On Feb. 22, we celebrated the feast of the Chair of St. Peter. When I was living in Rome, this was one of my favorite occasions to visit the Vatican. I always made it a point to visit St. Peter’s Basilica every year on this beautiful day when, the chair sculptured by Bernini (said to contain a chair that belonged to St. Peter himself) would be lit up with candles–only on this day. I always used this occasion to pray for the successor of St. Peter, and in my time in Rome it was now St. John Paul II!
In some ways, it’s an unusual feast. It celebrates a thing, rather than a person. But the Chair of St. Peter, in fact, points to a person. It points to whomever is filling the office of Peter at a particular point in time. It also reminds us of all those who have held the office, starting with St. Peter himself.
Most of us know the saying, “The clothes makes the man.” Well, in this case it is the chair, or rather the office, that makes the man, that makes him Pope. Only 266 men have held this office.
Now, anyone who knows some Church history knows that we Christians, from the very beginning – St. Luke wrote about this in the Acts of the Apostles – have disagreed on many things, sometimes to the point of fracture.
As early as the fourth century, Christians began celebrating the feast of the Chair of St. Peter to show the unity of the Church founded on the Apostle Peter (Mt 16:18), indicating that they were all too aware of the need to protect against dangerous divisions that would destroy that original unity.
Again, history makes evident our failures. Nevertheless, it also witnesses our triumphs. Frequently, people have noted that a mere human institution could never have survived 2,000 years. Again, look at history. If the Catholic Church had relied on the mere efforts of us creatures, she probably would not have lasted much beyond the time that St. Luke describes in his Acts. Despite our failures, petty and grievous alike, the Church continues to exist because She is divinely instituted.
Last week’s feast reminded me again of our responsibility to pray for the person who occupies this unique seat. In some ways, no matter who he is, he’s given a job that’s more than anything that he can do. At least, he cannot do it alone. He must be guided by the Holy Spirit, supported in grace and prayer.
The early Christians understood this reality. By celebrating the Chair of St. Peter in a liturgical manner, they were not just commemorating a relic from the past. They were acknowledging the presence of a holy and living trust that has been given to Christians: the papacy. They recognized that this was no mere human institution, but a divine one that required their cooperation – their prayers, sacrifices, and support.
Full story at Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange website.