Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Three Recognitions of Opus Dei by the Holy See: 1943 "Appostio Manuum" (Nihil Obstat); 1947 "Decretum Laudis"; 1950 Definitive Approval




Opus Dei is definitively approved as "a little bit of the Church" (St. Josemaria Escriva, 1958; cf. Pedro Rodriguez, "The Place of Opus Dei in the Church," Opus Dei in the Church Scepter [1994] 1) - whose specific goal is to form "other Christs" by making the gift of self on the occasion and in the exercise of ordinary secular work and family life in the world. As such, the Kingdom of God is engendered now in the world, not "above" the world and after time.


I) “Appositio Manuum,” October 11, 1943: Nihil Obstat on Opus Dei:

Today should be a feast for the universal Church since what happened for Opus Dei today in 1943 happened for the universal Church in the promulgation of Lumen Gentium (The “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church”) on November 21, 1964 during the Second Vatican Council. On this date in 1943, the Holy See put its hands over Opus Dei approving the radical equality of laity and priests as “sharing one and the same basic theological condition and belong (ing) to the same primary common category.”[1] The founder of Opus Dei, St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer remarked: “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.”[2]In a word, the canonical struggle for Opus Dei to find a juridical mould to hold the radical equality of laymen and priests as having the same vocation, spirituality and formation anticipated the struggle to achieve the radical equality of the “People of God” (soon to be upgraded to the terminology of “Communio”[3]). A like struggle took place in the Second Vatican Council that rewrote its preparatory schemas, most notably Lumen Gentium, from a clericalized and hierarchialized ecclesiology to one calling for recognition of the radical equality of all the baptized in Christ with what can be called a functional diversity of hierarchy, laity and religious.The History:With Opus Dei, it all took place in 1943. On February 14, “Fr. Josemaria was celebrating holy Mass in the center of Opus Dei’s women’s branch in Madrid. Suddently, during holy sacrifice a new light shone in his interior. Once again God had entered his life and marked out the way. `When I finished celebrating Mass I designed the seal of the Work, Christ’s cross embracing the world, in the very heart of the world, and I could speak of the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross’…"Fr. Escriva now saw, with a clarity that confirmed the earlier lights, that God wanted … as an integral part of Opus Dei, a priestly body to perpetuate Christ’s actions, especially the Mass, which represents and makes present the supreme immolation of the Cross. The Cross must be inscribed in the world, reaching the four cardinal points, brought by each Christian with his life and work. To make this possible, so that ordinary Christians – with their common priesthood – might be one with Christ and make him present among men, they must be backed by like-minded sacred ministers, as instruments of Christ to communicate life and grace. Hence, as the Church is structured so also must Opus Dei be, in its own way.”[4]Since the Church had not yet gone through the Second Vatican Council, it would be more accurate to say that Opus Dei was struggling with the absence of a juridical structure and an adequate theology before and in preparation for that the Church was going to go through from 1962 to 1965 and beyond.“What aims was the founder trying to accommodate? He sought the canonical erection of a priestly [read clerical or ministerial because the laity by baptism are already “priestly”] group or body within the total pastoral phenomenon of Opus Dei, so he could count on priests from the lay ranks of Opus Dei and formed according to its spirit, ascribed to the Work with no change in their secular condition. They would answer to the President General [the problem of incardination had to be solved] for the exercise of their ministry: pastorally tending to the members of Opus Dei and cooperating with them in their apostolic endeavors.“But the 1917 Code of Canon Law permitted only ascription to a diocese or a religious institute…. Among the non-religious associations or societies, only some, the so-called Societies of common life without vows (title 17, book 2, CIV 1917) enjoyed the faculty of incardinating priests, if with the Holy See’s approval this were established in their constitutions or granted to them by papal indult….“With the light of February 14, Opus Dei’s founder decided to take a new juridical step. He proposed to the ecclesiastical authority a formula he characterized as `the only viable solution within the framework of the present law. I am ready to yield in the words, so long as the document itself always affirms in a precise way the true substance of our way.’ The step would solve immediate problems, though still not totally satisfactory.“In choosing this solution for the sake of having priests, the founder did not see Opus Dei as such being transformed into a Society of common life. Rather as he explained in a 1944 Letter, his idea was: `to transform a small nucleus of our Work, made up of priests and some laymen approaching ordination, into a Society of common life without vows, the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross…. [5]The Shortcomings: 1) “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.”[6] “The priests and lay people who are the protagonists of a single pastoral phenomenon, 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) “(E)ven 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….“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 not achieve a fully satisfactory fit. It was the `least inappropriate’ solution from among the possible ones.... In 1944 he wrote, `For the moment there is no better arrangement’ … `Let’s pray and live in a holy way,’ he added, `the spirit we have received from God, and he will give us the definitive juridical structure to preserve us faithful to our vocation and to render us effective in the tasks of our apostolate.’[7]”[8] The whole of this would have to wait for the creation of a doctrinal and juridical paradigm shift or revolution that would make it possible for Opus Dei to take its correct place as “a little bit of the Church.”[9] This revolution and paradigm shift was the Second Vatican Council.





The Parallel between the Radical Equality in Opus Dei (October 11, 1943) and the Radical Equality of All in the Church (November 21, 1964.The Evolution of Lumen Gentium in the Second Vatican Council: As Opus Dei was struggling for diocesan and pontifical recognition as a secular phenomenon where laymen and priests were equally called to holiness, the Church of the Second Vatican Council was going through a like struggle in re-interpreting itself as a people of God that was radically equal with a functional diversity within this same and equal people of being hierarchy, laity and religious. Writ small, Opus Dei was going through what the Church was about to go through writ large:The first schema for Lumen gentium consisted of, I: The Mystery of the Church; II: The Hierarchy; III. Laity; IV: Religious…. The significance of this is the identity of the Church with the Hierarchy. The Church being considered primarily hierarchy, then comes derivatively, the laity and the religious. Concerning this schema and the others, then-Cardinal Ratzinger commented: “The situation was that proposals had already been worked out in Rome for the composition of the Curia, the commissions. And the expectation was that there would be an immediate vote on the basis of those proposed lists. Now, many of the Father didn’t want that. Then both Cardinal Lienart and Cardinal Frings rose to their feet and said that we cannot simply vote at this time, that we have to get in contact with one another in order to find out who is suitable for what, that the elections have to be postponed. That was the first drumbeat at the beginning of the Council.”[10]Following on that “the chapter of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium devoted to the People of God was significantly transposed. As is well known, this chapter appeared as the result of dividing into two parts an earlier draft entitled De Populo Dei et speciatim de laicis, which came after the section dealing with the Hierarchy. The new arrangement placed the chapter De Populo Dei second in the Constitution precisely to emphasize the condition which is common to all the christifideles, who are dealt with in greater detail according to their different functions, in later chapters: the hierarchy in chapter III, the laity in chapter IV and the religious in chapter VI.”[11]Further on, Alvaro del Portillo continues,“It is extremely useful to trace… the steps of Vatican II…. (I)n drafting the text of the Constitution Lumen Gentium an attempt was made to distinguish clearly the view of the People of God as a whole from the various missions fulfilled by the members. Or, in other words, an effort was made to separate clearly the rights and obligations common to all the members of the People of God from those which are specific to particular categories of the faithful: deacons, priests and bishops, (this is to say the members of the Sacra Hierarchia) in one category, the laity in another and religious in a third category. For this reason the division of what was originally one chapter (De Populo Dei speciatim de laicis) into the present chapters II (De Populo Dei) and IV (De laicis)… is highly significant as regards distinguishing the generic concept of `members of the People of God’ (the condition common to all on the place of equality) from the other, specific concept, a typological description of which would center around the characteristic layness (Laicus). Laicus in the terminology of the council does not denote the generic concept of member-of-the-Church, but rather a special category which includes neither clerics nor religious.”[12][1] Alvaro del Portillo, Faithful and Laity in the Church, Ecclesia Press, Shannon Ireland (1972) 19.[2] Pedro Rodriguez, “The Place of Opus Dei in the Church” Opus Dei in the Church, Scepter (1994)38.[3] “Communio” is a deeper and more exact formulation of the meaning of the Church than “people of God” since the unity it expresses is not only a likeness in one aspect, but a “pluriformity” of radically disparate persons. The Extraordinary Synod of 1985 says, “The ecclesiology of communion is the central and fundamental idea of the Council’s documents. Koinonia/communion, founded on Sacred Scripture, has been held in great honor in the early Church and in the Oriental Churches to this day. Thus, much was done by the Second Vatican Council so that the Church as communion might be more clearly understood and concretely incorporated into life.” The Synod then says, “Here we have the true theological principle of variety and pluriformity in unity, but it is necessary to distinguish pluriformity from pure pluralism. When pluriformity is true richness and carries with it fullness, this is true catholicity;” The Extraordinary Synod 1985: Message to the People of God.[4] Fuenmayor, Gomez Iglesias, Illanes, The Canonical Path of Opus Dei, Scepter MTF

(1994) 110.[5] Ibid. 11-112.[6] Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, Letter, December 29, 1947/February 14, 1966, #160.[7] Letter, February 14, 1944, #12,[8] The Canonical Path… op. cit. 128-129.[9] Pedro Rodriguez, Opus Dei in the Church, op. cit. p. 1.[10] J. Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth (1997) 71-72.[11] Alvaro del Portillo, op. cit. 21.[12] Ibid. 24




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II) Decretum Laudis: February 24, 1947.The Pontifical Approval of Opus Dei: February 24, 1947: The Secular Institute

The Fact: On February 24, 1947 “The Priestly Society of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei” was granted pontifical approval de iure as a Secular Institute – in fact, the first – which was formalized in the Decretum laudis, “Primum Institutum.” De facto, Opus Dei’s real nature transcended this juridical conceit, but had to wait for the Second Vatican Council and its provision for the "personal prelature" (see below).The Secular Institute was not a happy fit for Opus Dei because a) Opus Dei remained dependent upon the Sacred Congregation for Religious (whereas Opus Dei is characteristically “secular”); and b) it set Opus Dei in the context of the states of perfection which heretofore involved the taking of vows, living common life as separation from the world, and wearing distinguishing dress to indicate pertinence to that state. All of this was foreign to the spirit received by St. Josemaria Escriva which he summed up like this: “Understand this well: there is something holy, something divine hidden in the most ordinary situations, and it is up to each one of you to discover it.”[1] The immense advantage of such pontifical approval, however, was the ability to expand internationally to all dioceses pending the approval of the local Bishops.The Obstacle: The Code of Canon Law of 1917 was the first compilation of the law of the Church. At the time Escriva was looking for a juridical solution for Opus Dei, the Code “was at its apex. After a period in Church history when a consensus had been reached that the old sources of legislation lacked the clarity and vitality to confront the grave and great questions facing the Church… the Codex was seen as the answer. It would foster the formation and improvement of the clergy to direct the ecclesiastical organization, while offering improved or new channels for pastoral action. This view was solidly grounded. But one must also recognize that, without doubting the Code’s undeniable advantages, it was sometimes applied too rigidly. The traditional flexibility of Canon Law to welcome renewing and rejuvenating movements in the pastoral life of the Church was curtailed. Some even claimed that what was not regulated or recognized in the Codex could have no citizenship in the life of the Church. A phrase circulating in Rome and attributed to… the Secretary of State until 1930 and principal mover of the new Code, had acquired the status of a maxim: quod non est in Codice non est in mundo: what is not found in the Code does not exist in the world.”[2]The Intention of Escriva: “What did I want? A place for the Work within the law of the Church, in accordance with the nature of our vocation and the demands imposed by the expansion of our apostolates; a full approval from the Magisterium for our supernatural way, including a clear and explicit description of our spiritual character. The growth of the Work, the multitude of vocations of people of every class and walk of life, all this which was a blessing from God urged me to try to obtain – from the Holy See – full juridical approval for the way which our Lord had opened up.”[3]The Reality That Did Not Fit: The radicality equality of vocation of laymen and priests who formed the same juridical class. “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 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 `function’ 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.’…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.’” [4]Vatican II (Lumen Gentium): The Key to the Radical Equality of All the Baptized:“The basis of this whole problem and the key to its solution lies in one incontrovertible fact, emphasized with unprecedented vigour by the Second Vatican Council, namely that all persons who belong to the Church have a common fundamental legal status, because they all share one and the same basic theological condition land belong to the same primary common category. All the faithful, from the Pope to the child who has just been baptized, share one and the same vocation, the same faith, the same faith, the same Spirit, the same grace. They are all in need of appropriate sacramental and spiritual aids; they must all live a full Christian life, following the same evangelical teachings; they must all lead a basic personal life of piety – that of children of God, brothers and disciples of Christ – which is obligatory for them before and above any specific distinction which may arise from their different functions within the Church. The all have an active and appropriate share – within the inevitable plurality of ministries – the single mission of Christ and of the Church. Therefore it follows logically that within the Church all members have certain fundamental rights and obligations in common.”[5]The Personal PrelatureThe Final Step: The Prelature as guardian of 1) the oneness of the subjective vocation of both laity and priests forming a "communio": each, being sacramentally irreducible [by Baptism and Orders], makes the total gift of self being dynamized to do so by the pastoral charity (fatherhood) of the Prelate; and 2) secularity as “characteristic” whereby the world of work and family is the occasion of the self-giving.The Conciliar Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis #10 reads: “Where the nature of the apostolate demands this, not only the proper distribution of priests should be made easier but also the carrying out of special pastoral projects for the benefit of different social groups in any region or among any race in any part of the world. For this purpose there can with advantages be set up some international seminaries, special dioceses, or personal prelatures and other institutions to which, by methods to be decided for the individual undertaking and always without prejudice of the rights of the local ordinaries, priests can be attached or incardinated for the common good of the whole Church.”On August 6, 1966, Paul VI wrote the Apostolic Letter Ecclesiae Sanctae for the implementation of, in our case, Presbyterorum Ordinins #10: It read:“(4) Furthermore, in order to accomplish special pastoral or missionary tasks for various regions or social groups requiring special assistance, prelatures may usefully be established by the Apostolic See. These would consist of the secular clergy specially trained and under the rule of a prelate of their own and governed by statutes of their own.“It would be the duty of such a prelate to erect and govern a seminary for the suitable training of students. He would have the right to incardinate such students under the title of service to the prelature and to promote them to Orders.“The prelate should show care for the spiritual life of those he promoted under the title mentioned above, and for the continuance of their special formation and their particular ministry, by making arrangements with the local ordinaries to whom they are sent. He should also make provision for suitable means of living either by such agreements as are mentioned above or out of the resources of the prelature or by appropriate subsidies. He should also make provision for those who through illness or other reasons are obliged to relinquish their post.“There is no reason why laymen, whether celibate or married, should not dedicate their professional service, through contracts with the prelature, to its works and enterprises.“Such prelatures shall not be erected without first hearing the views of the episcopal conferences of the territory in which they will serve. In the exercise of their function care is to be shown that the rights of the local ordinaries are not infringed and that close relations are kept with the episcopal conferences at all times.”John Paul II erects Opus Dei as a personal prelature: November 28, 1982: Apostolic Constitution Ut Sit of universal extension.[1] St. Josemaria Escriva, “Passionately Loving the World,” Scepter (2002) 5.[2] “The Canonical Path of Opus Dei,” Scepter (1994) 139.[3] Letter 25 January 1961.[4] Pedro Rodriguez, “The Place of Opus Dei in the Church,” Opus Dei in the Church (Scepter (1994) 38.[5] Alvaro del Portillo, “Faithful and Laity in the Church,” Ecclesia Press (Shannon, Ireland) (1972) 19.



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III) June 16, 1950: The Definitive Approval. Opus Dei is not another institution in the Church, but, as Prelature, the Church-itself-writ-small.

Three years after the Decretum Laudis in 1947, with a surge of vocations and extension to many countries, the founder of Opus Dei petitioned for definitive approval on February 11 and received it on June 16 that same year. He said at the end of 1949: “the definitive approval, my daughters and sons, will give a new stability, an arm of defense, greater ease in apostolic work; it will firmly set the fundamental principles of the Work: secularity, the sanctification of work, the fact that we are ordinary citizens and, above all, especially in the spiritual aspect, the conviction that we are sons of God."

This brings us again to consider the real nature of Opus Dei. It is a portion of the People of God, with its own Prelate who is a bishop, its laity and priests who do not form a group apart but foster unity in the parish, diocese and universal Church. John Paul II asserted, "I wish to emphasize that the lay faithful, by belonging both to their own particular Church 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 Prelatures" (Address at an audience for participants at a seminar on `Novo Millennio Ineunte' organized by the Opus Dei Prelature, March 17, 2001).

D. Pedro Rodriguez affirmed that Opus Dei "is an institution whose internal structure replicates the basic ecclesial connection between the common priesthood of the faithful laity possessed by virtue of baptism, and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood, possessed by the clerics incardinated in it" ("Opus Dei in the Church," Scepter Publishers (1994) 38).

Priesthood means mediation. The priesthood of the Old Testament and paganism were extrinsic mediations, i.e., between this thing or person and the deity. The priesthood of Jesus Christ is radically different in that He, Jesus, mediates between Himself and the Father for us. He, both God and man, masters himself as man to make the gift of His divine Self to the Father in His Humanity. He is Priest of his own existence.

The Christian is baptized into this intrinsic priesthood of Christ and shares in its dynamic of self-giving. He becomes "priest of his own existence."

By another sacrament, Orders, the baptized person shares in an irreducibly different way in the one and same priesthood of Christ whereby he is empowered to act "in persona Christi."

The priesthood of layman and priest is one and the same, that of Christ, but shared in essentially different ways (Lumen Gentium #10). As Christ the Priest, they are radically equal, but with a functional diversity, as is so with the entire Church. But, of course, what is Opus Dei except a small portion of the Church to be understood and explained by analogy to a particular Church or diocese. The mission of the layman is to make the gift of self to the world on the occasion of his professional secular work. The mission of the priest is serve the layman, activating his priesthood by preaching the Word, celebrating Holy Mass and administering the sacraments, particularly the sacrament of penance. John Paul II said it this way: "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" ("Address at an audience for participants at a seminar on `Novo Millennio Ineunte' organized by the Opus Dei Prelature," March 17, 2001).
The role of the Prelate is to affirm both laymen and priests to make the respective gift of self and thus form the "communio personarum," while directing them on their secular mission to place Christ at the summit of all human activities. Hence, the Prelate governs by engendering them as sons and daughters - loving them - as Father. Hence, the Prelate in Opus Dei is, and will always be, "the Father" for both laymen and priests.

As a result, the physiognomy of Opus Dei is configured on the dynamic of the sacraments of Baptism and Orders each of which confers "character" and hence establishes the ontological irreducibility of each (Lumen Gentium #10) as the diversely directed relations of self-gift: laity to the world, minister to the laity. The act of this self-giving is taken from participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which comes to be lived out "in the street" according to the "dimension" and "character" of secularity (See John Paul II's "Christifideles Laici" #15).

This is the "Spirituality of Communio" that John Paul II called for in "Novo Millennio Ineunte" #43). We find here John Paul's description of the "substantial priority" of the "Church of Mary" (the laity) that is served by the Church of Peter that has a "functional" priority in that the laity cannot exercise their sharing in the priesthood of Christ without the ministering of the minister. In the graphic phrase of St. Josemaria, "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" ("Opus Dei in Church," ibid. 38). The sacramental/sacrificial gift of self becomes act in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Hence, Opus Dei is essentially the "organic convergence" of these two irreducibly different ways of living the one priesthood of Christ dynamized by the act of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on the occasion of work in the secular world.


Benedict XVI, then-Cardinal Ratzinger, had the apposite remarks to make on the above: "There are some very real grounds to fear that the Church may assume too many institutions of human law, which then become the armor of Saul making it difficult for the young David to walk. We must always ascertain if institutions which were once useful still serve a purpose. 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" ("30 Days" No. 5 - 1998 p. 22).

He had previously said: "Perhaps we should admit today that the Church often talks about itself too much, that it is too egocentric, focusing too much on its own structure to better it... the fact that he who tries to find himself loses himself also holds true for the Church. The Church only finds itself by calling men to the kingdom of God, by rendering them such that they belong to the living God. Therefore it should be very cautious about creating new structures on human rights. May the criterion always be that with this conception of itself it becomes freer and abler to proclaim the word of God... The more organisms we create, however up-to-date they may be, the less space we leave for the spirit, the less space there is for the Lord, and still less for liberty. From this point of view, I think we must embark on an examination of conscience in the Church, at all levels and without reserve. At all levels, such an examination of conscience should bring concrete results as well as "ablatio" (elimination), which would allow the Church's true face to shine trough once again" ("3




1 comment:

Scott Carson said...

Hi Fr. Connor!

Thanks for posting these recognitions of Opus Dei.

I don't know whether you remember me, but I taught in the classics department at Rutgers in 1988-89, and we used to get together for chats on a regular basis that year.

I've got a blog of my own at An Examined Life.