Escrivá surrounded by working people, in a Filipino
painting entitled, Magpakabanal sa Gawain
or "Be holy through your work".
Opus Dei was founded by a Catholic priest, Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, on 2 October 1928 in Madrid, Spain. According to Escrivá, on that day he experienced a vision in which he "saw Opus Dei". He gave the organization the name "Opus Dei", which in Latin means "Work of God", in order to underscore the belief that the organization was not his (Escrivá's) work, but was rather God's work. Throughout his life, Escrivá held that the founding of Opus Dei had a supernatural character. Escrivá summarized Opus Dei's mission as a way of helping ordinary Christians "to understand that their life... is a way of holiness and evangelization... And to those who grasp this ideal of holiness, the Work offers the spiritual assistance and training they need to put it into practice."
Initially, Opus Dei was open only to men, but in 1930, Escrivá started to admit women, based on what he believed to be a communication from God. In 1936, the organization suffered a temporary setback with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, as many Catholic priests and religious figures, including Escrivá, were forced into hiding. The atrocities committed during the civil war included the murder and rape of religious figures by anti-Franco Anarchists; it is worth noting, however, when considering the atrocities, that those committed by the pro-Franco Nationalists are usually estimated to far outnumber those committed by the Republicans. After the civil war was won by General Francisco Franco, Escrivá was able to return to Madrid. Escrivá himself recounted that it was in Spain where Opus Dei found "the greatest difficulties" because of traditionalists who he felt misunderstood Opus Dei's ideas. Despite this, Opus Dei flourished during the years of the Franquismo, spreading first throughout Spain, and after 1945, expanding internationally.
In 1939, Escrivá published The Way, a collection of 999 maxims concerning spirituality for people involved in secular affairs. In the 1940s, Opus Dei found an early critic in the Jesuit Superior General Wlodimir Ledóchowski, who told the Vatican that he considered Opus Dei "very dangerous for the Church in Spain," citing its "secretive character" and calling it "a form of Christian Masonry."
In 1947, a year after Escrivá moved the organization's headquarters to Rome, Opus Dei received a decree of praise and approval from Pope Pius XII, making it an institute of "pontifical right", i.e. under the direct governance of the Pope. In 1950, Pius XII granted definitive approval to Opus Dei, thereby allowing married people to join the organization, and secular clergy to be admitted to the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross.
In 1975, Escriva died and was succeeded by Álvaro del Portillo. In 1982, Opus Dei was made into a personal prelature. This means that Opus Dei is part of the universal Church, and the apostolate of the members falls under the direct jurisdiction of the Prelate of Opus Dei wherever they are. As to "what the law lays down for all the ordinary faithful", the lay members of Opus Dei, being no different from other Catholics, "continue to be ... under the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop", in the words of John Paul II's Ut Sit. In 2017, Fernando Ocáriz Braña became Prelate upon the death of his predecessor,
History of the spread of Opus Dei by country
One-third of the world's bishops sent letters petitioning for the canonization of Escrivá. Escriva was beatified in 1992 in the midst of controversy prompted by questions about Escriva's suitability for sainthood. In 2002, approximately 300,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square on the day Pope John Paul II canonized Josemaría Escrivá. According to one author, "Escrivá is... venerated by millions".
There are other members whose process of beatification has been opened: Ernesto Cofiño, a father of five children and a pioneer in pediatric research in Guatemala; Montserrat Grases, a teenage Catalan student who died of cancer; Toni Zweifel, a Swiss engineer; Tomás Alvira and wife, Paquita Domínguez, a Spanish married couple; Isidoro Zorzano Ledesma, an Argentinian engineer; Dora del Hoyo, a domestic worker; and Father José Luis Múzquiz de Miguel.
During the pontificate of John Paul II, two members of Opus Dei, Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne and Julián Herranz Casado, were made cardinals.
In September 2005, Pope Benedict XVI blessed a newly installed statue of Josemaría Escrivá placed in an outside wall niche of St Peter's Basilica, a place for founders of Catholic organizations.
During that same year, Opus Dei received some unwanted attention due to the extraordinary success of the novel The Da Vinci Code, in which both Opus Dei and the Catholic Church itself are depicted negatively. The film version was released globally in May 2006, further polarizing views on the organization.
In 2014, Pope Francis through a delegate beatified Alvaro del Portillo and said that "he teaches us that in the simplicity and ordinariness of our life we can find a sure path to holiness.
At the end of 2014, the prelature has been established in 69 countries, while its members are present in 90 countries.
Bishop Echevarría died on 12 December 2016, and was succeeded by Msgr. Fernando Ocáriz. He was elected the new prelate of Opus Dei on 23 January 2017, and on the same day was appointed by Pope Francis as such.