The Feast of the Chair of Peter, an ancient celebration of the
authority entrusted to St. Peter and his successors, highlights the
reality of Peter's special role in the life of the Church.
The Gospel for today's (February 22) feast recounts the
confession of Simon, the son of John, that Jesus is the Messiah and
Son of God (Matthew 16:13-19). In response to this statement of
faith, Jesus changed Simon's name to Peter, signifying his new
mission and identity: Jesus promised on this "Rock" his Church,
which will not be overthrown by the forces of evil and death.
He gave him the "keys of the kingdom of Heaven," entrusting him
with authority and the power to interpret authentically the law of
God: "Peter was by nature simply a man, by grace a Christian, by
still more abundant grace one of the Apostles and at the same time
the first of the Apostles" (St. Augustine of Hippo,Treatise on
the Gospel of John,124).
Jesus placed Peter, the simple fisherman, "over the other
Apostles, and instituted in him a permanent and visible source and
foundation of unity of faith and communion" (Lumen
Peter's unique vocation was rooted in his personal relationship
with Jesus. Peter was not perfect and his imperfection, combined
with his humility, allowed him to recognize his dependence on
As Jesuit writer James Martin has mused, "Sometimes I wonder if
Jesus chose Peter not despite his imperfections but
because of them. Peter's knowledge of his own limits led
him to understand his reliance on God. It also enabled him to
appreciate the love that Jesus had for him, as well as to celebrate
the fact that God can work through anyone, no matter how human. And
that's not such a bad message to carry to the ends of the earth"
(from My Life with the Saints).
Falling as it does, only days before Pope Benedict's resignation
(with the accompanying periods of Sede Vacante and
Conclave), this Feast of the Chair of Peter invites us to reflect
on the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, the successor of St. Peter,
in a particular way.
In his homily during the Mass of the Possession of the Chair of
the Bishop of Rome(May 7, 2005), Pope Benedict observed, "The
Bishop of Rome sits upon the Chair to bear witness to Christ. Thus,
the Chair is the symbol of the potestas docendi, the power
to teach that is an essential part of the mandate of binding and
loosing which the Lord conferred on Peter, and after him, on the
Twelve…. The power that Christ conferred upon Peter and his
Successors is, in an absolute sense, a mandate to serve."
Presiding in doctrine and presiding in love are the tasks of
Peter's successor and these tasks, Pope Benedict continued, "must
in the end be one and the same: the whole of the Church's teaching
leads ultimately to love. And the Eucharist, as the love of Jesus
Christ present, is the criterion for all teaching. On love the
whole law is based, and the prophets as well, the Lord says (cf.
Matthew 22:40). Love is the fulfillment of the law (cf. Romans