of Saint Peter, Apostle
This feast brings to mind the mission of teacher and pastor conferred by Christ on Peter, and continued in an unbroken line down to the present Pope. We celebrate the unity of the Church, founded upon the Apostle, and renew our assent to the magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, extended both to truths which are solemnly defined "ex cathedra" and to all the acts of the ordinary magisterium.
Source: Daily Roman Missal, Edited by Rev. James Socías, Midwest Theological Forum, Chicago, Illinois ©2003
Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that no tempests may disturb us,
for you have set us fast
on the rock of the Apostle Peter's confession of faith.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. +Amen.
First Reading: 1 Peter 5:1-4
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed. Tend the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd is manifested you will obtain the unfading crown of glory.
Gospel Reading: Matthew 16:13-19
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, "Who do men say that the Son of man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
BENEDICT XVI, GENERAL AUDIENCE, Wednesday, 22 February 2006,
"On this rock I will build my Church'
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, the Latin-rite liturgy celebrates the Feast of the Chair of St Peter. This is a very ancient tradition, proven to have existed in Rome since the fourth century. On it we give thanks to God for the mission he entrusted to the Apostle Peter and his Successors.
"Cathedra" literally means the established seat of the Bishop, placed in the mother church of a diocese which for this reason is known as a "cathedral"; it is the symbol of the Bishop's authority and in particular, of his "magisterium", that is, the evangelical teaching which, as a successor of the Apostles, he is called to safeguard and to transmit to the Christian Community.
When a Bishop takes possession of the particular Church that has been entrusted to him, wearing his mitre and holding the pastoral staff, he sits on the cathedra. From this seat, as teacher and pastor, he will guide the journey of the faithful in faith, hope and charity.
So what was the "Chair" of St Peter? Chosen by Christ as the "rock" on which to build the Church (cf. Mt 16: 18), he began his ministry in Jerusalem, after the Ascension of the Lord and Pentecost. The Church's first "seat" was the Upper Room, and it is likely that a special place was reserved for Simon Peter in that room where Mary, Mother of Jesus, also prayed with the disciples.
Subsequently, the See of Peter was Antioch, a city located on the Oronte River in Syria, today Turkey, which at the time was the third metropolis of the Roman Empire after Rome and Alexandria in Egypt. Peter was the first Bishop of that city, which was evangelized by Barnabas and Paul, where "the disciples were for the first time called Christians" (Acts 11: 26), and consequently where our name "Christians" came into being. In fact, the Roman Martyrology, prior to the reform of the calendar, also established a specific celebration of the Chair of Peter in Antioch.
From there, Providence led Peter to Rome. Therefore, we have the journey from Jerusalem, the newly born Church, to Antioch, the first centre of the Church formed from pagans and also still united with the Church that came from the Jews. Then Peter went to Rome, the centre of the Empire, the symbol of the "Orbis" - the "Urbs", which expresses "Orbis", the earth, where he ended his race at the service of the Gospel with martyrdom.
So it is that the See of Rome, which had received the greatest of honours, also has the honour that Christ entrusted to Peter of being at the service of all the particular Churches for the edification and unity of the entire People of God.
The See of Rome, after St Peter's travels, thus came to be recognized as the See of the Successor of Peter, and its Bishop's "cathedra" represented the mission entrusted to him by Christ to tend his entire flock.
This is testified by the most ancient Fathers of the Church, such as, for example, St Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, but who came from Asia Minor, who in his treatise Adversus Haereses, describes the Church of Rome as the "greatest and most ancient, known by all... founded and established in Rome by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul"; and he added: "The universal Church, that is, the faithful everywhere, must be in agreement with this Church because of her outstanding superiority" (III, 3, 2-3).
Tertullian, a little later, said for his part: "How blessed is the Church of Rome, on which the Apostles poured forth all their doctrine along with their blood!" (De Praescriptione Hereticorum, 36).
Consequently, the Chair of the Bishop of Rome represents not only his service to the Roman community but also his mission as guide of the entire People of God.
Celebrating the "Chair" of Peter, therefore, as we are doing today, means attributing a strong spiritual significance to it and recognizing it as a privileged sign of the love of God, the eternal Good Shepherd, who wanted to gather his whole Church and lead her on the path of salvation.
Among the numerous testimonies of the Fathers, I would like to quote St Jerome's. It is an extract from one of his letters, addressed to the Bishop of Rome. It is especially interesting precisely because it makes an explicit reference to the "Chair" of Peter, presenting it as a safe harbour of truth and peace.
This is what Jerome wrote: "I decided to consult the Chair of Peter, where that faith is found exalted by the lips of an Apostle; I now come to ask for nourishment for my soul there, where once I received the garment of Christ. I follow no leader save Christ, so I enter into communion with your beatitude, that is, with the Chair of Peter, for this I know is the rock upon which the Church is built" (cf. Le lettere I, 15, 1-2).
Dear brothers and sisters, in the apse of St Peter's Basilica, as you know, is the monument to the Chair of the Apostle, a mature work of Bernini. It is in the form of a great bronze throne supported by the statues of four Doctors of the Church: two from the West, St Augustine and St Ambrose, and two from the East: St John Chrysostom and St Athanasius.
I invite you to pause before this evocative work which today can be admired, decorated with myriads of candles, and to say a special prayer for the ministry that God has entrusted to me. Raise your eyes to the alabaster glass window located directly above the Chair and call upon the Holy Spirit, so that with his enlightenment and power, he will always sustain my daily service to the entire Church. For this, as for your devoted attention, I thank you from my heart.
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