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Opus Dei is a conservative Roman Catholic religious organization founded by Saint Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer (9 January 1902 – 26 June 1975). The core of Escrivá's teaching was that spirituality should be practiced in the world, rather than by withdrawing from the world.
The group's name is a Latin phrase meaning "the work of God."
Opus Dei's membership is divided into several classes :
- Numerary members, who agree to be celibate and who live in an Opus Dei centre. Most of them have jobs in the outside world (often as professional occupations such as lawyers, doctors, journalists, academics, university professors, etc.), although some work for Opus Dei itself, or for Opus Dei operated institutions (including hospitals, schools, universities, and residential colleges for university students). Numerary members who work outside of Opus Dei donate most of their income to Opus Dei.
- Supernumerary members are married rather than celibate, and have families; they donate a portion of their income to Opus Dei, based on their means.
- Numerary associates, like numeraries, practice celibacy, but they do not live in Opus Dei centres due to other commitments (such as needing to care for dependent relatives). Numerary assistants are a group of numerary members, exclusively female, who perform domestic duties (cooking and cleaning) for the numerary members who live in the Opus Dei centres.
Opus Dei centres are segregated based on gender, with each centre being established for male or female numeraries exclusively. Most members of Opus Dei are lay, but a minority of the male numeraries are ordained as priests to provide services to the Opus Dei membership (especially hearing confessions.)
Another group, known as co-operators, are not members of Opus Dei, but choose to support it (either by financial contributions, through prayer, or through volunteer work). Anyone can be a co-operator; one need not be a Catholic or even a Christian.
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While the celibacy practiced by numerary members is similar to traditional religious orders, Opus Dei is self-consciously not a religious order. While members of religious orders take vows of celibacy, Opus Dei members do not take vows, but rather enter into a contract with Opus Dei, in which they agree to follow the rules of Opus Dei, and in exchange Opus Dei agrees to care for them spiritually. The contract has to be reviewed annually, although after a certain number of annual renewals it can be renewed for life. Current or former members of religious orders are not allowed to become members of Opus Dei.
Within the Catholic Church, Opus Dei forms what is known as a personal prelature. The head of Opus Dei, the prelate, is a Bishop, and many of the priests of Opus Dei report to the prelate rather than a diocesan bishop. However, individual (non-clerical members) are still members of parishes, and subject to their diocesan Bishop, although they are additionally subject to the Prelate in matters specific to Opus Dei. Opus Dei members are encouraged to attend Mass in their local parish, rather than exclusively through Opus Dei, although they are encouraged to turn to an Opus Dei for Confession.
Opus Dei requires its members to engage in a certain set of spiritual practices, known as norms. These include awaking early and saying Serviam (Latin for "I will serve") followed by a prayer in the morning, saying the Rosary daily, daily attendance at Mass, weekly confession, and an annual spiritual retreat.
Opus Dei has been criticized for encouraging some members to whip themselves, and to wear a chain of metal spikes designed to pierce the skin (known as a cilice), as a way of making amends for their sins and participating in the physical sufferings of Christ. .
The organization has been likened to cults like ISKCON or the Unification Church. Opus Dei has been accused of deceptive and aggressive recruitment practices such as showering potential members with intense praise ("Love bombing"), instructing numeraries to form friendships and attend social gatherings explicitly for recruiting purposes.
Ex-members claim that Opus Dei maintains an extremely high degree of control over the personal lives of its members: at one time numeraries were required to submit their incoming and outgoing mail to their superiors for inspection, and members are forbidden to read certain books without permission from their superiors. These former members also accuse Opus Dei of encouraging numeraries to sever contact with non-members, including their own families. Exit counselor David Clark has described Opus Dei as "very cult-like".
Opus Dei has also been criticized for being linked with the government of Francisco Franco in fascist Spain. Josemaría Escrivá met and spoke positively of Franco on a number of occasions, and senior members of Opus Dei served as ministers in the Fascist government.
In popular culture
Opus Dei was featured in The Da Vinci Code: the albino assassin sent after the protagonists by agents of the fictional Holy See was a member practiced various forms of corporal mortification, contributing to the public perception of the sect.
- http://www.opusdei.org.uk/art.php?p=43 Opus Dei description of membership types
- Corporal Mortification in Opus Dei
- Abbott Karloff (May 14, 2006). "Opus Dei members: 'Da Vinci' distorted". Daily Record. http://www.religionnewsblog.com/14640/opus-dei-members-da-vinci-distorted. Retrieved 2006-11-27. mirrored on ReligionNewsBlog.com
- Elizabeth W. Green (2003-04-10). "Opening the doors of Opus Dei: Part 2". The Harvard Crimson. http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=347479.
- Opus Dei Awareness Network