charitable and cultural ventures around the world. Examples include halls of residence for students, youth clubs, inner-city achievement programmes, hospitals, schools and universities. Such activities are always open to people of all creeds, races and social conditions.
In Britain, they include Netherhall House and Ashwell House, halls of residence in London for male and female students respectively, and Wickenden Manor, a retreat centre in Sussex.
Opus Dei does not own any of these undertakings, but takes responsibility only for providing spiritual formation and pastoral care of the people who work in them. Ownership remains with the people who set them up and run them. Funding comes from whatever fees they may charge, as well as donations from members of Opus Dei, supporters and friends. Financial accounts for such institutions are publicly audited and are available for inspection.
Opus Dei was established as a personal prelature in 1982 by Pope John Paul II. The personal prelature is a new type of organisation in the Catholic Church, created in the 1960s by the Second Vatican Council. As part of the Catholic Church, Opus Dei works closely with the local Catholic bishop, whose consent is required before an Opus Dei centre can be set up in his diocese, and who is regularly informed of Opus Dei’s activities there.
The personal prelature provides a suitable framework for an organisation consisting of ordinary lay Catholics who simply wish to serve God by doing their ordinary things as well as possible.
Opus Dei’s central organisation is based in Rome and is headed by a Prelate, currently Bishop Javier Echevarría, who was appointed in 1994.
A Spanish priest, Saint Josemaría Escrivá (1902-1975), founded Opus Dei in 1928. Even during his lifetime he had a reputation for holiness, which continued to grow around the world after his death. Many people have testified to having received spiritual and material favours, including medically inexplicable cures, through his intercession. He was declared a saint by Pope John Paul II in 2002. The feast day of Saint Josemaría is June 26.
Up-to-date information on Opus Dei can be obtained from the Opus Dei website at http://www.opusdei.org.uk This includes news and features about its apostolates, the Prelate’s speeches and interviews, selections from the writings of St Josemaría and answers to frequently asked questions.