Opus Dei (ō´pəs dā´ē) [Lat.,=work of God], Roman Catholic organization, particularly influential in Spain, officially the Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei. Opus Dei was founded in 1928 by a wealthy lawyer turned priest, José María Escrivá de Balaguer y Albás, who objected to the liberal, secular atmosphere at the Univ. of Madrid. As a Catholic institution, it emphasizes that ordinary Christians can achieve holiness and change society for the better through how they live their everyday lives. Opus Dei gained national importance in Spain after the civil war, when it received support from goverment of Francisco Franco. In the 1950s and 60s it replaced the Falange as the most important conservative political and religious force in Spain. Its influence there, however, has waned since the early 1970s.
Receiving increased support from the Vatican since the late 1970s, the organization has grown to more than 85,000 members in more than 80 countries. In 1950 the Vatican recognized it as a secular institute; in 1982 it was given the status of "personal prelature." Its membership is now, therefore, considered a separate diocese with its own bishop.
Believing that a Catholic can lead a holy life without taking religious vows, lay members pledge to serve God in worldly vocations; roughly a third of the members live communally and celibately in Opus Dei centers. The movement seeks to promote traditional Catholic values and teaching and to oppose liberalism and immorality, and is noted for its emphasis on preaching to government officials, professionals, intellectuals, and business executives. Opus Dei has been controversial among some Catholics because of its secretive nature, its emphasis on discipline, its conservatism, and its historical association with the Franco regime in Spain. This controversy became pronounced in 1992 when the Vatican, under John Paul II, beatified Escrivá; Escrivá was canonized in 2002.
See M. del C. Tapia, Beyond the Threshold (1997); J. L. Allen, Opus Dei (2005).