Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Opus Dei and the Church: Vatican II, Benedict XVI and John Paul II

I was asked recently: does Benedict XVI understand Opus Dei?

The logic of the response formed in my mind in the following way.

On the day after the Conclave in which he was elected pope, Benedict XVI said: "I, too, as I start in the service that is proper to the Successor of Peter, wish to affirm with force my decided will to pursue the commitment to enact Vatican Council II..." Then, Paul VI asserted that the spirit of Opus Dei, semanticized in the expression of St. Josemaria Escriva that "There is something holy, something divine hidden in the most ordinary situations, and it is up to each one of you to discover it," was "the most characteristic feature and the ultimage purpose of al the conciliar teaching."

If that is the case, then logic would suggest that if Benedict XVI was determined "to pursue the commitment to enact Vatican II," that commitment would involve Opus Dei.

* * * * * * * * * * *

1) Opus Dei and Vatican Council II are One:
Testimony of Bishop Alvaro del Portillo:

· President of the Commission on the Laity in the pre-preparatory phase of the Council;
· Secretary of the Commission on the Discipline of the Clergy and of the Christian People, that brought forth the Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis (December 7, 1965);
· Consultor to four other commissions dealing with important doctrinal and disciplinary matters.


“In a homily which he preached in 1963, the Founder of Opus Dei recalled: `When Pope John XXIII closed the first session of the Second Vatican Council and announced that the name of Saint Joseph was to be included in the canon of the Mass, a prominent churchman telephoned me to say: `Rallegramenti!’ Congratulations! Listening to the Pope’s announcement, I though immediately of you and of how happy you would be. And indeed I was happy, for in that conciliar gathering, which represented the whole Church brought together in the Holy Spirit, there was proclaimed the great supernatural value of Saint Joseph’s life, the value of an ordinary life of work done in God’s presence, and in total fulfillment of his will.”

The significance of that phone call consisted in the affirmation by Vatican Council II of the universal call to holiness on the occasion of ordinary work and family life. In 1992, Bishop del Portillo shared that Pope Paul VI had remarked that the following remark of St. Josemaria Escriva, “(t)here is something holy, something divine hidden in the most ordinary situations, and it is up to each one of you to discover it,”[1] “is so transcendental that the Church has wanted to proclaim it solemnly in the last Council and to make it into `the most characteristic feature and the ultimate purpose of all the conciliar teaching.”[2]
Del Portillo remarked: “I frequently recalled that small but significant telephone call. So often, in the course of approval of one Council document or another, it would have been a matter of perfect justice to turn to the Founder of Opus Dei and to say: `Congratulations! What you have lived in your own soul, and have untiringly taught since 1928, has been proclaimed, with all solemnity, by the Magisterium of the Church!”
In sum, the spirit of Opus Dei is “the most characteristic feature and ultimate purpose of all the conciliar teaching,” and this for one overriding reason: “Opus Dei is a little bit of the Church.”[3]

2) The Mind of Benedict XVI in his first homily after his election as Pope: “With the Great Jubilee the Church was introduced into the new millennium carrying in her hands the Gospel, applied to the world through the authoritative re-reading of Vatican Council II. Pope John Paul II justly indicated the Council as a `compass’ with which to orient ourselves in the vast ocean of the third millennium. Also in his spiritual testament he noted, `I am convinced that for a very long time the new generations will draw upon the riches that this council of the 20th century gave us.
I too, as I start in the service that is proper to the Successor of Peter, wish to affirm with force my decided will to pursue the commitment to enact Vatican Council II, in the wake of my predecessors and in faithful continuity with the millennia-old tradition of the Church. Precisely this year is the 40th anniversary of the conclusion of this conciliar assembly (December 8, 1965).
With the passing of time, the conciliar documents have not lost their timeliness; their teachings have shown themselves to be especially pertinent to the new exigencies of the Church and the present globalized society”
(my underline). [4]

2) If the “decided will” of Benedict XVI is the implementation of the documents of Vatican II, and the spirit of Opus Dei is embodied in the documents of Vatican II as their “most characteristic feature and ultimate purpose,” then the question is: what is the core of the spirit of Opus Dei, as a clue to finding the core of the Council?

The response of Bishop Alvaro del Portillo: “If one were to describe the core of the Second Vatican Council’s teaching and its overall thought, a primary place would be given to the concept of the Church as `a people brought into unity from the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’ according to an expression of St. Cyprian in the Council’s Constitution Lumen gentium [#4]. The united people, the Mystical Body of Christ, extends the redemptive and sanctifying action of the Head to the end of time. It does so through all of the Catholic faithful, because all of them are called to carry out the great task of bringing men to God, each one in his or her particular circumstances. `The Lord Jesus whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world’ (John 10, 36) makes his whole Mystical Body share in the anointing of the Sprit wherewith He has been anointed: for in that Body all the faithful are made a holy and kingly priesthood.’[5]
“When Monsignor Escriva dealt with this teaching concerning the common priesthood of the faithful, even in the early years of Opus Dei, he would remind the members of the Work – laymen with a wide variety of professions and involved in all sorts of secular occupations – that this priestly soul was completely compatible with their lay mentality. `If the Son of God has become a man and died on the Cross, it was so that all men might be one with Him and the Father (cf. John 17, 22). All of us, therefore, are called to form a part of this divine unity. With a priestly soul and with the Holy Mass as the centre of our interior life, we strive to be present with Jesus, between God and men.’[6] `Through Baptism all of us have been made priests of our own existence, “to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2, 5), to carry out our every action with a spirit of obedience to God’s will and to thus perpetuate the mission of the God-man.’”[7]

3) To help clarify the above: priesthood means mediation. The uniqueness of the priesthood of Jesus Christ is its intrinsicness. That means, as the meaning of priesthood before Christ was extrinsic in that the mediation took place between distinct beings (persons [gods] and things), Jesus Christ mastered Himself (the human will of the man Jesus of Nazareth) and mediated between Himself and the Father in our favor. Jesus Christ is priest of His own existence. As long as self-gift occurs, the priesthood of Christ can take place anywhere at any time doing any thing.

When the priesthood of self-gift takes place, the communio that is proper to the Trinity occurs. Communio means that one person cannot be without the other. Transcending our created experience, the Father is the very act of engendering the Son. There can be no Father where there is no Son, and vice versa. So, also the Holy Spirit, since He is the personification of the self-giving of both Father and Son.
Made in the image and likeness of the Three, we are also called to be in communio. “There is a certain parallel between the union existing among the divine persons and the union of the sons of God in truth and love. It follows, then, that if man is the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake, man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself.”[8]
The protagonists of this communio – that is the Church – are those sacramentally constituted by Baptism and Orders: the layman and the minister. Both share in the one, single priesthood of Christ but in ways that are essentially different and do not admit of degrees.[9] Equally sharing Christ’s priesthood (and therefore equally called to the holiness of Christ as Son of the Father), they are called respectively “common priesthood of the laity” and “ministerial priesthood.” But the sharing in the one priesthood is irreducibly different since the self-gift of the common priesthood is to give Christ to the world on the occasion of their secular work[10]; and the self-gift of the ministerial priesthood is to act in Persona Christi so as to serve the laity in the common priesthood, and so activate the exercise of it by the celebration of the Mass, the sacraments (especially Baptism and Penance) and preaching the divine Word.
The sacramental “character” of Baptism and Orders gives an “ontological configuration” to the persons of the laity and the minister. Since person is understood as relational and ontological, it is possible to explain how persons can be radically equal yet irreducibly different (as in the Trinity) by the orientation of the ontological vectoring: layman to the world; minister to the layman.

For the self to be gift, it must be free in the sense of a self-determining autonomy. “The Crucified Christ reveals the authentic meaning of freedom; he lives it fully in the total gift of himself and call his disciples to share in his freedom;” (Veritatis Splendor #85). This self-determining autonomy is the metaphysical anthropology of the meaning of freedom, and therefore of “secularity.” The phrase “lay mentality” above means the exercise of freedom in the pursuit of holiness in the middle of society. John Paul II developed the notion in Christifideles Laici #15, where he explained that as the Sacred Humanity of Christ is the meaning of “secularity,” the Body of Christ, the entire Church has a “secular dimension,” and the laity in the Church have “secularity” as “characteristic.” That means that it is precisely their involvement in the world in ordinary work that is the occasion of the priestly gift of self that comprises the layman’s common priesthood of Christ. Hence, it can be said in all propriety that the more priestly one is by self-giving in the world while working, the more secular (with a “lay mentality”) one is. And the more involved in the world, “loving it passionately”[11] with the Heart of Christ, the more priestly one is.

4) The Communio that is Opus Dei is the Communio that is the Church:

On March 17, 2001, John Paul II remarked: “The hierarchical nature of Opus Dei established in the Apostolic Constitution whereby I erected the Prelature, gives scope for pastoral considerations which are rich in practical applications. IN the first place I wish to emphasize that the lay faithful, by belonging both to their own particular Church [dioceses] and also to the Prelature, in which they are incorporated, enable the specific mission of the Prelature to blend with the evangelizing task of each particular Church, as was foreseen by the Second Vatican Council in its vision of personal Prelature.
“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, #15].
“(…) 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 to place their own 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.”


This relationship between laity and minister, as mentioned above, is communio. In fact, it is the “aboriginal relationship” that obtained in the Church from the beginning. It is the Church. In Opus Dei, “(i)ts 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 `mnisterial’ consequences of the sacrament of Order…. `The ministerial priesthood of the clergy and the common priesthood of the lay people are so intimately linked that both, in unity of vocation and government, require and complement each other (ad invicem) in striving for the end proper to the prelature.’”[12]

Insofar as Opus Dei is the “basic aboriginal relationship obtaining in the Church between” laity and ministers, it is the Church, it is Vatican Council II and it is “the decided will” of Benedict XVI “to pursue.” It is most suggestive to consider that the true understanding of Vatican II and the understanding of Opus Dei, for the reasons given above, go hand in hand. Observe the following remarks in 1984 on Vatican II by then-Cardinal Ratzinger:

“I believe, rather, that the true time of Vatican II has not yet come, that its authentic reception has not yet begun: it documents were quickly buried under a pile of superficial or frankly inexact publications. The reading of the letter of the documents will enable us to discover their true spirit. If tyhus rediscovered in their truth, those great texts will make it possible for us to understand just what happened and to react with a new vigor. I repeat: the Catholic who clearly and , consequently, painfully perceives the damage that has been wrought in his Church by the misinterpretations of Vatican II must find the possibility of revival in Vatican II itself. The Council is his, it does not belong to those who want to continue along a road whose results have been catastrophic. It does not belong to those, who, not by chance, don’t know just what to make of Vatican II, which they look upon as a `fossil of the clerical era.’”[13]

[1] Conversatins with Monsignor Josemaria Ecriva, Sinag-Tala (1981) 190-204
[2] Paul VI Motu proprio `Sanctitas clarior’, 19 March 1969, AAS 61 (1969), p. 150.
[3] “Back in 1958… in reply to a query about the Work…, St. Josemaria simply said, `Opus Dei is a little bit of the “Church’” Opus Dei in the Church, Scepter (1994) 1.
[4] Benedict XVI, “You Are Peter,” Inside the Vatican May 2005 p. 28.
[5] Second Vatican Council, Decree, Presbyterorum Ordinis, 2.
[6] Josemaria Escriva, Letter, 11 March 1940.
[7] Ibid. Christ is Passing By, 2.
[8] Vatican Council II, Gaudium et spes #24.
[9] “Though they differ essentially and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are none the less ordered one to another; each n its own proper way shares in the one priesthood of Christ;” Lumen Gentium #10.
[10] “But by reason of their special vocation it belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will. They live in the world, that is, they are engaged in each and every work and business of the earth and in the ordinary circumstances of social and family life which, as it were constitute their very existence. There they are called d by God that, being led by the spirit to the Gospel, they may contribute to the sanctification of the world, as from within like leaven, by fulfilling their own particular duties;” Lumen Gentium #31.
[11]Passionately Loving the World,” A Homily Given by St. Josemaria Escriva at a Mass on the Campus of the University of Navarre, October 8, 1967 in Conversations… op. cit.
[12] Pedro Rodriguez, Opus Dei in the Church, Scepter (1995) 38.
[13] J. Ratzinger, The Ratzinger Report, Ignatius (1985) 40.

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