New Release Highlight: Opus Dei: A History, Volume Two

Volume 2 of Opus Dei: A History traces the history of the institution from its foundation in 1928 to 2016. Read an excerpt from this new release below!

Growth in the number of members, geographic expansion, and diversification of the Work’s apostolates radically changed the context in which the Founder worked, but he continued to be the founder of a new path in the Church, father of the Opus Dei family and President General of the institution. His activity was informed by an awareness that it was up to him “by God’s very special grace, to which I must respond in conscience, to point out what the spirit of the Work is and what it is not, and how it must be lived in different circumstances."

The Founder often reminded the members that their personal lives and their activities should be rooted “in an intense inner life, in which we are all effectively and truly contemplative.” They were called to search for holiness through the sacraments, prayer, sanctified work and family life, knowledge of Christian doctrine, and apostolate. As he told one of the first members of the women’s branch, Encarnación Ortega, “ he measured the development of the Work “not by the number of new cities in which we worked, or by the activities carried out there, but by the growth in interior life of each of my daughters.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Escrivá wrote extensively explaining the spirit of Opus Dei, specifying the way in which the norms of the plan of life and customs were to be fulfilled, structuring the activities carried out by Opus Dei to provide formation to its members and cooperators, and reorganizing its collective apostolic activities.

As a result of his accumulated experience and the questions raised by members, he modified in minor ways a number of the devotions and practices of Christian piety that Opus Dei recommended to its members as part of their plan of life. For instance, he indicated that rather than reciting all fifteen mysteries of the Rosary each day, they could recite five mysteries and meditate very briefly on the other ten. He also suggested that as a way of increasing their devotion to the Eucharist, they could recite five mysteries and meditate very briefly on the other ten. He also suggested that as a way of increasing their devotion to the Eucharist, they should sing or recite the Eucharistic hymn Adoro te devote on Thursdays, the day of the week the Church dedicates specially to the Eucharist.

He completed the list of saints to whom he entrusted the various apostolates of Opus Dei. At the beginning of the Work, Fr. Escrivá had named the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph, the archangels St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael, and the apostles St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. John as his patrons. Later, the Founder had added some intercessors. In the 1930s, he had appointed St. Nicholas of Bari as intercessor for the financial needs of the apostolic activities of the faithful of Opus Dei, and St. John Baptist Mary Vianney as intercessor for relations with local bishops. In November 1957, he named St. Pius X as intercessor for the relations of Opus Dei and its members with the Holy See, and St. Thomas More as intercessor for relations with civil authorities. On May 13, 1964, he added St. Catherine of Siena as intercessor for the apostolate of public opinion.

The founder promoted the causes of beatification and canonization of Opus Dei members as examples of men and women who had lived the call to holiness in the midst of the world. The cause of Isidoro Zorzano, which had been opened in 1948, was joined by that of Montserrat Grases, a young woman from Barcelona who died in 1959 of bone cancer at the age of eighteen. By the end of the sixties, hundreds of thousands of information bulletins and prayer cards for private devotion about both Isidoro and Montserrat had been printed.

Escrivá’s priority was to spread the spirit he had received to many people, leaving theological studies and treatises on the charism to those who would come later. He wrote new texts about the spirit of the Work and how to live it and preached frequently to the members of the General Council and the Central Advisory. He preached less frequently to the students of the Roman Colleges of the Holy Cross and of Holy Mary, but often talked with them in informal get-togethers about all sorts of topics ranging from the spirit of Opus Dei to lighthearted commentaries on daily events. In addition, from the late 1950s on, the Founder met frequently with small groups of people who were visiting Rome: members of the Work, relatives and cooperators, in many cases married couples and priests.

Those who lived with the Founder took notes or recorded on tape some of his meditations and talks because they saw in them a rich “ foundational legacy for coming generations. Escriva used these texts as the starting point for preparing published meditations, interviews, and lengthy letters to the members of the Work. The texts were also used by others to write articles for the Work’s internal publications and six volumes of Meditations published between 1964 and 1974 to facilitate the personal prayer of Opus Dei members. The volumes of Meditations comprised texts for each day of the year, usually commentaries on the readings of the day’s Mass with glosses of the Founder and other spiritual authors. From 1970 onward, a number of full texts of meditations preached by the Founder were also published in Crónica and Noticias.

The Founder was not only disinterested in writing theological treatises that would reflect his spirit in a systematic way. He did not even write many spiritual books, even though by 1965 The Way had sold more than two million copies in more than twenty languages. Instead, he concentrated on explaining Opus Dei in two types of documents which he called Instructions and Letters. All these documents summarize the founding spirit and are the fruit of Escrivá’s prayer and experience. Sometimes they reaffirmed ideas from thirty years earlier, such as the summary he made in 1968 of the ideal of holiness in the Work: “Simple Christians. Dough that is fermenting. Our thing is the ordinary, [done] with naturalness. The means: professional work. Everyone a saint! Silent surrender.”