At the Opus Dei Awareness Network web site, Opus Dei is described as follows:
Opus Dei is made up of lay members and priests; Opus Dei laity continue to work in the secular world, but remain under the strict spiritual direction of Opus Dei. All Opus Dei members follow “the plan of life,” made up of spiritual practices such as daily Mass, rosary, spiritual reading, and mental prayer, as well as Opus Dei prayers and customs.
There are different classes of membership in Opus Dei:Numerary members pledge to remain celibate and generally live in Opus Dei houses. They commit their entire salaries to Opus Dei, submit incoming and outgoing mail to their directors, and practice various forms of corporal mortification, including use of the cilice, a spiked chain worn around the thigh, and use of the discipline, a knotted rope for whipping.
Supernumerary members may be married, and live with their families. They follow the same “plan of life” as the numeraries, but generally do not know about many of the details of numerary life. They contribute large portions of their income to Opus Dei, often at the expense of their local parishes.
Numerary priests join Opus Dei as lay members, but are then hand-picked by Opus Dei superiors to become priests of Opus Dei. Numerary priests hold the top government positions in Opus Dei. Many hold important positions in the Vatican. Each Opus Dei house is assigned a numerary priest, whose responsibilities include saying Mass, hearing confessions and giving spiritual direction to the Opus Dei members.
Associate Opus Dei members also pledge celibacy, but they generally do not live in Opus Dei houses. They include people who have not acquired university degrees, or who must remain with their families for personal reasons.
Numerary assistants are women who pledge celibacy, and are responsible for the care and cleaning of all Opus Dei residences.
Cooperators of Opus Dei provide financial support, but are not considered members of Opus Dei. Unlike Opus Dei members, cooperators do not have to be Catholic.
Despite its seemingly noble intentions, Opus Dei has stirred up controversy in countries all over the world. Families of Opus Dei members are almost never involved in the vocation process, (in fact Opus Dei itself often discourages its new members from even telling their families about their decision!) Also questionable are Opus Dei’s recruiting tactics, which are comparable to the tactics used by cultic groups.
– What is Opus Dei?, Opus Dei Awareness Network