22nd February. Saint Peter’s Chair in Rome
The feast of the Chair of Saint Peter commemorates the day when Saint Peter held his first service of worship in Rome. The magnificent marble cathedra (throne) fashioned by Gian Lorenzo Bernini for St. Peter’s basilica in Rome (c.1650) surrounds a small wooden chair that tradition holds was that of Peter himself.
1st Reading: 1 Pet 5:1-4
(Peter’s advice to his fellow Church leaders: feed God’s flock with loving respect.)
Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it – not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away.
Gospel: Matthew 16:13-19
(Jesus appoints Peter as the Rock on which the Church will be built)
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
St. Peter’s Chair: The Holy See
The early Christians in Rome celebrated the memory of the day when the Apostle held his first service with the faithful of the Eternal City, under the title “Cathedra Petri in Roma” (the Chair of Peter in Rome)” The earlier tradition was to celebrate this on 18 January. By the ninth century the feast of the Chair of St Peter had been moved to 22 February, and its celebration was held in two places, in the Vatican Basilica and in a cemetery on the Via Salaria. In both places a chair (cathedra) was venerated symbolising that which the Apostle had used as presiding officer of the assembly of the faithful.
Of course, the report in Matthew 16 can be, and has often been, over-used as a Gospel justification for inflated claims about worldwide jurisdiction and absolute monarchy, concepts far removed from the mind of Christ and indeed from that of Peter himself, as is well seen in the first reading, where Peter presents himself as a “sympresbyteros” a fellow-elder, and clearly prefers the role of subsidiary shepherd under Christ the chief shepherd, to that of lawgiver, oracle or pontiff. The Matthean texts about Peter must be read in context of many other texts in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, to get a rounded picture of the kind of ministry which Peter exercised and passed on.
The significance of the feast today is to link the origins of the papacy with the apostolic ministry of the successor of St Peter as visible head of our worldwide Catholic Church. We should pray today for divine guidance to our present pope and for the Church of God, that we may be led into a new era of hopeful Catholicicism by an inspirational and fraternal papal ministry mirroring the beautiful ideal expressed by St Peter in today’s reading.