There are 4 things that distinguish members of the Work (specifically, supernumeraries) from other lay Catholics who are trying to sanctify their ordinary lives and to bring other souls to Christ. They are:
- The “plan of life.“ St. Josemaría specified a particular plan for members of Opus Dei to follow in their prayer life. They refer to this plan as the “plan of life.” It consists of a set of practices that Catholics throughout the centuries have performed. There is nothing in the plan of life that is specific to Opus Dei, and there are plenty of other things good and holy people do in their life of prayer that members of the Work don’t do. For example, I know plenty of lay people who pray the Liturgy of the Hours. Certainly that’s a laudable thing to do, and it has brought many people to love God more deeply. But it doesn’t form part of the Opus Dei plan of life. Nevertheless, they do have a specific plan that they try to follow. The plan of life is discussed in detail in Question 5.
- The formation they receive. The evenings of recollection, circles, annual courses, the specific set of formative classes when they join the Work, the spiritual direction, confession to a priest of the Work, etc. This includes the spirit of that formation: completely lay, and designed to help them spread the universal call to holiness as a member of Opus Dei.
- Apostolate. All Christians are called to be apostles, but members of Opus Dei do commit themselves to promote and assist the apostolates of the Prelature. This is certainly not to the detriment or exclusion of the main apostolate they do (i.e., through their ordinary friendships), but it is a real obligation they take on, and they should fulfill that obligation generously, according to their availability, and given the specific circumstances of their lives. In Opus Dei apostolate is a “directed” apostolate. That is to say, members discuss the apostolate they are doing with their spiritual director to ensure they are carrying it out in a manner consistent with the spirit of the Work. This is done in the context of their regular meeting with their spiritual director. He or she may make suggestions about how to approach a particular topic with a friend or suggest the member start a cooperator circle, or make some other suggestion.
- Vocation. Membership in Opus Dei is a divine vocation, and is recognized as such by the Church. While it is certainly possible for a member to leave Opus Dei without committing a sin, they join the Work with the idea of remaining for the rest of their lives. They also join in response to their (and the directors’) discernment that it is God’s will for them.
To be more specific, members of Opus Dei:
- must commit themselves to strive for personal holiness according to the spirit and practice of Opus Dei;
- are under the jurisdiction of the directors of the Work and must obey them in all that pertains to the aims of the Prelature, its government, spirit, and apostolate;
- should assiduously try to live the plan of life in its fullness, especially daily mental prayer, the Holy Rosary, and the frequent reception of the sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion;
- must lead a life of intense work;
- must strive to fulfill all the obligations that come with the type of membership (i.e., numerary, associate, supernumerary);
- must carry out an active apostolate under the supervision of the directors of Opus Dei which is primarily aimed at spreading the spirit of Opus Dei;
- must provide for their own economic support; and
- must generously contribute financially to the apostolic works of Opus Dei according to their personal circumstances.
In return, members have the right of receiving appropriate means of formation and the ministerial care of priests of the Prelature.