Monday, December 03, 2007

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”“Qahal”

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" (communio). 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. That third, in Opus Dei, is the Prelate as "Father."

The Qahal and Opus Dei

The Qahal was translated into the Greek “ecclesia” which means “assembly of the people” but, I repeat, not in the Greek sense of a juridical and political entity where only the male land owners were the active agents as citizen: “even women and children, who in Greece could not be active agents of political events, belonged to the qahal.” [1]

St. Josemaria Escriva described Opus Dei as “a little bit of the Church.” The “little bit” meant that there is a radical equality of the christifideles (Baptism and Confirmation) and the ministers (Order). “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 Chruch between christifideles – called to live out the requirements and implications of their baptism – and sacred ministers, whop bring in, besides, the ‘ministerial’ consequences of the sacrament of Order.”[2] This “radical equality” does not conceal the irreducible diversity of the way the laity and the ministers share in and exercise the one priesthood of Christ (cf. Lumen Gentium #10: “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”).

The Prelate of Opus Dei:

It is impossible to make the gift of self to form the Qahal of the Church as a communio without being affirmed by love. The mission of the Prelate of Opus Dei is to be the engendering “Father” who loves each of his sons more than their blood parents because, as he once said, he sees the Blood of Christ coursing through their veins. As Rodriguez remarked: “what is decisive is neither his ‘jurisdiction’ nor their obedience. Rather, 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.”[3]And this, the pastor’s role, “precisely owing to the Church’s sacramental structure, had to be radically that of a father, who would be a kind of ‘loving sign’ of the love God the Father has for us in t he Son.”[4] Opus Dei is a sacramental phenomenon of Baptism and Orders that make us each “other Christs,” and therefore, there must be the aid of grace (that is the affirmation of divine Love making it possible to make the self-gift) and the human love of the “Father” who empowers us to make that gift with human fullness.

And so, the mutual relation of the common priesthood of the faithful to the ministerial priesthood and vice versa is the work of the radiation of fatherhood of the Prelate. 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.”[13]

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…."[14]
Summary-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] J. Ratzinger “Called to Communion,” Ignatius (1996) 30-31
[2] Pedro Rodriguez, “The Place of Opus Dei in the Church,” Opus Dei in the Church (1993) 38.
[3] Ibid 56.
[4] Ibid 58.

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