When I first asked Opus Dei to teach me about their way, the numerary who was helping me, apparently thinking I understood more about Opus Dei than I did, asked me how the plan of life was going. I had no idea what he was talking about, but I figured it had something to do with my future professional plans. I replied that I was going to get my degree in Speech Pathology and then work on my master’s degree. Then I figured I’d get married and have a family. He got a good laugh out of that and then told me what he meant.
The “plan of life” is simply a plan for daily prayer. The specific practices in the plan of life are called “norms.” I don’t know where the term came from. Members of Opus Dei are committed to live a specific plan of daily prayer established by the founder. The plan consists of:
- Morning offering. They try every morning to get up on time and to offer the day to the Lord. I always used (and continue to use) the prayer of St. Francis because I think it perfectly encompasses the spirit of Opus Dei in a way that is applicable to all Christians.
- Daily Mass. St. Josemaría said the Mass is the “root and center” of the interior life of members of Opus Dei, so they put a serious effort into attending Mass every day.
- The Rosary. This is the one part of the plan of life that St. Josemaría wanted members never to miss. Sometimes it’s hard to find the 15-20 minutes necessary, so they may say part of it now and part of it later, if necessary. Driving in the car is a good time if you’re not too distracted by traffic.
- Mental prayer. Mental prayer is simply spending time in intimate conversation with the Lord. Sometimes words don’t form, and it’s simply sitting in His presence, keeping Him company. St. Josemaría wrote in The Way: “You write: ‘To pray is to talk with God. But about what?’ About what? About Him, about yourself: joys, sorrows, successes and failures, noble ambitions, daily worries, weaknesses! And acts of thanksgiving and petitions: and Love and reparation. In a word: to get to know him and to get to know yourself: ‘to get acquainted!'” The plan of life calls for 30 minutes of mental prayer in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening, for a total of 1 hour per day.
- The Angelus or Regina Coeli. In traditional Catholic piety the Angelus is said at noon and at 6:00 PM. It is part of the Opus Dei plan of life to say it as close to noon as possible. During the Easter season (Easter Sunday through Pentecost) they say the Regina Coeli instead.
- Particular examination of conscience. This is where members examine a particular aspect of their spiritual life to see how they’re doing today. They typically do this immediately after the Angelus or Regina Coeli.
- Spiritual reading. Members spend about 10-12 minutes per day reading a spiritual book, typically one of the classics of spiritual literature. Naturally they are encouraged to read the writings of Opus Dei’s founder, too.
- Reading of the New Testament. Members also spend about 3-5 minutes per day reading the New Testament. This allows them to read the entire New Testament over the course of a year.
- Visit to the Blessed Sacrament. Members try to make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament sometime during the day, even if it’s only to pop their head in the door, genuflect, and say a quick informal prayer. In centers of the Work and on retreats the visit is made immediately after supper and consists of 3 Our Fathers, 3 Hail Mary’s, 3 Glory Be’s and a spiritual communion.
- Preces. The Preces is a set of prayers members of Opus Dei say every day. It takes about 5 minutes to say them and they are prayed in Latin. See Question 42 for a fuller explanation.
- General Examination of Conscience. Before going to bed at night members spend about 3 minutes examining how they’ve lived their day in confomity with the Gospel message and the spirit of the vocation to Opus Dei. They make a specific resolution or two for the next day. Many members keep track of how they lived the plan of life so they can discuss it with their spiritual director.
- Weekly Confession. Members are supposed to go to confession each week, preferably, but not necessarily, to a priest of Opus Dei.
- Aspirations. St. Josemaría would encourage us to turn to the Lord many times during the day and say short prayers like “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I give you my heart and my soul” or “Jesus, I love you with all my heart,” or anything else that springs from our heart.
- Days of Recollection. Every month members attend a day (or evening) of recollection. They consist of two “meditations” preached by a priest, a short talk by one of the lay members on a virtue or a topic like “the good use of time,” benediction, confession, and time for personal prayer. Most of these days of recollection are open to the public, but occasionally there are special days of recollection held for members only in which the topics are more geared to those with a vocation to the Work.
- Retreats. Every year members go on a retreat. These are silent retreats with a number of preached “meditations,” plenty of time for personal reflection and prayer, etc. Generally speaking, retreats are open to non-members as well as members.
As you can see, with the exception of the Preces, there’s nothing in their plan of life that is peculiar to Opus Dei. It’s all stuff Catholics do all the time, though they may not do all of it every day. It’s a lot, and it’s usually a real challenge to do it all every day. And perhaps that’s why Opus Dei isn’t for everyone.
The founder of Opus Dei used to say that the vocation to Opus Dei is the vocation to be a “contemplative in the middle of the world,” and as any Catholic can see, the practices in the plan of life will certainly foster a contemplative spirit.