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What is Opus Dei?

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Opus Dei is an organization within the Roman Catholic Church that encourages its members to demonstrate Christian virtues in their daily lives. The name of Opus Dei is Latin for “Work of God.” Its full name is “The Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei.” Founded in 1928 by Father Josemaría Escriva during a pilgrimage in Madrid, the Opus Dei roster lists some 90,000 members of which only 2 percent are priests; 98 percent of the organization’s members are lay Catholics, men and women, mostly married, and engaged in vocations outside of the professional clergy.

Opus Dei promotes the integration of Christian holiness into all facets of their members’ lives. The stated aim of Opus Dei is “to contribute to [the] evangelizing mission of the Church, by fostering among Christians of all social classes a life fully consistent with their faith, in the middle of the ordinary circumstances of their lives and especially through the sanctification of their work” (from their official website).

Born in Barbastro, Spain, on January 9, 1902, Josemaría Escriva studied civil law while pursuing his ecclesiastical studies. He was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1925 and earned a doctorate in law two years later. The following year, he founded Opus Dei. Besides his work with Opus Dei, Escriva was active in ministering to those suffering from poverty. He was also a prolific writer; his most popular book, The Way, has sold over four million copies and has been translated into dozens of languages. At his death on June 26, 1975, Opus Dei’s membership totaled 60,000 members, and on October 6, 2002, Pope John Paul II canonized Josemaría Escriva, calling him “the saint of the ordinary.”

Opus Dei was unfairly maligned by novelist Dan Brown in his fictional The DaVinci Code. Brown’s fanciful portrayal of Opus Dei painted a picture of a secret society of radicals who are guilty of political intrigue and historical coverups. Practically nothing in Brown’s caricature is accurate, other than the fact that Opus Dei is a Catholic institution.

The prelature of Opus Dei refutes Brown’s portrayal of Opus Dei on the following points:
• Brown presents Opus Dei members as monks, but in reality there are no monks in Opus Dei.
• Brown describes Opus Dei as endorsing criminal behavior; Opus Dei condemns criminal activity.
• Brown calls Opus Dei a “sect” and a “cult”; in fact, Opus Dei is a fully integrated entity of the Catholic Church.
• Brown writes that women may not enter through the front doors of the Opus Dei headquarters, but must use a side entrance; however, males and females freely use the front entrance of the real Opus Dei headquarters building.

Unlike some other Catholic groups, members of Opus Dei do not call attention to their involvement in the organization. The prelate and vicars of Opus Dei do not wear special clothing to mark them as Opus Dei members, and the rank and file do not sport Opus Dei pins, rings, pendants, or other signifiers of their involvement.

Opus Dei promotes the following as core principles of their institution:

Divine filiation. A person is made a child of God through baptism. Those who have been baptized in the Church form a fraternity and have a close relationship with God.

Ordinary life. St. Josemaría said, “It is in the midst of the most material things of the earth that we must sanctify ourselves, serving God and all mankind” (In Love with the Church, Scepter Publishers, 2008, p. 52). Every activity is seen as an opportunity to imitate Christ in love, patience, humility, diligence, integrity, cheerfulness, etc.

Sanctifying work. Opus Dei members are taught to work with the spirit of Christ, i.e., to work competently and ethically, with the aim of loving God and serving others.

Prayer and sacrifice. The sanctifying of one’s occupation is accomplished through the spiritual disciplines of prayer, daily Mass, confession, penance, almsgiving, fasting, and devotion to Mary.

Unity of life. One’s professional, social, and family life should be united to one’s inner spiritual life, and all should honor God.

Freedom. Each member of Opus Dei is allowed to act with freedom and personal responsibility, with respect to others who may hold different opinions.

Charity. As part of being witnesses for Christ and spreading His message, members of Opus Dei seek to meet material needs and find solutions to social problems.

The values set forth by Opus Dei are commendable, and many of them are overtly biblical. The call to holy living in all areas of life is not a Roman Catholic principle, per se; rather, it is incumbent upon all believers to honor God and live out the gospel message. Our caution against Opus Dei is that it is a Catholic institution and therefore holds to Catholic views of salvation, the sacraments, and veneration of Mary.

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This page last updated: October 27, 2023