“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” -Matthew 16:18
Today, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. While there is an actual chair of St. Peter, the feast doesn’t commemorate the physical chair which is suspended on the back wall of St. Peter’s Basilica above the Altar of the Chair. That chair is said, by tradition, to have belonged to St. Peter when he was Bishop of Rome. The famous Baroque artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini enclosed the original chair in gilded bronze in the mid-17th century and it now sits beneath the famous stained glass of the Holy Spirit in St. Peter’s.
No, today’s feast doesn’t commemorate that specific chair, but the Pontificate itself, that “Christ the Lord… made Peter and his successors His vicars, to exercise for ever in the Church the power which He exercised during His mortal life,” (Statis Cognitum). As we read in the passage from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus Christ has not only built his Church upon Peter, and his successors, but has promised us that the gates of Hell will not prevail against her. The pontificate, as Pope Leo XIII says in Satis Cognitum, is a beautiful expression of the Church’s unity. The Successor of St. Peter is not meant to, in any way, supersede our Lord Jesus Christ, but is an expression of his Kingship which is eternal:
The nature of this supreme authority, which all Christians are bound to obey, can be ascertained only by finding out what was the evident and positive will of Christ. Certainly Christ is a King for ever; and though invisible, He continues unto the end of time to govern and guard His church from Heaven. But since He willed that His kingdom should be visible He was obliged, when He ascended into Heaven, to designate a vice-gerent on earth.
It is in the successors of Peter that this authority given to Peter himself continues in the life of the Church. “It is consequently the office of St. Peter to support the Church, and to guard it in all its strength and indestructible unity.”
This feast is not only a beautiful opportunity to celebrate the pontificate as a manifestation of Christ’s kingship in our Church and a supreme example of unity amongst the Christian people, but it’s also an opportunity to celebrate and pray for our current pope! Pope Francis continues his Petrine ministry, nine years after his election in 2013. The Holy Father has provided a refreshing pastoral vision for the Church, from top down, that focuses on mercy, compassion, and radiating the love of Jesus Christ. He has asked all of us, clergy and lay, to reflect upon, discern, and act on our Universal Call to Holiness and our vocation as Missionary Disciples. This word alone, a product of Pope Francis’ cornerstone document of his pontificate, Evangelii Gaudium, calls us out of a purely inward-looking faith that seeks personal growth in holiness devoid of evangelization and leads the baptized to reflect upon our baptismal call to be missionaries commissioned to share the Good News!
On this Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, let us ask those Holy Roman Pontiffs who intercede for us in heaven to pray for the Church and her unity, and let us pray for Pope Francis as well—that his ministry may continue to unite the Church and always reflect the kingship of Christ which is made manifest most clearly in our weakness, vulnerability, and service.
To learn more about Pope Francis and his pontificate, please visit our Pope Francis Portal.