Opus Dei celebrates 40 years as a personal prelature

Pope Francis received in audience the Prelate of Opus Dei, Fernando Ocáriz, on the 40th anniversary of the Apostolic Constitution "Ut Sit" by which St. John Paul II erected Opus Dei as a personal prelature (1982-2022). We offer a reflection on the steps that St. Josemaría took to ensure that the Work attained its proper juridical expression.

Fernando Puig-November 28, 2022-Reading time: 4 minutes
The Prelate of Opus Dei in Mexico

Photo: The Prelate of Opus Dei meets with members of the Prelature and friends in Mexico on November 12©Opus Dei

Josemaría Escrivá saw the birth of the Opus Dei in the bosom of the Church. His entire life journey of listening to the foundational charism is aligned with fidelity to the Church. He knows that he has to listen to the voices in his spirit; he reflects on what he sees happening in those who follow him. He is guided by the way in which the pastors of the Church observe and channel, so that they are fully ecclesial, the spiritual and apostolic impulses that are taking place. The gift received is thus measured, from the inside out and from the outside in, under the gaze of God.

Inward, and as a family

In the early stages almost everything happens inside, in his soul and in the soul of his first followers, keeping the authority constituted in the diocese of Madrid informed.

Soon after, at the bishop's request, its incipient foundation took on institutional profiles that gave it some entity and consistency (Pia Union, 1941).

A family sociality is formed around a father who shares with his family the desire to serve the Church and his profound experience of divine fatherhood.

Months later, he recognized a new outline of the priestly dimension of the gift received, which led him to see the need for the ministerial priesthood: not as external and associated, but as intrinsic to the apostolic work of the laity who work in the midst of the world with their peers, fulfilling the mission in the Church.

The Bishop of Madrid, with the nihil obstat of the Holy See, approves (Priestly Society of the Holy Cross and Lay Faithful, 1943): the articulation between the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood is being drawn. The founder will reflect it in a seal: a cross inscribed in the world.

Universal and secular

An expansion in extension and density took place, reaching many countries. The initial intuition about the universality of the gift received was confirmed, which called for a regime present in Catholicism and based in Rome. St. Josemaría also perceived that the secularity of the charism had to be confirmed as an original trait that should not be diluted. He sought a universal and secular institutionality. He obtained it by becoming part of the new forms (Secular Institute, 1947-50) that awaited normative changes, which came from the hand of Pius XII.

The invariable line of the foundation follows its course: the founder knows himself to be such and values the lights he receives personally; at the same time, he appreciates the needs of those who follow him in the Opus Dei, to continue the incisive action in the professional work and in the family.

A lay, secular spirit and priestly attention, in institutional concert. Many pastors of the Church observe in their dioceses this original work for the benefit of their faithful.

The new times call for these impulses and in fact other secular realities are born in the Church.

Clear spiritual and apostolic profiles

However, something was missing to outline the phenomenon and reduce some impoverishing readings of the charism. After some attempt, the advice of the Holy See to wait for the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council followed. At stake were the needs of a world that was becoming secularized and the Church that wanted to keep up the pace. Escriva saw that Opus Dei would be able to serve better with the strength that emerged from the Council.

Decisive pastoral truths and impulses resound in the conciliar hall: light of the nations, baptismal vocation, people of God, universal call to holiness, sanctifiable earthly realitiesThe Church's unlimited horizon of mission, communion and unity, the divine gift of freedom, peace and work for society, the liberation of man from the Son of God made man, etc.

Josemaría Escrivá's death occurred while he was working to improve the institutional structure of the Work. When he died, he made clear the spiritual and apostolic outlines of the charism; spurring on his sons and adopting the necessary measures, he renewed his commitment not to disappoint the lay, secular call, freely answered, which included priestly care from within. She concludes her earthly life in the hope that, in the light of the recently concluded Council, pastors will understand how to facilitate the service of the Work to the Church as a whole.

The personal prelature

The firm outlines of the apostolic spirit and ways, captured in his spirit as founder, illustrated in the life of his followers and confronted with the evolution of the Church, converge in the institutional aspect in the figure of the personal prelature. John Paul II had the possible decision studied seriously; Alvaro del Portillo, successor of St. Josemaría, offered his full collaboration and loyalty to the Holy See.

On November 28, 1982, the Apostolic Constitution "Ut sit" was published. The Prelate and the faithful of the Prelature hear the pastors of the Church tell them to be faithful to the Founder; thus an original articulation of the objective and personal elements of the pastoral phenomenon is created, in the key of the relationship between common and ministerial priesthood, with a Prelate who is a pastor. It is lived in thanksgiving in the Opus Deiwhich is moving along this favorable path.

The story continues. The confluence in the Prelature has been going on for 40 years, to continue where the needs of the Church and the world call. A great theologian used to say that the arrow goes farther when the archer tightens the string more by putting it close to the heart. To go further, one must get closer to the heart: to listen to what inspires now the one who in his heart heard the first voice of God; what God says to those who, at every moment, are the depositaries of the light and responsible for the mission received within the Church, the prelate as Father and proper pastor, and the faithful with him. And always listening to the heart of the pastors - with Peter at the head - who, looking at the whole, will know how to look at the part of the Church ("partecica" as Josemaría Escrivá used to say) so that it may be ("ut sit") what God wants it to be.

The authorFernando Puig

Associate Professor of Canon Law, Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (Rome)

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