Opus Dei is a personal Prelature of the Catholic Church. "Opus Dei" means "Work of God." The complete name is Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei.
It is also more briefly called Prelature of Opus Dei or simply Opus Dei.
Opus Dei was founded in Madrid on October 2, 1928, by Blessed Josemaria Escriva. Nearly 80,000 people from around the world belong to the Prelature. Its headquarters, together with the church of the Prelature, is in Rome.
The mission of Opus Dei is to promote among Christians of all social classes a life in the middle of the world fully consistent with their faith and to contribute to the evangelization of every sphere of society. In short, it is to spread the message that all the baptized are called to seek holiness and to make the Gospel known. This same message was at the core of the Second Vatican Council (cf. Constitution on the Church, 32, 33).
In order to achieve this aim, the Prelature provides for the spiritual, educational (formational), and pastoral care of its faithful, and offers this help to many other persons, "each one in his or her own state in life, profession, and situation in the world" (Statutes of Opus Dei, art. 2.1). With the help of this pastoral attention they are encouraged to put into practice the teachings of the Gospel through the exercise of the Christian virtues and the sanctification of work (Statutes, art. 2).
The sanctification of work for the faithful of the Prelature means:
A result of numerous men and women committing themselves to an authentic Christian life will be the sanctification of the world, the permeation of all activities and temporal realities with the spirit of the Gospel (cf. The Canonical Path, Scepter Publishers, Princeton, NJ, 1994, pgs. 34-41).
The faithful of the Prelature carry out the work of evangelization in every sector of society, since they work in all areas. Their apostolic work is not limited to specific fields, such as education, care for the sick, or help for the handicapped. The mission of the Prelature is to remind all Christians that in whatever secular activity they dedicate themselves to they must cooperate in solving the problems of society in a Christian way, and bear constant witness to their faith.
Personal Prelatures are a juridical configuration foreseen by the Second Vatican Council and are still recent in Church law.
The Council stipulated that to carry out special pastoral tasks in different regions or among any race in any part of the world ... special dioceses or personal prelatures can be established (cf. Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests , Dec. 7, 1965, no. 10).
It was the intent of the Council to outline a new juridical figure, flexible in nature, aimed at contributing to the effective spread of the Christian message and life. In this way the Church could more aptly respond to the demands of its mission, which is inserted into and forms part of history.
Canon Law of the Catholic Church stipulates that each personal prelature must be regulated by general Church law and by its own statutes.
Personal prelatures are institutions that belong to the pastoral and hierarchical structure of the Church. They are composed of priests who form part of the secular clergy and lay faithful who may be incorporated into the prelature by means of an agreement. A prelature is headed by a prelate, its own ordinary, who is named by the Roman Pontiff. He may or may not be a bishop. He governs with ecclesiastical power of governance or jurisdiction.
Most jurisdictions in the Church are territorial, as in the case of a diocese, because they are established according to a defined circumscription. Jurisdiction may not always be linked to territorial location, however, but to some other criteria, such as particular type of work, religious rite, status as immigrants, or by an agreement made between two entities. This latter is the case for military ordinariates and personal prelatures. The jurisdiction of a prelature is not over territories, but over persons.
Personal prelatures are analogous to dioceses, but the two entities are not the same. Like a diocese, a prelature is composed of a prelate, a presbyterate composed of secular priests, and lay faithful. But unlike a diocese, the jurisdiction of a prelature, as has been stated, is not bound to a particular territory. What's more, the faithful of a prelature continue to belong to the local church or diocese where they live just as they did before they made an agreement with the prelature.
Personal prelatures are clearly differentiated from dioceses, religious institutes and the consecrated life in general, as well as from associations and movements of the faithful.
In 1966 Pope Paul VI opened the way for the creation of personal prelatures (Motu Proprio, Ecclesiae sanctae, I, 4) as foreseen by the Second Vatican Council. This document specified that the lay faithful could attach themselves to personal prelatures by means of a bilateral agreement or contract.
Paul VI stipulated in 1967 that personal prelatures were to be dependent on the Congregation for Bishops and that they would be erected by the Roman Pontiff after having heard the opinion of the appropriate Episcopal Conferences (Apostolic Constitution Regimini Ecclesiae universae, 49.1).
Opus Dei already enjoyed a unity made up of laity and priests who cooperate in a specific pastoral and apostolic mission of an international nature. From its beginnings its mission has been to spread the ideal of holiness in the middle of the world-in the ordinary circumstances of life, especially through work.
Beginning with Pope Paul VI the Roman Pontiffs wanted a study to be undertaken of whether or not Opus Dei could be made a personal prelature. In 1969 a joint task force of the Holy See and Opus Dei began to investigate this possibility. This work was completed in 1981. The Vatican then sent a report to more than 2,000 bishops of the dioceses where Opus Dei was present so that they could add their observations.
After this step, Opus Dei was erected by John Paul II as a personal prelature of international scope in the apostolic constitution Ut sit, of November 28, 1982. With this document the Pope promulgated the Statutes which make up the particular pontifical law of Opus Dei. These Statutes were prepared by the founder years before, and the necessary changes were made to adapt them to the new legislation.
BISHOP JAVIER ECHEVARRIA
The present Prelate of Opus Dei was born in Madrid on June 14, 1932.
He has been a member of Opus Dei since 1948 and holds doctorates in both Civil and Canon Law. Ordained a priest on August 7, 1955, Fr. Echevarria worked closely with Blessed Josemaria as his personal secretary from 1953 until his death in 1975. From 1966 onward he formed part of the general council, or advisory board, of Opus Dei.
In 1975 when Alvaro del Portillo succeeded Blessed Josemaria as head of Opus Dei, Bishop Echevarria was named Secretary General. In 1982, with the erection of Opus Dei as a personal Prelature, he became Vicar General. Bishop Echevarria has been a consultor of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints since 1981 and for the Congregation for the Clergy since 1995.
After his election and appointment by John Paul II as Prelate of Opus Dei on April 20, 1994, the Pope ordained him bishop on January 6, 1995, in St. Peter's Basilica.
© 1998. Prepared by Office of Communications, Prelature of Opus Dei.