Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Nihil Obstat for Opus Dei 10/11/43, Vatican II and Pope Francis' Ordinary Synod 2015


       The present “Ordinary Synod On the Family” has everything to do with October 11, 1943 and the Nihil Obstat of Opus Dei.  Pope Francis  is laboring to identify the family as the key to the spirituality of becoming Christ. He is beyond (but not denying) the question of morality in the conjugal union as “issues” arising from the paranoia of conservatism and the fantasy of a liberalism that you can do whatever you want. He is not talking ideology or doctrine as liberal or conservative. Rather, he is talking Christ. He is talking marriage and family as a way of sanctity and becoming Christ, "the  field hospital" - theplace and space - where one is healed from the attitude of turning to self in order to make the radical gift of oneself. The family is a place of holiness and the healing of the person as person, and not to be reduced to issues of morality or even of “doctrine” –political/conservative. What Escriva was fighting for in 1943 and beyond to Opus Dei as a Prelature [i.e. the very Church herself as Bride of Christ, and therefore “another Christ”] is now playing out as the meaning of family. To have laymen as men and women in the world (not in a monastery as vowed celibates) and priests  as equally called by God, precisely there, to seek sanctity as husband and wife – which means to make the conjugal gift of self as donation and reception (male and female) – is the burden of this Ordinary Synod.  And Francis sees this as “nuclear fission” to transform the world. That is, it is the making Christ present in the world as the dynamic of transcending self. He calls it “a new alliance of man and woman” that is “not only necessary but also strategic for the emancipation of people from the colonization of money.” And then, on to the political, the economy, the social, the environmental: “This alliance omust return to oriente politics, the economy and civil coexistence! It decides the habitability of the earth, the transmission of the meaning of life, the bonds of memory and of hope.”  This “alliance, the conjugal-family community ofo man and woman iss the generative grammar, the ‘golden bond.” “Faitha draws it from the wisdom of the creation God, who has entrusted to the family not the care of an intimacy that ends in itself, but rather the exciting project of rendering the world ‘domestic.” That family, in fact, is at the beginning, at the base of this global culture that saves us. It saves us from so many, so many attachments, so many destructions, so many colonizations, such as that of money or those ideological ones that threaten t he world so much;. The family is at the base of defend oneself.”[1]
                Opue Dei and the Nihil Obstat of October 11, 1943:
On October 11, 1943, Opus Dei received the Nihil  Obstat  from the Holy See as an institution that integrated laymen [men, women, (celibate and married)] and priests as having “a common fundamental legal status, because they all share one and the same basic theological condition and 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 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 distinctions which may arise from their different functions within the Church. They all have an active and appropriate share – within the inevitable plurality of ministries – in the single mission of Christ and of the Church. Therefore it follows logically that within the Church all members have a certain fundamental right and obligations in common.
Opus Dei, October 11 and The Second Vatican Council.

Therefore, 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 mold 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 an until-then 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. Suddenly, 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.”

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.

The Parallel between the Radical Equality of laymen and priests in Opus Dei (October 11, 1943) and the Radical Equality of All in the Church (November 21, 1964) as the “People of God” is the great revolution that has taken place in the Church.

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. We are far here from the family as way of holiness. 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] Last address of Pope Francis before leaving for Cuba September 2015.

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