Every year in the Traditional calendar of the Holy Mother Church, February 22nd is celebrated as the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter. And contrary to what it sounds like, it is not a feast celebrating an actual piece of furniture. It is a feast that celebrates the authority that was given to Peter…handed over to him by Jesus Christ, Himself. It is a celebration to recognize the continuation of the authority of the Pope, beginning with Saint Peter. The Pope is the visible sign of Christ on earth, called the Vicar of Christ, which means earthly sign of Christ on earth. The Pope in Rome, is for us Catholics, a continuation of the role that Jesus Christ was in the Holy Mother Church. It is a role that has been passed down through the centuries, and has remained an unbroken line all the way back to Christ. Then when Christ realized His time was drawing to an end, He appointed Peter as the ‘Rock’ of His Church…the Catholic Church. The use of the term ‘chair’ in the feast day comes from the Latin term ‘cathedra‘ which means seat of government.
On the 22nd of February, the universal Catholic Church acknowledges that Saint Peter was the first pope…the foundation...the rock... that the Church would be built upon, and that the mission of the pope continues through this day. The Holy Father has an important role. He is to care for the people of God, in ways that are in union with the history of the Church and Her Traditions. There are rituals, teachings and Truths of the Church that were given to the Faithful from Jesus, things that cannot be changed. It is an important role, one that should not be handled in an off the cuff manner. The Pope should reflect not only a human side, but he should remain firm in his adherence to the teachings of the Christ that have been handed down throughout the 2,000 years of our Church Tradition and history.
In the Gospel of Matthew, when Peter recognized that Jesus Christ was in fact the long awaited for Messiah, Jesus said to him:
“You 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.”
Pope Benedict XVI explains the significance of the feast for the Church in his homily from Feb. 22, 2006:
“This is a very ancient tradition, proven to have existed in Rome since the fourth century. On it we five 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 a 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.”
So remember, any time you may be tempted to think that the Church is failing that the Church is not going to survive the next round of attacks from the evil one, remember this; Jesus told Peter that “the gates of the Netherworld would never prevail against it.” We must not lose hope. In fact, it is precisely moments like these that we should cling to that hope…cling to those Words of Jesus..that promise made to Peter all those years ago…that He would never abandon us…never abandon His Holy Catholic Church.
Let us pray.
O God, in entrusting the keys of your heavenly kingdom to your blessed Apostle Peter, you gave him the power to bind and to loose; by the help of his intercession may we be set free from the bonds of our sins. You who live and reign with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.