Why do we dedicate an entire day to mark the chair of St Peter? This video explains.
Upon this rock I will build my Church. (Matthew 16:18)
The use of the word “chair” in the title of today’s feast has a double meaning. It really does involve an actual piece of furniture. In the ancient Church, bishops had a special chair reserved for them when they preached to their people. The tradition stretches back to the time of ancient Israel, when a rabbi would teach his disciples while seated—and while his disciples stood around him. St. Peter actually had a chair, a relic of which is encased in a bronze sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
But “chair” also means an office of the Church. The feast of the Chair of Peter is a celebration of Peter’s special role in teaching and leading the Church. It’s also a celebration of the role that his successor, the pope, plays in every generation. The feast highlights the fact that the gospel message proclaimed by the pope can be traced all the way back to St. Peter and the twelve apostles.
There’s an implicit message in Bernini’s sculpture. He fashioned a “throne” for Peter’s chair with the statues of four Doctors of the Church—Sts. Augustine, Ambrose, John Chrysostom, and Athanasius—holding it up. By creating these statues, Bernini was telling us that Jesus didn’t just put Peter “in charge”; he gave each of us a charge as well: to hold up, or take an active part, in his Church. Notice that those saints aren’t exalting Peter the man. They’re supporting his teachings, which come directly from Jesus. In other words, Peter does not rule alone. He is supported and upheld by everyone who follows the teachings and the commands that Jesus gave to his apostles.
“Lord, show me how I can take my place in upholding your gospel truths!”
you call us back to you with all of our hearts.
I feel your call for me deep in my heart
and I know you want me back
as much as I want to return.
give me the wisdom to know how to return.
Make my journey back to you this Lent
one of grace, forgiveness and gentle love.
Honour this feast day with gratitude and with a promise. Let’s first thank God for the role that the successor of Peter plays in every age as teacher and guardian of the gospel. Let’s pray for him. And let’s promise to support him in this task by living out that same gospel in our lives.