February 21, 2017

Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter

Cathedra Petri
The Cathedra Petri (Chair of Peter) in the apse of Saint Peter's Basilica.

On February 22nd, the Church celebrates the feast of the Chair of Saint Peter during which we remember the papacy and Saint Peter as the first bishop of Rome. This feast recalls Christ giving Peter the special mission of teacher and pastor, an office that has continued across time to the present Pope, Francis. We acknowledge the unity of the Church, founded upon the Apostle Peter, and renew our faithfulness to the Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, extended both to truths defined ex cathedra, and to all the decrees of the ordinary Magisterium.

In Caesarea Philippi, following Peter's profession of faith that Jesus was the Messiah, [Matthew 16: 13-20] Christ declares to Peter:
[Y]ou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Upon our Lord's solemn words, since early times, the Roman Church has held a special commemoration of the primatial authority of St. Peter. As witness one of the most renowned of the Apostolic Fathers, the Roman See has always held a peculiar place in the affection and obedience of orthodox believers because of its "presiding in love" and abiding fidelity and service over all the Churches of God.

"We shall find in the Gospel that Jesus Christ, willing to begin the mystery of unity in His Church, among all His disciples chose twelve; but that, willing to consummate the mystery of unity in the same Church, among the twelve He chose one. He called His disciples, said the Gospel; here are all; and among them He chose twelve. Here is the first separation, and the Apostles chosen. And these are the names of the twelve Apostles: the first, Simon, who is called Peter. [Mt. 10, 1-2] Here, in a second separation, St. Peter is set at the head, and called for that reason by the name of Peter, 'which Jesus Christ,' says St. Mark, 'had given him,' in order to prepare, as you will see, the work which He was proposing to raise all His building on that stone" (Jacques Bossuet, The See of St. Peter).

Pope Benedict explains the spiritual significance of the feast for the Church.
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 ....

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 ...
(Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, Feb. 22, 2006).
Today's first reading (1 Peter 5:1–4) is from Peter himself. He enjoins both the Church's ordained ministers, and us, to: "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." May we tend God's flock in imitation of Christ and in union with the Holy Father and our brothers and sisters in the Church on earth. 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.

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