Opus Dei is a Personal Prelature in the Catholic Church. Canon 294 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law states that Personal Prelatures “are composed of deacons and priests of the secular clergy.
Their purpose is to promote an appropriate distribution of priests, or to carry out special pastoral or missionary enterprises in different regions or for different social groups.” Canon 296 says that “lay people can dedicate themselves to the apostolic work of a personal prelature by way of agreements made with the prelature.”
A Catholic organization, Opus Dei (Latin for “work of God” or “God’s work”) was founded by Saint Josemaria Escriva in 1928. Today, there are eighty seven thousand members, 98 percent of whom are laity and only 2 percent of whom are clergy. Of the lay majority, 70 percent are called supernumeraries, and they are average and typical married or single Catholic men and women who seek to sanctify their daily work.
Only 30 percent are associates or numeraries, who freely embrace celibacy but do not take vows (evangelical counsels) and are not ordained. Numeraries live in Opus Dei study centers and share their financial resources with the Prelature to support the various apostolates that uphold, spread, and live the Catholic faith. Priests of the Personal Prelature are selected from the lay associates and numeraries to be ordained by the Prelate of Opus Dei. Diocesan or Religious priests cannot incardinate into the Prelature but can become a part of Opus Dei as a cooperator, or a member of the sacerdotal society of the holy cross.
Despite the conspiratorial paranoia generated by some fictional books and movies such as The DaVinci Code, Opus Dei is not a secret society in the Church; it is not the Vatican equivalent of the CIA or the KGB; and it has no albino assassin waiting for orders to whack someone. The claims that it is a cult are based on distorted facts, preconceived ideas, prejudicial notions, and unsubstantiated complaints from disgruntled former members. The so-called secrecy of Opus Dei is that its members do not brag about or advertise their “work.” Since 98 percent are laity and 70 percent are typical husbands and wives, blue and white-collar workers from all races, nationalities, countries, and cultures, most of their work is what the rest of the world does for a living.
Opus Dei merely helps its members sanctify the world by sanctifying their daily work, be it at the office or factory, shop or store, home, or school. It does not involve proselytism, rather, it is simply doing your regular routine jobs and tasks well, to the best of your ability, with full attention and offering up and consecrating it to God. There is nothing really unique or special or different about Opus Dei spirituality—it’s just about being a good, practicing Catholic, at home, at work, at school, and on vacation.
Since Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary spent 90 percent of their lives doing ordinary work (he as a carpenter and husband; she as a homemaker, wife, and mother), and they are considered the holiest people next to Christ Himself, then holiness must not necessarily come only from monasteries, convents, or rectories. If most of the world is called to a vocation of marriage or single life and only a small percentage to priesthood, diaconate, and consecrated religious life, then God must intend that ordinary people become holy in their ordinary lives.
Opus Dei is unapologetically loyal to the Magisterium and to the pope and is completely orthodox in its theology and doctrine. What their opponents call “archconservative” is nothing more than fidelity to Holy Mother Church. And no, they do not torture themselves or others.