Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Chair of Peter and, on this occasion, I want to send best wishes and many prayers to my friends of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Peter, based in Houston, Texas. Special wishes to my friend and a former colleague in the Vatican, Bishop Steven Lopes, ordained just over a year ago as the first bishop of the Ordinariate.
On today’s special feast, Pope Francis tweeted: Jesus entrusted to Peter the keys to open the entrance to the kingdom of heaven, and not to close it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 robed in this manner is June 29, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles, patrons of Rome.
HOLY SEE TAKES MEASURES TO PROTECT IMAGE OF HOLY FATHER
(Vatican Radio) The Secretariat of State of the Holy See issued a press release on Wednesday, detailing the steps being taken to protect the image of the Holy Father. Following is that communiqué:
The Secretariat of State, among its tasks, has also that of protecting the image of the Holy Father, so that his message can reach the faithful intact and that his person not be exploited.
It is in view of these same purposes, that the Secretary of State protects the symbols and coats of arms of the Holy See, through appropriate regulatory instruments provided for on an international level.
In order to make its protective action more effective with respect to stated purposes, and to halt situations of illegality that arise, the Secretariat of State will effect systematic surveillance activities apt to monitor the ways in which the image of the Holy Father and the coats of arms of the Holy See are used, [and] if necessary intervene with appropriate action.