What is the Opus Dei?

The Opus Dei (the Work of God) was founded in Spain in1928 by Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer. It had both lay members and priests, and its mission was to make people aware of the need to make holiness part of their everyday lives and to demonstrate this by personal example. Lay members remained under strict religious supervision and followed a daily programme of readings, spiritual exercises and prayers.

There were numerous Opus Dei rituals, and some members (belonging to the Numerary group, the strictest level of membership) continued to engage in “corporal mortification” at a time when this was generally frowned on in other religious communities.

With headquarters in Rome, the organisation works in some countries and has about 80,000 members. Its founder, Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, was canonised by Pope John Paul II in October 2002, an honour that continues to raise much controversy.

As with all religious organisations about which little is generally known, the Opus Dei has often been the focus of criticism and unfavourable speculation, but it has nonetheless endured and has also retained Papal support.

Its founder, Escriva de Balaguer, was the author of a book entitled The Way in which he glorified pain: “Blessed be pain. Loved be pain. Sanctified be pain… Glorified be pain.” In The Da Vinci Code, Silas has taken this as his mantra.

Manuel Aringarosa and Silas in The Da Vinci Code are both members of the Opus Dei. As a Numerary of the Order, Silas continues to mortify his flesh via the lash and the cilice. He is obsessed with the notion that self-inflicted bodily pain, using these two particular instruments of torture, is spiritually cleansing. Hence his constant reiteration that “Pain is good.”

He goes about his deadly work secure in the belief that he is operating as a sevant of God. He acknowledges the savagery of his behaviour, but believes that he redeems himself in God’s eyes through inflicting physical torment on himself. He is actually at the mercy of forces beyond his understanding, but his devotion to his “Teacher” blinds him to this reality.

Before the Prologue in The Da Vinci Code, author Dan Brown describes the “Vaticn prelature known as Opus Dei” as a “deeply devout Catholic sect that has been the topic of recent controversy due to reports of brain-washing, coercion and a dangerous practice known as ‘corporal mortification’”.

The seventeen-storey new headquarters of the Opus Dei at 243 Lexington Avenue in New Yrk has no outward sign to indicate to whom it belongs. The Vatican Yearbook, reports author Simon Cox, reveals that there are some 3,000 Opus Dei members in the United States with about 60 Opus Dei residences scattered about the country. Many wealthy people are “Cooperators”, which means that they are not actual members of the Opus Dei, but lend support to the cause and make generous donations. Of the six membership classes, this is the only one where being Catholic is not a prerequisite.  

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