1) Benedict XVI: The Church as Communio
“The only institutional element the Church needs is the one given to it by the Lord: the sacramental structure of the people of God, centered on the Eucharist.” The image that Benedict uses is “the armor of Saul making it difficult for the young David to walk” (Idem.). This means that Church needs to fix its attention on the dynamism of persons-in-relation, above all laymen and priests living the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the street, rather than “the committee” as a thing-in-itself. At a previous moment, then-Cardinal Ratzinger remarked, “It is widely held today, even among the higher ecclesiastical ranks, that the more committed to Church activities a person is the more Christian he is. People are engaged in a kind of ecclesiastical activity therapy, keeping busy. The aim is to assign a committee to everyone or, in any case, some sort of commitment within the Church. It is thought that the Church must always be talked about somehow or something must be done within it or for it. But a mirror which only reflects itself is no longer a mirror… It could be that a person is engaged in unceasing associative activities within the Church and is not a Christian at all for all that. But it could also be that another could simply live by the Word and the sacraments, and practice the love that comes form faith without ever appearing on an ecclesiastical committee, without ever concerning himself with the novelty of ecclesiastical politics, without ever participating in synods or voting at them and yet, he is a true Christian” (30 Days, No. 1 – 1992, 4).
This remark squares with the mind of then-Cardinal Razinger as well as the Extraordinary Synod of 1985 on the truer denomination of the Church as “Communio” subsuming within it (without suppressing) the conciliar nomenclature of People of God.” As he suggests above, the absolute ontological structure of the Church is the sacramental structure activated by the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which is meant, as it were, for “the street” (2) (remark of St. Josemaria Escriva). The Church is “in the nature of a sacrament” to the world (Lumen Gentium #1). It lives out this sacramentality by the priestly action of the persons of the laity making the gift of themselves to the world on the occasion of ordinary work. Hence, “secularity” is “dimension” of the entire Church and “characteristic” of the laity insofar as they exercise this priesthood of mediating self-gift “on the occasion” of work and family in the world.
On June 24, Benedict was reported discoursing with Italy’s President Carlo Ciampi on a “healthy secularity:” “The Church and the political community in their own fields are autonomous and independent from each other. Yet both, under different titles, are devoted to the personal and social vocation of the same men.” It was Leo XIII who saw that the key to the separation of Chruch and State as institutions (object) was the fact that the same person who is a believer (subject), and as such becomes conscious of his/her inherent dignity of freedom of self-determination (i.e., as “I”), is also citizen (subject). Hence, the very sameness of person as believer capacitates him/her to be citizen and ensures the institutional separation of the two orders.
The one action of the Christ, his self-gift to death on the Cross, is the one action of the entire Church in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Hence, the Church’s divinely instituted aboriginal structure is a communio of sacramentally constituted subjects of laymen and ministerial priests exercising themselves as gift in ordinary work by living out the Mass.
2) The Meaning of Communio: Prototypically in the Trinity:
“The First Person does not beget the Son in the sense of the act of begetting coming on top of the finished Person; it is the act of begetting, of giving oneself, of streaming forth. It is identical with the act of giving. Only as this act is it person, and therefore it is not the giver but the act of giving… In this idea of relativity in word and love, independent of the concept of substance and not to be classified among the `accidents,’ Christian thought discovered the kernel of the concept of person, which describes something other and infinitely more than the mere idea of the `individual’… Therein lies concealed a revolution in man’s view of the world: the undivided sway of thinking in terms of substance is ended; relation is discovered as an equally valid primordial mode of reality. It becomes possible to surmount what we call today `objectifying thought;’ a new plane of being comes into view.”
2) Consequent Christology:
If Person in the Trinity is self-gift, then when the Second Person becomes Incarnate, being becomes identified with doing. The Person becomes the office, or, in the words of St. Josemaria Escriva, “You cannot separate the fact that Christ is God from his role as redeemer.” Then-Josef Ratzinger fleshed out the Christological anthropology: “For what faith really states is precisely that with Jesus it is not possible to distinguish office and person; with him, this differentiation simply becomes inapplicable. The person is the office, the office is the person. The two are no longer divisible. Here there is no private area reserved for an `I’ which remains in the background behind the deeds and actions and thus at some time or other can be `off duty;’ here there is no `I’ separate from the work; the `I’ is the work and the work is the `I’… Jesus did not perform a work that could be distinguished from his `I’ and depicted separately. On the contrary, to understand him as the Christ means to be convinced that he has put himself into his word. Here there is no `I’ (as there is with all of us) which utters words; he has identified himself so closely with his word that `I’ and word are indistinguishable: he is word. In the same way, to faith, his work is nothing else than the unreserved way in which he merges himself into this very work; he performs himself and gives himself; and his work is the giving of himself.”
3) St. Josemaria Escriva: “Ipse Christus”
Locution, October 16, 1931: “I felt our Lord’s action, bringing to my heart and my lips, with irresistible force, the tender invocation `Abba! Pater!’ I was on the street, in a streetcar…. I probably made that prayer out loud. I wandered through the streets of Madrid for an hour, or perhaps two. I can’t say. I didn’t feel time go by. People must have taken me for a madman. I was contemplating, with lights that were not my own, this astounding truth that would remain in my soul like a burning coal and never go out.”Years later (late 60’s) in a meditation given in Rome, he said, “When God sent me those blows back in 1931, I didn’t understand them… Then all at once, in the midst of such great bitterness, cam the words: `You are my son (Ps. 2, 7), you are Christ.’ And I could only stammer: `Abba, Pater! Abba, Pater! Abba! Abba! Abba!’ Now I see it with a new light, like a new discovery, just as one sees, after years have passed, the hand of God, of divine Wisdom, of the All-Powerful. You’ve led me, Lord, to understand that to find the Cross is to find happiness, joy. And I see the reason with greater clarity than ever: to find the Cross is to identify oneself with Christ, to be Christ, and therefore to be a son of God.”
4) Josemaria Escriva: Ipse Christus Because the Person Is the Office:
In the 1992 testimony on the holiness, and therefore the identification with Christ, of Josemaria Escriva, Alvaro del Portillo – his collaborator and confessor for 40 years – wrote: “What constitutes the nucleus of Mons. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer’s message is the consciousness of the radical transformation that occurs in man through the working of baptismal grace: made a participant in the divine nature, man becomes a son of God and because of this he is called to sanctity. This boldness appears admirably synthesized in the point of Furrow: `Look – we have to love God not only with our heart but with his’ (n. 809)… All those who knew Josemaria Escriva perceived that his person was inseparable from the mission for which God had chosen him. Having been able to form a particularly close and profound relationship with him for 40 years reinforces in my memory this characteristic dimension of his human and spiritual physiognomy. I have seen him, so to speak, in his `first act’ as founder, that is to say, in the daily and continuous building of Opus Dei, and as a consequence, of the Church… The identification of his very self with his foundational activity implied that Mons. Escriva perfected himself as a subject – up to the point of living the virtues to a heroic degree – in the measure in which he carried out Opus Dei, feeling the need to second God’s plans daily.”
5) Opus Dei: A Communio: “David Without the Armor of Saul:”
Opus Dei is this identification of person and work (work as self-gift) engendered in St. Josemaria’s sons and daughters (he was always “the Father”) forming the communio of laity and ministerial priests. The “action” of the communio is the living out of the Sacrifice of the Mass in secular work. The laity need the priest to activate the priestly soul of self-giving, and the priests need the laity to need them. (As John Paul II said, “the person I need most is the person who needs me”). In this imaging of the Trinity where person engenders person, there is the communio of Opus Dei formed by laity and priests, as secular as the Church herself. “Opus Dei, my children is not `a thing; nor even, primarily, an institution. Like the Church, of which it forms part, it is a communion of persons, the kind of communion proper to a family.” Theologian Pedro Rodriguez comments: “Opus Dei’s social arrangement as a `Christian community’ stems from what we have called the `internal dimension of the Church’s structure.’ That is, it is born of mutual relations of `Christifideles’ and `sacred minister,’ or, if you prefer, it derives from the two forms of participating in Christ’s priesthood. That is also why Opus Dei as a social reality in the Church is organic and undivided. Its lay faithful (men and women) and the priests who act as its clergy complement each other in exemplary adherence to the basic aboriginal relationship obtaining in the Church between `Christifideles’ – called to live out the requirements and implications of their baptism – and sacred ministers, who bring in, besides, the `ministerial’ consequences of the sacrament of Order…
“Thus to the question, What is the ecclesiological nature of Opus Dei one could reply: `It is an institution whose internal structure replicates the basic ecclesial articulation between the common priesthood of the faithful possessed by virtue of baptism, and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood, possessed by the clerics incardinated in it.’
“So, what we find in Opus Dei, different yet complementing one another, are the two ecclesial forms of participating in Christ’s priesthood. We find both the `substantial’ priority of Opus Dei’s lay faithful, at whose service is the priestly ministry, and the `functional’ priority of the sacred ministry, in whose head (the prelate) resides the `sacra potestas’ that governs the prelature. The clergy’s `functional’ priority was described by the founder when he said that the ministerial priesthood `impregnates with its spirit our personal life and all our apostolic work.’ Opus Dei’s Statutes put it more technically: `Under the prelate’s authority, the clergy, by means of their priestly ministry, enliven and inform all of Opus Dei.’ But these terms – inform, enliven – point to t a `functional priority,’ they also clearly manifest the `substantial priority’ of Opus Dei’s lay faithful. Graphically, the founder told the Work’s priests that their task is to be a `carpet’ for others. He wrote: `In Opus Dei we’re all equal. There’s only a practical difference: priests are more bound to place their hearts on the floor like a carpet, so that their brothers and sisters may tread softly.’”
John Paul II expatiated on this notion of Opus Dei as communio by remarking: “The organic convergence of priests and laity is one of the privileged areas which will give life and pastoral solidity to that `new energy” whereby we all feel invigorated after the Great Jubilee. In this context I wish to draw attention to the importance of that `spirituality of communion’ emphasized in the Apostolic Letter [Novo Millennio Ineunte 42-43].
“The Christian laity are charged with carrying out an apostolic mission. Their specific competence in various human activities is, in the first place, a God-given instrument to `enable the proclamation of Christ to reach people, mould communities, and have a deep and incisive influence in bringing Gospel values to bear in society and culture. They are thereby spurred on tp place their skills effectively at the service of the `new frontiers,’ which are seen as challenges to the Church’s saving presence in the world….
“The priests, for their part, have a primary and irreplaceable role: to help souls, one by one, through the sacraments, preaching and spiritual direction. To open themselves to the gift of grace. A spirituality of communion will best strengthen the role of each ecclesial element.”
6) Conclusion: Opus Dei is not a particular Church or diocese. But it has the same “theological substance,” i.e., that constitutive relationship between laymen and priests, engendered and directed by a bishop/prelate, that makes it a communio and analogous to (but not the same as) a non-geographical diocese. Hence, it is not a religious order, an association or a movement. In the words of St. Josemaria Escriva, “Opus Dei is a little bit of the Church” itself. Therefore, a deeper understanding of what Opus Dei is will reward one with a deeper understanding of what the Church is, and a deeper understanding of what Benedict XVI is and will be about, and vice versa.