As I note below, today the Church celebrates the feast of the Chair of Peter and, on the occasion of their namesake’s feast day, I send special wishes and many prayers to my new friends of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Peter, based in Houston, Texas. Special wishes go to the new bishop of the Ordinariate, my friend, Bishop Steven Lopes.
THE CHURCH MARKS THE FEAST OF THE CHAIR OF PETER
February 22 is the feast of the Chair of Peter and great honor is paid to the first Pope in St. Peter’s Basilica on this day every year.
As happened in the Holy Year of 2000, today the employees of the Vatican and Roman Curia celebrated the Jubilee of the Roman Curia with Pope Francis, first by attending a meditation on “Mercy in our everyday life” in the Paul VI Hall followed by Mass in the basilica. After the meditation, everyone, including the Holy Father, walked in procession to and then through the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica. (photo: L’Osservatore Romano)
The special feast of the “cathedra” or Chair of St. Peter dates to the fourth century and honors and celebrates the primacy and authority of St. Peter. The word “cathedra” means seat or throne and is the root of the word cathedral, the church where a bishop has his seat from which he preaches and teaches.
A mixture of tradition, legend and belief held for many years that this was actually a double chair, parts of which dated back to the early days of Christianity and to St. Peter himself. This chair or cathedra has been studied over the centuries and the last time it was removed from its niche in the Bernini altar was a six-year period from 1968 to 1974 where studies pointed to a single chair whose oldest parts date to the sixth century. What appeared to be an outer or second chair was a covering that served both to protect the throne and to carry it in procession. (Photos: JFL)
The Chair of St. Peter is actually a throne that Charles the Bald, the grandson of the Emperor Charlemagne, gave to Pope John VIII at the former’s coronation as emperor on Christmas Day 875. For many years the chair was used at liturgical events by Pope John and his successors: it was ensconced in Bernini’s Altar of the Chair in 1666.
The ceiling above the Altar of the Chair:
Bernini’s masterful Altar of the Cathedra was executed between 1658 and 1666. A bronze throne, which encases the Chair of Peter, dominates the apse, above the marble altar. It is supported by four statues of bishops: two Fathers of the Latin Church, Sts. Ambrose and Augustine, and two from the Greek Church, Sts. Athanasius and John Chrysostom.
Above them, in the midst of gilt clouds, flights of angels and rays of sun is the Holy Spirit, illuminated by a stained glass window.
Notwithstanding its appearance of lightness and harmony, records show that more than 120 tons of bronze were used for this breathtaking monument. This altar is today still used for numerous liturgical celebrations.
The statue of St. Peter seen daily by pilgrims:
What is so special about this feast day is that the Altar of the Chair is aglow for this one day a year with scores and scores of candles.
In addition, this is one of two days every year when the statue of a seated St. Peter, on the right side of the main aisle, is robed in ecclesiastical finery, including papal vestments, the triple tiara and a papal ring. The other day you may see St. Peter robes in this manner is June 29, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles, patrons of Rome.
BE MODELS OF MERCY IN DAILY LIFE, EXHORTS POPE FRANCIS
Pope Francis on Monday celebrated a Jubilee for the Roman Curia, the Governorate, and the Institutions attached to the Holy See, as part of the Holy Year of Mercy. The event took place on the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, which has the rank of “Solemnity” in the Vatican Basilica.
In his homily, Pope Francis has told members of the Curia to tend to their flocks with generosity and mercy and has urged them to become a ‘model’ for all. “Pastors are first of all required to have God himself who takes care of his flock as a model.”
He reminded them that God goes in search of the lost sheep, re-conducts them to the fold, cares for the wounded and heals the sick ones. “This kind of behavior is the sign of love that knows no boundaries. It is faithful, constant, unconditional dedication, so that even the weakest may be reached by His mercy” he said.
And Pope Francis also urged those present to cultivate and practice a strong pastoral attitude within all Vatican work environments, “especially towards the people we meet every day”.“May no one – he said – feel neglected or mistreated, may everyone experience the loving care of the Good Shepherd”.
“At this time, the Lord Jesus addresses a question to every one of us: ‘But who do you say that I am?’. A clear and direct question, from which it is not possible to escape or remain neutral, nor is it possible to postpone the answer or delegate it to someone else. But there is nothing inquisitional about this; instead, it is full of love!”
“Let us,” said Pope Francis, “make Peter’s words our own: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God’. May our thought and our gaze be fixed on Jesus Christ, the beginning and end of every action of the Church. He is the foundation and no-one may lay another. He is the ‘stone’ on which we must build. St. Augustine recalls this with expressive words when he writes that the Church, although agitated and disturbed by the upheavals of history, does not fall down, because she is built on stone, from which Peter’s name is derived. It is not the stone that derives its name from Peter, but Peter from the stone, just as it is not the name Christ that derives from Christian, but Christian from Christ. The stone is Christ, the foundation on which Peter too was built.”
“In the Sacred Scripture,” explained the Holy Father, “faithfulness and mercy are inseparable. Where there is one there is the other, and it is precisely in their reciprocal nature and complementarity that we can see the very presence of the Good Shepherd. The faithfulness that is required of us is that of acting in accordance with Christ’s heart. As we have heard in the words of the apostle Peter, we must tend to our flock with a generous heart and become a model for all. In this way, ‘when the Chief Shepherd appears’, we will be able to receive ‘the crown of glory that will never fade away’.” (Vatican Radio, VIS)