Corporal Mortification in Opus Dei
Corporal mortification is regularly practiced in Opus Dei. It is perhaps one of the most startling aspects of Opus Dei life for people outside the group. Many of the practices of corporal mortification were at one time more regularly practiced within the Church; however, due to modern psychology and thinking, the practices which inflict pain are sometimes considered to be counterproductive to one’s spiritual development, as they can easily lead to pride and an unhealthy attitude toward one’s body.
Some acts of corporal mortification may be helpful in checking the desires of the flesh, such as fasting. However, in Opus Dei, especially for the numerary (celibate) members, all of the practices mentioned below are mandatory if one wishes to live the “Spirit of Opus Dei” fully. The “Spirit of Opus Dei” is the standard of living, as outlined by the Opus Dei directors, for which all truly dedicated Opus Dei members strive. Under the umbrella of the “Spirit of Opus Dei” hide many of the abuses in Opus Dei. The subtle control to conform to the norm is typical in groups which practice mind control; members are “guilted” into conforming, feeling that they must in order to follow “God’s will” as it is outlined by the controlling group.
Listed below are the ways Opus Dei numeraries practice corporal mortification:
- Cilice: [Photo of cilice] a spiked chain worn around the upper thigh for two hours each day, except for Church feast days, Sundays, and certain times of the year. This is perhaps the most shocking of the corporal mortifications, and generally Opus Dei members are extremely hesitant to admit that they use them. It is a painful mortification which leaves small prick holes in the flesh, and makes the Opus Dei members tentative about wearing swim suits wherever non-Opus Dei members may be.
- Discipline : [Photo of discipline] a cord-like whip which resembles macrame, used on the buttocks or back once a week. Opus Dei members must ask permission to use it more often, which many do. The story is often told in Opus Dei that the Founder was so zealous in using the discipline, he splattered the bathroom walls with streaks of blood.
- Cold Showers : Most numeraries take cold showers every day and offer it up for the intentions of the current Prelate.
- Meals : Numeraries generally practice one small corporal mortification at every meal, such as drinking coffee without milk or sugar, not buttering one’s toast, skipping dessert, not taking seconds, etc. For the most part, eating between meals is not practiced. Opus Dei members fast on the Church’s prescribed days for fasting, but otherwise must ask for permission to fast on their own.
- The Heroic Minute : Numeraries are encouraged to jump out of bed and kiss the floor as soon as the door is knocked in the morning. As they kiss, they say “Serviam,” Latin for “I will serve.”
- Silences : Each night after making an examination of conscience, numeraries do not speak to one another until after Holy Mass the following morning. (They do not say “Good morning” to anyone as they are getting ready.) In the afternoons, they try to avoid speaking until dinnertime. On Sundays, numeraries generally do not listen to music, especially in the afternoons.
Some forms of corporal mortification differ according to your gender, as the following table shows:
|Female Numeraries||Male Numeraries|
Sleep on boards laid on top of the mattress.
Sleep without a pillow once a week.
May not smoke or enter a bar.
The Founder believed that women had passions that required more discipline to tame.
Sleep on the floor once a week.
Sleep without a pillow once a week.
Allowed to smoke and go to bars with recruits, for the purpose of drawing them closer to Opus Dei.
A former numerary wrote to comment on Opus Dei’s corporal mortifications:
“The cilice and disciplines are so foreign to the experience of most people, that they just conclude that Opus Dei is very odd for mandating them. That is true as far as it goes, but there is a more important point to be made. Because of the dangers of masochism, the traditional Catholic teaching on this sort of mortification is that it be done under obedience to a spiritual director. Such supervision in fact exists in Opus Dei, although often authority is entrusted to people who lack requisite maturity and prudence. The real point is that even if the cilice and the discipline are acceptable forms of penance, their use shows that Opus Dei members are NOT ordinary people, are not free agents.”
Relevant Quotes from the writings of Opus Dei Founder, Josemaria Escriva
“Blessed be pain. Loved be pain. Sanctified be pain. . . Glorified be pain!” (The Way, 208)
“No ideal becomes a reality without sacrifice. Deny yourself. It is so beautiful to be a victim!” (The Way, 175)
“Obey with your lips, your heart and your mind. It is not a man who is being obeyed, but God.” (Furrow, maxim 374)
“And be watchful, for a spark is much easier to extinguish than a fire. Take flight, for in this it is low cowardice to be “brave”; a roving eye does not mean a lively spirit, but turns out to be a snare of satan. Yet human diligence, with mortification, the cilice, disciplines and fasting are all worthless without you, my God.” (Furrow, 834)
“They [Opus Dei numeraries] shall maintain the pious custom, for the purpose of chastising the body and reducing it to servitude, of wearing a small cilice for at least two hours daily; once a week they shall take the disciplines as well as sleeping on the floor, providing that health is not affected.” (Opus Dei Constituciones, article 147)
“To defend his purity, St. Francis of Assisi rolled in the snow, St. Benedict threw himself into a thornbush, St. Bernard plunged into an icy pond… You… what have you done?” (The Way, 143)
“What has been lost through the flesh, the flesh should pay back: be generous in your penance.” (The Forge, 207)
“If you realize that your body is your enemy, and an enemy of God’s glory since it is an enemy of your sanctification, why do you treat it so softly?” (The Way, 227)
“Your worst enemy is yourself.” (The Way, 225)
“You have come to the apostolate to submit, to annihilate yourself, not to impose your own personal viewpoints.” (The Way, 936)
Originally Written: June 3, 1998
Posted: May 13, 2002