After attending the means of formation Opus Dei offers, usually for some months, a person may ask to receive spiritual direction from a priest or other member of the Work. Through spiritual direction they may come to believe they have a vocation to the Work. If the directors of the local center agree, the person will write a letter asking to be admitted. If he is asking to become a numerary or associate, the letter is addressed to the prelate of Opus Dei in Rome. If he wants to become a supernumerary, the letter is addressed to the Regional Vicar of the region in which the center is located.
Once a person has written the letter asking to be admitted he begins a period of formation lasting 6 months, during which he receives an extensive series of talks, called the “Programa,” about the nature of the Work, life in Opus Dei, and Catholic doctrine. It is important to know that during this time he is not yet formally a member of Opus Dei. If he has requested admission as a numerary, he will move into a center of the Work as soon as is practical so that he can begin to live the life of a numerary up close, and begin the formation process. In the case of younger numeraries, this may not be possible for several years.
The programa ensures that before being formally admitted, the candidate is instructed that:
- he must commit himself to strive for personal holiness according to the spirit and practice of Opus Dei;
- he will be under the jurisdiction of the directors of the Work and should obey them in all that pertains to the aims of the prelature, its government, spirit, and apostolate;
- he 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;
- the spirit of Opus Dei encourages them to lead a life of intense work;
- he should try to fulfill all the obligations that come with the type of membership (i.e., numerary, associate, supernumerary);
- he 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;
- he must provide for his own economic support; and
- he should generously contribute financially to the apostolic works of Opus Dei according to his personal circumstances.
After the candidate has completed the Programa, if both he and the directors still agree that he has a vocation, he is formally admitted to the Work by means of a verbal contract between himself and Opus Dei in which he agrees to try to live the spirit of Opus Dei, to live the plan of life (See Question 5), to carry out an active apostolate, and to help the apostolic activities of the Prelature, according to his talents and availability. Opus Dei, for its part, agrees to provide the spiritual direction and assistance needed to do so.
After being formally admitted, the new member continues to receive an intense formation in the spirit of the Work, Catholic doctrine, theology, and philosophy, going over many of the same topics covered in the Programa, but in more detail. After one year, if both the new member and the directors still agree that he as a vocation, he makes the “oblation,” by which he becomes a “full-fledged” member.
All members of the Work receive ongoing classes in theology and philosophy throughout their lives, but for new numeraries, it is particularly intense early on, and involves several years of living in a special center of studies set up for providing these courses.
Every year on March 19, members must renew their commitment to the Work in the privacy of their own prayer and notify the directors that they have done so. Failure to do either of these two things on that day without a serious reason automatically terminates the person’s membership in the Work. This is how I left Opus Dei. After 5 years of making the annual renewal, numeraries are required to make the “fidelity,” which is a life-long commitment. After making the fidelity it is no longer necessary to make the annual renewals. If a numerary chooses not to make the fidelity after 5 years, he must either leave the Work or become a supernumerary. Supernumeraries are never required to make the fidelity, but they may do so at any time after 5 years, with the approval of the prelate.
The statutes of Opus Dei specify that candidates may be admitted to Opus Dei at the age of 17 years.