FRIDAY HOMILY: The Feast of the Chair of St. Peter - It's not about furniture
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.
As St. Leo underscores in his homily, Peter's presence, and that of his successors, stand as a testimony and representative of the Rock of Ages, Jesus Christ Himself. In communion with the Chair of St. Peter puts us in communion with the One who established the man seated as his vicar on earth.
The Chair, or "Cathedra" (where we even get our word Cathedral, with that particular church as the seat of the bishop) takes on a special meaning beyond just being a fancy piece of furniture. In fact, the issue of its design and substance is not the focus of the feast.
Last year, after naming 22 new Cardinals, Pope Benedict talked about the Chair in his Sunday homily three days prior to the feast.
The Chair of St Peter, represented in the apse of the Vatican Basilica is a monumental sculpture by Bernini. It is a symbol of the special mission of Peter and his Successors to tend Christ's flock, keeping it united in faith and in charity.
At the beginning of the second century St Ignatius of Antioch attributed a special primacy to the Church which is in Rome, greeting her in his Letter to the Romans as the one which "presides in charity".
It is because the Apostles Peter and Paul, together with many other martyrs, poured out their blood in this City, that this special task of service depends on the Community of Rome and on its Bishop. Let us, thus, return to the witness of blood and of charity. The Chair of Peter is therefore the sign of authority, but of Christ's authority, based on faith and on love.
The Feast of the Chair of St. Peter began around the Fourth Century. While the Cathedra in Rome is of prime importance, the Cathedra he bore in Antioch, prior to going to Rome, also has been remembered on this day.
Today, when one wants to capture the heart of the feast in visible form, the Bernini sculpture, created circa 1647-53, is normally in the spotlight. It bears the following words: "O Pastor Ecclesiae, tu omnes Christi pascis agnos et oves" (O pastor of the Church, you feed all Christ's lambs and sheep).
That's why this Chair will remain a major focus way beyond the day of the feast this year. The pastor of Christ's flock, the Church, is normally "seated" on this cathedra but it will be empty for a short season.
Above the throne - A Dove
In the Bernini piece, there is a stained glass window above the chair with rays of light and the image of a dove at the center, symbolizing the Holy Spirit. The rays are divided into twelve sections, one for each of the apostles.
The Church, throughout the ages, has maintained with confidence the fact that she has been sustained, as the prophet Zechariah declared, "'not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the Lord of Hosts." (Zech. 4:6)
Today we are praying that the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead will quicken the hearts of our Cardinals as they meet in conclave to discern the next Vicar of Christ, His chief shepherd on earth.
Just 35 years ago a newly ordained bishop, Joseph Ratzinger, spoke of the importance of the Holy Spirit in the Church during his homily. "All of us long for a Pentecostal Church," he shared at his episcopal ordination as archbishop of Munich on the Vigil of Pentecost, May 28, 1977.
He went on to say, "A Church in which the Spirit rules, and not the letter; a Church in which understanding breaks down the fences we erect against each other. We are impatient with a Church that seems so unpentecostal, so unspiritual, so narrow, and so fearful."
While enduring many stereotypical descriptions as the "Pope's Rottweiler," a legalist, etc. our Holy Father has a deep devotion and dependence to the work and power of the Holy Spirit. We know he is praying right now for his successor.
This is an important Feast day for our Church. Blessed John Paul II reflected on its importance and leaves us with a challenge to pray during an Angelus blessing in 2004.
Today, 22 February, is the liturgical Feast of the Chair of St Peter. It sheds light on the special ministry of strengthening and guiding the Church in the unity of the faith which the Lord entrusted to the Head of the Apostles. It consists in this "ministerium petrinum" (Petrine ministry), the particular service that the Bishop of Rome is called to render to the entire Christian people. It is an indispensable mission that is not built on human prerogatives but on Christ himself, the cornerstone of the Ecclesial Community.
Let us pray that the Church in the different cultures, languages and traditions will be unanimous in believing and professing the truths of faith and morals passed down by the Apostles.
Father Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online and a priest with the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (http://usordinariate.org) established by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, through the Apostolic Constitution "Anglicanorum Coetibus." He is currently the chaplain of the St. John Fisher Ordinariate Community, a priest in residence at Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church and Director of Pro-Life Activities for the Ordinariate.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: unity, chair of st. peter, ordinariate, Pope Benedict, new pope
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