Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology

Formation and Education for the Life of the Church

Feast of the Chair of Peter

by Silas Henderson


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 gentium, 18).

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 God.

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 13:10)."

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Echoes from the Bell Tower is a blog devoted to observations on Christian faith, spirituality and everyday events, by authors with a connection to the Benedictine values found at Saint Meinrad Archabbey and its Seminary and School of Theology. Contributors include students, permanent deacons, Benedictine oblates and Saint Meinrad monks. Their stories, thoughts and ideas highlight the mission and vision that ring out from the bell towers on this Hill in southern Indiana.