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Thursday, February 22, 2007
Feast of the Chair of St. Peter

Greater Double (1955 Calendar): January 18
Feast (1969 Calendar): February 22

Today the universal Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, which recalls the primacy of the apostle Peter. Indeed, in the Gospel, Jesus Christ gave the keys of Heaven and Hell to St. Peter, the first pope. He is the Vicar of Jesus Christ. However, this post is not for debate on the Primacy of St. Peter.


O God, Who by delivering to Thy blessed Apostle Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven, didst confer upon him the pontifical power of binding and of loosing, grant that, by the help of his intercession, we may be freed from the bonds of sin: Who livest and reignest.

Prayer Source: 1962 Roman Catholic Daily Missal

Here is part of Pope Benedict XVI's message from 2006:

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The Latin liturgy celebrates today the feast of the Chair of Peter. It is a very ancient tradition, witnessed in Rome since the end of the fourth century, which renders thanksgiving to God for the mission entrusted to the Apostle Peter and his successors.

"Cathedra" literally means the established seat of the bishop, located in the mother church of a diocese, which for this reason is called "cathedral," and it is the symbol of the authority of the bishop and, in particular, of his "magisterium," that is, of the evangelical teaching that he, insofar as a successor of the apostles, is called to guard and transmit to the Christian community.

When the bishop takes possession of the local Church that is entrusted to him, he, bearing the miter and the shepherd's crosier, sits on the cathedra. From that seat he will guide, as teacher and shepherd, the journey of the faithful in faith, hope and charity.

Which was, then, the "cathedra" of St. Peter? He, chosen by Christ as "rock" on which to build the Church (cf. Matthew 16:18), began his ministry in Jerusalem, after the ascension of the Lord and Pentecost. The first "seat" of the Church was the Cenacle, and in all probability in that room, where Mary, the Mother of Jesus, also prayed with the disciples, a special place was reserved for Simon Peter.

Subsequently, the see of Peter was Antioch, a city situated 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. Of that city, evangelized by Barnabas and Paul, where "for the first time the disciples were called Christians" (Acts 11:26), Peter was the first Bishop.

In fact, the Roman Martyrology, before the reform of the calendar, established also a specific celebration of the Chair of Peter at Antioch. From there, Providence led Peter to Rome, where he concluded with martyrdom his course of service to the Gospel. For this reason, the See of Rome, which had received the greatest honor, received also the task entrusted by Christ to Peter of being at the service of all the local Churches for the building and unity of the whole People of God.

In this way the See of Rome came to be known as that of the Successor of Peter, and the "cathedra" of its Bishop represented that of the apostle charged by Christ to feed all his flock. It is attested by the most ancient Fathers of the Church, as for example St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon, who in his treatise "Against Heresies" describes the Church of Rome as "greatest and most ancient, known by all; … founded and constituted at Rome by the two glorious Apostles Peter and Paul"; and he adds: "With this Church, because of her outstanding superiority, the universal Church must be in agreement, that is, the faithful everywhere" (III, 3, 2-3).

Tertullian, for his part, affirms: "How blessed this Church of Rome is! The Apostles themselves shed on her, with their blood, the whole of the doctrine" ("La Prescrizione degli Eretici," 36). The Chair of the Bishop of Rome represents, therefore, not only his service to the Roman community, but also his mission of guide of the whole People of God.

To celebrate the "Chair" of Peter, as we do today, means, therefore, 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.

Among so many testimonies of the Fathers, I would like to refer to that of St. Jerome, taken from a letter of his to the Bishop of Rome, particularly interesting because he makes explicit reference in fact to the "chair" of Peter, presenting it as the safe harbor of truth and peace. Jerome writes thus: "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 you 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! ("Le Lettere," I, 15,1-2).

Dear Brothers and Sisters, in the apse of St. Peter's Basilica, as you know, is found the monument to the Chair of the Apostle, a mature work of Bernini, made in the shape 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 that evocative work, which today it is possible to admire decorated with so many candles, and pray in a particular way for the ministry that God has entrusted to me. Raising one's gaze to the alabaster glass window that opens precisely above the chair, invoke the Holy Spirit, so that he will always sustain with his light and strength my daily service to the whole Church. For this, as for your devoted attention, I thank you from my heart.

Primacy of St. Peter by Pope St. Leo the Great:

Out of the whole world one man, Peter, is chosen to preside at the calling of all nations, and to be set over all the apostles and all the fathers of the Church. Though there are in God’s people many shepherds, Peter is thus appointed to rule in his own person those whom Christ also rules as the original ruler. Beloved, how great and wonderful is this sharing of his power that God in his goodness has given to this man. Whatever Christ has willed to be shared in common by Peter and the other leaders of the Church, it is only through Peter that he has given to others what he has not refused to bestow on them.

The Lord now asks the apostles as a whole what men think of him. As long as they are recounting the uncertainty born of human ignorance, their reply is always the same.

But when he presses the disciples to say what they think themselves, the first to confess his faith in the Lord is the one who is first in rank among the apostles.

Peter says: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. Jesus replies: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but my Father who is in heaven”. You are blessed, he means, because my Father has taught you. You have not been deceived by earthly opinion, but have been enlightened by inspiration from heaven. It was not flesh and blood that pointed me out to you, but the one whose only-begotten Son I am.

He continues: And I say to you. In other words, as my Father has revealed to you my godhead, so I in my turn make known to you your pre-eminence. You are Peter: though I am the inviolable rock, the cornerstone that makes both one, the foundation apart from which no one can lay any other, yet you also are a rock, for you are given solidity by my strength, so that which is my very own because of my power is common between us through your participation.

And upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. On this strong foundation, he says, I will build an everlasting temple. The great height of my Church, which is to penetrate the heavens, shall rise on the firm foundation of this faith.

The gates of hell shall not silence this confession of faith; the chains of death shall not bind it. Its words are the words of life. As they lift up to heaven those who profess them, so they send down to hell those who contradict them.

Blessed Peter is therefore told: To you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth is also bound in heaven. Whatever you lose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven.

The authority vested in this power passed also to the other apostles, and the institution established by this decree has been continued in all the leaders of the Church. But it is not without good reason that what is bestowed on all is entrusted to one. For Peter received it separately in trust because he is the prototype set before all the rulers of the Church.


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