Saturday, February 25, 2006

Historical Prologomena to the Secular Institute: The Society of Common LIfe Without Vows

1) On February 14, 1943, during Mass, Escriva was given an illumination of what was to be the "Priestly Society of the Holy Cross." He "saw, with a clarity that confirmed the earlier lights [of October 2, 1928], that God wanted there to be , as an integral part of Opus Dei, a priestly body to perpetuate Christ's actions, especially the Mass" (Fuenmayor, Gomez Iglesias, Illanes, The Canonical Path of Opus Dei Scepter [1994] 110). He had sought to find the solution of "incardinating" priests in Opus Dei as an organization in which the laity, baptized into the common priesthood along the lines of the priesthood of our Lady, absolutely needed the ministerial services of the priesthood of Peter, to activate and serve their priesthood. The laity need the ministerial priest to service them with the Word, celebrate Holy Mass, and adminsiter the sacraments, especially Penance. The activation of the priesthood of the laity in the exercise of their secular, professional and family activities, cannot take place without the reception of the services of the ministerial priest. And it was, and is, essential that these priests have the understanding of the radical equality of the vocation for all, and that they are at the service of the laity as a carpet serves those who walk upon it - softly. This could only take place if the priests be called from Opus Dei's laity. Within the Code of Canon Law (1917) there was no possible way to do this.

2) Escriva glimpses a way: He proposes that the "Priestly Society of the Holy Cross" take the juridical form of a Society of Common Life without vows that is envisioned in title 17 of book 2 of the Code, and that a small number of the laymen be in preparation for ordination. In a letter in 1944, he propsed "to transform a small nucleus of our Work, made up of priests and some laymen approaching ordination, into a Society of common life without voews, the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross."

In effect, Opus Dei would really be presented "backwards" for juridical approval. It would be proposed as a society of priests with laity in proximate and remote preparation for ministerial priesthood. He saw that Opus Dei could avail itself of this form without prejudice to the secularity proper to it, thanks to the formal and explicit declaration that members of these societies are not religious.

Time line:
  • May 1943, Escriva sends Alvaro del Portillo to Rome to initiate the necessary consultations with the Holy See.
  • June 4, he was received Pope Pius XII to whom he explained at length the nature of Opus Dei and its apostolates.
  • On Pentecost 1943, Escriva formally requested of the bishop of Madrid the erection the Priestly Society as a Society of Common Life without vows.
  • June 22, the bishop of Madred applied to Rome's Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Religious requesting the nihil obstat for this erection. Bishop Leopoldo Eijo y Garay testifies that Escriva had developed his apostolic work `with my total approval and blessing.'"
  • September 29, 1943, the Holy Office decreed the nihil obstare concerning the Priestly Society to the Congregation for Religious.
  • October 11, 1943, the Sacred Congregation for Religious granted its nihil obstat for the diocesan erection of "The Priestly Society...."
  • October 18, 1943, the feast of St. Luke, the bishop of Madrid informs Escriva of the event.
  • December 8, 1943 Eijo y Garay erects the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross as a "Society of Common Life."

Erecting a part of the pastoral phenomenon into a Society of Common Life, while keeping the rest under the name of Opus Dei as `a work proper, united and inseparable' to the Society, effectively preserves the traits Opus Dei had in 1941. The Work remains an association of the faithful, whose lay members `continue being ordinary Christians,' while making possible the achievement of the goals mentioned.

Evaluating the formula adopted, Escriva writes, "It offers undeniable advantages." His words express his satisfaction with what has been accomplished, but he immediately refines them by saying, "even though I cnanot hide from you...," which opens the way to examining the limits and difficultires this solution implied.

Two Shortcomings of the New Juridical Configuration:

1) The relationship established between the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei does not properly reflect the reality of the pastoral phenomenon. Opus Dei could be considered "a part of the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross, when the fact of the matter is that the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross is only a small part of the Work." Escriva wrote: "I repeat to you, my beloved children, that you continue beng ordinary faithful, you continue in the state you had when the Lord called you to his Work.... The means to achieve Christian perfection in one's own state in life, (which is translated into) the ledge of striving for personal sanctity and the exercise o os apostolate in themiddle of the world, which is somethingf fitting for all souls without exception." (Letter, February 14, 1966 #14).

Years later he put it: "Opus Dei appeared as something secondary: as an association proper to and inseparable from the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross, when the fact of the matter is that none of these two parts of our Work is secondary. Both of them are principal" (Letters, December 29, 1947/ February 14, 1966). The priests and lay people who are the protagonists of a single pastoral pheneomenon, united in self-giving, are co-responsible for a single mission, to whose realization both actively contribute. The function of the ministerial priesthood consists in making present, in the organism of the Work, Christ's face and grace, mainly through the sacraments.

2) "The second shortcoming: even though the new juridical formula clarified that Opus Dei members were not religious, the figure of Societies of common life was seen by most canonists as approaching the religious state. This formula therefore, could sow confusion. The founder did all he could to stress the differences. For example, in requesting the erection of the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross in June 1943 and to underline the special characteristcs of the juridical form submitted for approval, he did not refer to the canons that then regulated the Societies of common life without qualifications. Rather he interjected the phrase ad instar - with a resemblance - to indicate the existence of these spoecial characteristics....

"The founder spared no pains to reflect and safeguard in the best way possible Opus Dei's secularity. But the limitations of the juridical figure remained. In itself it was incapable of faithfully expressing the reality of Opus Dei. While the additional refinements managed to safeguard the substance, they did no achieve a fully satisfactory fit. It was the `least inappropriate' solution from among the possible ones, the founder taught. In 1944 he wrote, `For the moment there is no better arrangement.' It was a question of taking a step forward, `yielding in the words, but without giving up as regards substance,' to make growth in the apostolate possible and to facilitate in this way a better solution in the future" (The Canonical Path..." ibid. 128-129) (emphasis mine).

Enter Vatican II, Presbyterorum Ordinis #10 and Ecclesiae Sanctae #4 - all of which ends in the Prelature of Ut Sit, November 28, 1982 (See below).

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