Tuesday, February 22, 2011

NOT JUST AN HONORARY CHAIR: the feast of the chair of peter (Feb. 22)

Allow me to pen just a few thoughts as we celebrate this feast of the Chair of St. Peter. Many Christian fundamentalists always hit us Catholics for our veneration of the saints (funny I don't seem to observe them do that with Eastern Orthodox Christians, who are also effusive and equally fervent in their veneration of saints and their images), and their images and icons. I would imagine them going ballistic if they ever find out that in the Catholic calendar there is a feast seemingly dedicated not just to a saint or an icon, but to a chair. That would seem to pretty far out, aside from the fact that you normally don't give honor to a chair, much less commemorate it with a special date.

Today's feast comes to us from antiquity, with sources telling us that it was already being celebrated as early as the year of Our Lord 394, according to the oldest Roman calendar. To more knowledgeable Catholics, this feast turns our attention to that relic kept in that effusive and "explosive" piece of Baroque art situated at the end of the nave in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Kept within the Gloria of Bernini is a chair originally thought to have been used by Peter himself, though actually was a gift made to the Pope by Charles the Bald in the 9th century. You can learn more about the relic here
However, what we are celebrating is not a material chair, a piece of furniture. What we are celebrating is that office which that seemingly innocuous chair represents and symbolizes, not only for each of us, but for the whole Church of Christ. The cathedra (which simply means chair pr seat in Greek and Latin) is the chair of the bishop, and is indicative of his teaching authority, of his office as teacher over the particular church which has been commended to his care. The cathedral church derives its name form the fact that it houses the Bishop's chair.

Anyway, we celebrate, just as I was saying, not a piece of furniture but rather the special position that Peter holds over the Church instituted by Christ Jesus on earth. The Gospel for today recounts the episode of the confession of Peter about the divinity of Christ: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!" To this confession of faith the Lord responds by giving Peter the special mission of being the rock upon which the faith of the Church in Christ will stand; the Lord Jesus explicitly gives over to him the mission of the Keys, something which the rest of the Apostles would receive later on after the Resurrection of the Lord. Pope St. Leo the Great comments that "it is not without reason that the authority bestowed on all the Apostles is entrusted to one. For Peter received it separately in trust because he is the prototype set before all the rulers of the Church". Pope Benedict XVI says celebrating this feast means "to attribute to it a strong spiritual significance and to recognize in it a privileged sign of the love of God, good and eternal Shepherd, who wants to gather the whole of his Church and guide her along the way of salvation."It is the celebration of the Church entrusted to the ministry of Peter. whose task is to confirm us all in the Faith in Jesus Christ. 

Celebrating this feast means being grateful to the Lord for continuing to guide and feed and protect His Church through the ministry of Peter, in the person of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, gloriously reigning. But celebrating it fruitfully also means praying for the Holy Father and his intentions, as well as praying that the work of Christian unity would progress so that we may find all of us who bear the name of Christian under the care of the Supreme Shepherd, who continues to guide us all through the ministry of Peter, the rock upon which the Lord built His Church.

Prayer for the Holy Father

V. Let us pray for our Pontiff, Pope Benedict.

R. The Lord preserve him, and give him life, and make him to be blessed upon the earth, and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies (Roman Breviary).

Our Father. Hail Mary.

V. Oremus pro Pontifice nostro Benedicto.

R. Dominus conservet eum, et vivificet eum, et beatum faciat eum in terra, et non tradat eum in animam inimicorum eius. [Ps 40:3]

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