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Tuesday, April 18, 2006
The Da Vinci Code's Opus Dei- a powerful, ultraconservative Roman Catholic faction riddled with sadomasochistic ritual, one of whom members commits serial murder in pursuit of a church-threatening secret -- is obviously not reflective of the real-life organization (although author Dan Brown's website states the portrayal was "based on numerous books written about Opus Dei as well as on my own personal interviews").

In its 78 years, Opus Dei has been rumor magnet. Successful and secretive, it has been accused of using lavish riches and carefully cultivated clout to do everything from propping up Francisco Franco's Spanish dictatorship to pushing through its founder's premature sainthood to planting conservative minions in governments from Warsaw to Washington. Brown's treatment of the group has seemed to represent an unstoppable high sewage mark -- that is, until the movie trailer appeared. Says Juan Manuel Mora, director of Opus Dei's communications department in Rome:
"Reading a print version is one thing. Seeing the color images is another".

Yet Mora and his colleagues have inaugurated a countertrend, in part by breaking their organization's historical silence. They spoke at length on record to John Allen, a respected print and television Vatican commentator, and offered him unprecedented access to Opus Dei records and personnel. IN November he responded with Opus Dei: An Objective Look Behind the Myths and Reality of the Most Controversial Force in the Catholic Church (Doubleday), probably the most informed and symphathetic treatment of the group ever penned by an outsider.


On Oct. 2,1928, a 26-year old Spanish priest named Josemaria Escriva was visited by a new vision of Catholic spirituality: a movement of pious laypeople who would by prayerful contemplation and the dedication of their labor to Christ, extend their everyday work life. Escriva's title for the movement was a literal description -- Opus Dei means "the work of God" -- and his ambition was correspondingly large. He saw Opus eventually acting as "an intravenous injection (of holiness) in the bloodstream of society".

It was controversial almost from birth, Opus threatened the era's Catholic clericalism, which priviledged priests, monks and nuns over the laity, and Escriva was called a heretic. In the 1950s, several prominent Opud Dei members joined Franco's dictatorial but church supportive regime in Spain, inaugurating specualtion about the group's political leanings. The church's second Vatican Council (1962-65) seemed to catch up with Escriva's idea of lay activism - but his rigid adherence to Catholic teaching put his system at odds with liberals who accorded the laity a wide freedom of conscience. He himself was a polarizing figure, humble and grandiose, avuncular and ferocious. Opus grew slowly but steadily, remaining below the radar of most Catholics.

That all changed in 1982. Pope John Paul II, also a creative traditionalist interested in labor and faith, granted Esciva's wish that Opus be a "personal prelature", a global quasi-diocese, able in some cases to leapfrog local archbishops and deal directly with Rome. Almost simultaneously the Pope publicly constricted the competing, more liberal Jesuit order. A perception that Opus ecclesiastical power knew no limits peaked with Escriva's 1992 beatification, a brief (for those days) 17 years after his death. Faultfinders,notes allen, claimed that the judging panel had been packed and Esctiva's critics blacballed; they viewed his fast move toward sainthood as the muscle flexing "ecclesiastical equivalent of (the Roman emperor) Caligula making his horse a senator". Allen sees the beatification as legitimate, as did 300,000 people who thronged Rome for Esctiva's 2002 canonization.

(A guide to some frequently used terms)

ASSOCIATES Membes who follow the most rigorous spiritual practices of Opus Dei life (including celibacy) but donot live in residence or retreat centers.

CILICE A spiked chain that some members strap around their upper thigh for two hours a day as an act of penance.

COOPERATORS Nonmembers who support the group through prayer, volunteer work or financial contributions.

DISCIPLINE A small, cordlike whip that some members use once a week to flagellate themselves during the recitation of a prayer.

FIDELITY The act of pledging a lifetime commitment to the organization.

THE NORMS Spiritual obligations that all members perform daily, inlcuding attending Mass, praying silently for 30 minutes twice a day and reciting the Rosary and other prayers usually after supper.

NUMERARIES The most committed members, who take vows of celibacy, live in Opus Dei centers and practice corporal self-punishment.

NUMERARY ASSISTANTS aA subset of the numerary class composed exclusively of women who perform domestic duties in Opus Dei facilities.

"PAX" AND "IN AETERNUM" The greetings of "Peace" and "In eternity" that members exchange.

SUPERNUMERARIES The less formal category of membership, which allows people to have families and live in their own homes.

THE WORK The shorthand expression referring to "the Work of God", the English translation of Opus Dei.

WHISTLING The act of writing a letter to request membership in Opus Dei, a reference tot the sound of a kettle when it boils.

(Abstracted from:TIMEMAG/reported by reporters from New York, Vatican City, Lima, Washington and Mexico City/ A Special Issue of TIMEMAG/24April'06)
posted by infraternam meam @ 11:27 AM  
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