Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Prelate of Opus Dei as "Father"

The Founder of Opus Dei once remarked: “Opus Dei is a little bit of the Church.”[1] The Church was designated as “The People of God” in the Second Vatican Council.[2] However, then – Cardinal Ratzinger noted that in the post-Conciliar years, the term “people of God” become the symbol of a politicized, non-hierarchical church. In the Synod of 1985, the term “Communio” had been inserted to better represent the vertical as well as horizontal reality of the Church, but this also suffered the same fate: a reduction to the purely horizontal. The Cardinal remarked:

“At that time [1969] everything centered on the “people of God,” a concept which was thought to be a genuine innovation of the Second Vatican Council and was quickly contrasted with a hierarchical understanding of the Church. More and more, “people of God” was understood in the sense of popular sovereignty, as a right to a common, democratic determination over everything that the Church is and over everything that she should do. God was taken to be the creator and sovereign of the people because the phrase contained the words “of God,” but even with this awareness he was left out. He was amalgamated with the notion of a people who create and form themselves. (3) The word communio, which no one used to notice, was now surprisingly fashionable—if only as a foil. According to this interpretation, Vatican II had abandoned the hierarchical ecclesiology of Vatican I and replaced it with an ecclesiology of communio. Thereby, communio was apparently understood in much the same way the “people of God” had been understood, i.e., as an essentially horizontal notion. On the one hand, this notion supposedly expresses the egalitarian moment of equality under the universal decree of everyone. On the other hand, it also emphasizes as one of its most fundamental ideas an ecclesiology based entirely on the local Church. The Church appears as a network of groups, which as such precede the whole and achieve harmony with one another by building a consensus.”[3]

Theological Background to the Notion of “Church”


The Hebrew word “qahal” was given to the liturgical assembly of the people back from captivity in the ruins of the Temple. Louis Boyer says: “At the first qahal when the covenant was made on Sinai, the people had responded with unanimous acceptance of the ten sentences of the basic Torah, and then the first sacrifices of the covenant were offered…. At the third great qahal, of the Scribe Ezra [which was the foundation of the Synagogue of later Judaism], it is the whole priestly Torah of the scribes which is read, the Pentateuch complete in its definitive form in exile.”[4] The qahal is the gathering of the Jews to hear the Word of God with their response that is the "berakah." As the Word of God is God Himself I AM speaking, it calls for the total response of each Jew as “I.” The God of Revelation is not a part of the whole of reality as its supreme manifestation. Rather the Revealing Creator is the Whole apart from Creation itself. Hence, the response demands the whole of the “I” of the believer. As a result, the action of faith-response known as the "berakah" was the call to the Jew to make a total gift of himself. So total was the response that the Jews formed a unique people, each of whom was self-gift. Bouyer wrote:

“Throughout the entire life of the pious Jew the piety of Judaism extends the ramifications of these berakoth, which are found in detail in the tractates with this title in the Mishnah and Toseftah. From the time he awakens, through each of his actions of the day, to the moment of his retirement and falling asleep, they consecrate the totality of his acts. And at the same time they consecrate the world in restoring it in praise to the Word which created it in the beginning, for each and every one of them are but so many acts of `acknowledgement’ of this Word as being the beginning and the end of all things… And it is thus that all of Israel believes it is accomplishing the promise of the book of Exodus: they will be made an entirely priestly people, a kingdom of priests, of consecrators of the entire universe to the one divine will revealed in the Torah.”[5]

This qahal of the Jews as a people is not the Greek “assembly of the people.” Ratzinger explains that with the Greeks only the men, not women and children, were protagonists in the assemblies. In the Jewish qahal, “even women and children, who in Greece could not be active agents of political events, belonged…”[6] The distinctive note here is that the grouping of the people came about by the response (berakah) of the whole person, man, woman and child, to the Word of God. This universality points to the radical equality of being subjects/selves: "I's." The distinctive note of the oneness of the Jews as a people, as opposed to the gentile grouping was the ontological response to a “thirdness” that gives them a constitutively relational bond, instead of an accidental one as in pagan (non-believing) political grouping.

The Church as the “Qahal” - a Con-vocation - of Christ (His “Habhuroth[7])

Ratzinger's hermeneutic on the St. Paul’s radical notion of faith shows how faith is the radical act of self-gift to death. One finds self only by the gift of self (GS #24):

“It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2, 20): “To explain [this]... as meaning that becoming and being a Christian rest upon conversion would still be much too weak a way of putting things. This is not to deny that such an interpretation is aiming in the right direction, but the point is that conversion in the Pauline sense is something much more radical than, say, the revision of a few opinions and attitudes. It is a death-event. In other words, it is an exchange of the old subject for another. The `I’ ceases to be an autonomous subject standing in itself. It is snatched away from itself and fitted into a new subject. The `I’ is not simply submerged, but it must really release its grip on itself in order then to receive itself anew in and together with a greater `I’

“In the Letter to the Galatians, the fundamental intuition about the nature of conversion – that it is the surrender of the old isolated subjectivity of the `I’ in order to find oneself within the unity of anew subject, which bursts the limits of the `I,’ thus making possible contact with the ground of all reality – appears again with new emphases in another context. Paul, with the help of the antithesis between the law and the promise, is pursuing the question whether man can, as it were, create himself on his own or whether he must receive himself as a gift. While doing so, he emphasizes quite vigorously that the promise was issued only in the singular. It is intended, not for a mass of juxtaposed subjects, but for `the offspring of Abraham’ in the singular (Gal 3, 16). There is only one bearer of the promise, outside of which is the chaotic world of self-realization where men compete with one another and desire to compete with God but succeed merely in working right past their true hope.”[8]

Ratzinger then tops it off with this eye-opening hermeneutic of Paul:

St. Paul says: “As in an organism there are many members working in harmony, so it is with Christ” (1 Cor. 12, 12).

Ratzinger does the exegesis:

“Paul does not say `as in an organism there are many members working in harmony, so too in the Church,’ as if he were proposing a purely sociological model of the Church, but at the very moment when he leaves behind the ancient simile, he shifts the idea to an entirely different level He affirms, in fact, that, just as there is one body but many members, `so it is with Christ…’ The term of the comparison is not the church, since, according to Paul the Church is in no wise a separate subject endowed with its own subsistence. The new subject is much rather `Christ’ himself, and the Church is nothing but the space of this new unitary subject, which is, therefore, much more than mere social interaction. It is an application of the same Christological singular found in the Letter to the Galatians. Here, too, it has a sacramental reference, though this time it points to the Eucharist, whose essence Paul defines two chapters before in the bold assertion: `Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body’ (10, 17)… soma, may be translated as `one subject…”[9]

This is startling. We must understand that we are being invited to enter into a new epistemological horizon, that of the “I.” In this horizon, the being of the “I” is, as they say, “constitutively” relational (to distinguish it from the “accidentally” relational), in the sense that I, as image of the Trinitarian Persons who are nothing but Relation (“I and the Father are one" (Jn. 10, 30); "the Father is greater than I” (Jn.14, 29) “find myself… by the sincere gift of myself” (Gaudium et Spes #24). Hence, faith is a moral act[10] of the gift of the “I” to the revealing “I” of the Logos.

Hence, the Church, which is the “space” where this act of faith takes place is “One.” It is not “united” in an accidental way as individual substances would be in a political union. Rather, the unity of Christian believers is that they are “One Christ” as His Body. The relations are constitutive of who they are. They are not who they are prior to faith, just as the Persons of the Trinity are not who they are except in that the Father is the engendering of the Son, and the Son is the glorifying of the Father while the Spirit is the Love – gift of the Two.

Which brings us to the point. Where there is a relation between Christ and humanity as in “The Word was made flesh” (Jn. 1, 14) and Christ as Bridegroom and the Church as the prototype of spousal relation, there must be a third party – the Holy Spirit, grace, affirmative love as radiation of fatherhood (as we will suggest with the Prelate of Opus Dei) that empowers the possibility of the gift of self. That is, oneness is not possible without an engendering love to dynamize the self giving such that the result is a oneness that does not destroy the autonomy of the parts.[11]

There is also a oneness in the Church that is the spousal union of Christ, the Bridegroom, to the Church, Bride. Ratzinger comments:

“In the first place, we must remember that “communion” between men and women is only possible when embraced by a third element. In other words, common human nature creates the very possibility that we can communicate with one another. We are not only nature but also persons, and in such a way that each person represents a unique way of being human different from everyone else. Therefore, nature alone is not sufficient to communicate the inner sensibility of persons. If we want to draw another distinction between individuality and personality, then we could say that individuality divides and being a person opens. Being a person is by nature being related. But why does it open? Because both in its very depths and in its highest aspirations being a person goes beyond its own boundaries towards a greater, universal “something” and even toward a greater, universal “someone.” The all-embracing third, to which we return so often can only bind when it is greater and higher than individuals. On the other hand, the third it itself within each individual because it touches each one from within. Augustine once described this as “higher than my heights, more interior than I am to myself.” This third, which in truth is the first, we call God. We touch ourselves in him. Through him and only through him, a communio which grasps our own depths comes into being. "[12]

The Prelate of Opus Dei:

The relation of the common priesthood of the faithful to the ministerial priesthood is the work of the radiation of fatherhood of the Prelate. To be loved by him is part of the engendering Fatherhood of God which makes it possible to make the gift of oneself to the others. As “a little bit of the Church,” Opus Dei is “hierarchical.” This means that the Prelate and his presbyterate have a sacramental union – hierarchical - to Christ as Good Shepherd, Who makes the ultimate self-gift by giving His Life for His sheep.

“The hierarchical nature of Opus Dei, established in the Apostolic Constitution whereby I erected the Prelature, gives scope for pastoral considerations that are rich in practical applications….
“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.”
The mission of the Prelate is to bring about this “organic convergence.” Pedro Rodriguez says:
“Opus Dei is a prelature because it has a prelate directing it, possessed of sacra potestas. And, of course, because it has clergy and laity – its faithful people. But a gathering of priests and lay people does not produce the `organic unity’ of a `personal prelature’ unless it has a head, who brings unity that grouping and makes it the compages apostolica identified and regulated by John Paul II in Ut sit. In other words, that `little bit’ of the Church of which St. Josemaria Escriva spoke is a personal prelature because the Church supreme authority has entrusted its pastoral care… to a prelate. Within Opus Dei we find the constitutional dimension of the communio hierarchica. Because we find a prelate who belongs to the Church’s hierarchy and is the hierarchical head of the prelature.
“His jurisdiction extends to all members of the prelature, priests as well as lay people, but it is circumscribed by the specific aim and the apostolic mission that the Church has recognized and approved for Opus Dei….
“What truly defines Opus Dei’s prelate is his `fatherhood,’ his role as a pastor who is a father to all the prelature’s faithful. That is why in Opus Dei he is usually called `Father.’ The prelate’s role in the life of Opus Dei deeply configures the prelature…."

Conclusion: the mission of the Prelate as Father is to engender sons and daughters as laity and ministers so that that they replicate the aboriginal relation that obtained in the Church from the beginning. By his love, direction and formation, the Father must stimulate the self-giving of each faithful of the Prelature to exercise the priestly soul and lay mentality. That is, to mediate (priestly soul) between the self and God for the others by the free gift of self (lay mentality of self-determination) on the occasion of secular work. In this way, Opus Dei is “a little bit of the Church” with the apostolic mission of communicating this “aboriginal” spirit through the Church and civil society.

[1] Pedro Rodriguez, “The Place of Opus Dei in the Church,” Opus Dei in the Church Scepter (1994) 1.
[2] Lumen Gentium, Chapter II: “He [God] has… willed to make men holy and save them, not as individuals without any bond or link between them, but rather to make them into a people who might acknowledge him and serve him in holiness. He therefore chose the Israelite race to be his own people and established a covenant with it… Christ… called a race made up of Jews and Gentiles which would be one, not according to the flesh, but in the Spirit, and this would be the new People of God.”
[3]Communio 19 (Fall, 1992): 436–449
[4] Louis Bouyer, “Eucharist” UNDP (1968) 47.
[5] Idem, 48.
[6] Josef Ratzinger “Called to Communion,” Ignatius (1996) 31: “But there is a twofold distinction between the Old Testament qahal and the Greek plenary assembly of enfranchised citizens. Even women and children, who in Greece could not be active agents of political events, belonged to the qahal. A closely connected fact is that in Greece it is the males who determine by their decisions what is to be done, while the assembly of Israel gathers `to listen to what God proclaims and to assent to it.’ This typically biblical conception of the popular assembly is traceable to the fact that the convocation on Sinai was regarded as the normative image all later such assemblies; it was solemnly reenacted after the Exile by Ezra as the refoundation of the people. But because the dispersion of Israel continued on and slavery was reiimposed, a qahal coming from God himself, a new gathering and foundation of the people, increasingly became the center of Jewish hope. The supplication for this gathering – for the appearance of the ecclesia – is a fixed component of late Jewish prayer”
[7] J. Ratzinger: “Jesus too celebrated the Passover according to these prescriptions, at home with his family; that is to say, with the Apostles, who had become his new family. In doing so he was observing a current rule which permitted pilgrims who were traveling to Jerusalem to form companies, the so-called habhuroth,” who would constitute a family, a Passover unity, for this night. That is how Passover became a Christian feast. We are Christ’s habhura, hiw family, formed of his pilgrim company, of the friends who accompany him along the path of the gospel trough the terrain of history. Companions of his pilgrimage, we constitute Christ’s house; thus, the Church is the new family, the new city, and for us she signifies all that Jerusalem was – that living home which banishes the powers of chaos and makes an area of peace, which upholds both creation and us. The Church is the new city by being the family of Jesus, the living Jerusalem, and her faith is the rampart and wall against the chaotic powers that threaten to bring destruction upon the world. Her ramparts are strengthened by the blood of the true Lamb, Jesus Christ…” Behold the Pierced One, Ignatius (1986) 104-105.
[8] Josef Ratzinger, “The Nature and Mission of Theology,” Ignatius (1995) 50-53.
[9] Ibid. 54.
[10] Veritatis Splendor #88.
[11] An Analogy: Aristotle’s argument for the soul (form, ousia, energeia,) as a third thing independent of the heterogeneous parts of an organism is the only possible explanation to account for the oneness of the organism as organism. The whole or oneness of the “organ-ism” is greater than the sum of its parts. There must be a sufficient cause explaining how heterogeneous parts can be “one being.” If we say chance or an infinite series, we end in the absurdity of saying there is no sufficient reason for the order that is accounted for. What is at stake in this is reason itself. Aristotle said: “For to say what are the ultimate substances out of which an animal is formed, to state, for instance, that it is made of fire or earth, is no more sufficient than would be a similar account in the case of a couch or the like. For we should not be content with saying that the couch was made of bronze or wood or whatever it might be, but should try to describe its design or mode of composition in preference to the material; or, if we did deal with the material, it would at any rate be with the concretion of material and form. For a couch is such and such a form embodied in this or that matter, or such and such a matter with this or that form, so that its shape and structure must be included in our description. For the formal nature is of greater importance than the material nature.” (Aristotle, “On the Parts of Animals,” I,1, 640b).
[12] Communio 19 (Fall, 1992): 436–449
[13] John Paul II, Address at an audience of participants at a seminar on `Novo Millennio Ineunte”, March 17, 2001.
[14] Pedro Rodriguez, op. cit. 52-59.

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