A Daily Reflection
by Deacon Kevin Heim
Monday, February 22, 2021
When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. 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. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
For centuries there were two feast days for the Chair of Peter. One to acknowledge his time in Antioch, the other his time in Rome. At some point prior to the Reformation, the two were combined. Following a claim from some Reformers that Peter had never been in Rome, the two feasts were again separated. In 1962, they were once again combined and fixed in the calendar on February 22.
The chair on the altarpiece, by legend, is the chair occupied by Peter during his reign of the early Church in Antioch. To preserve the chair, Pope Alexander VII (1655-67) had it encased in bronze.
So, there is a physical chair. Did Peter sit in it? When Pope Benedict addressed the subject in 2006 and 2012, he spoke in a more reserved way, saying: “Dear brothers and sisters, in the apse of St Peter's Basilica, as you know, is the monument to the Chair of the Apostle, a mature work of Bernini. It is in the form of a great bronze throne supported by the statues of four Doctors of the Church: two from the West, St Augustine and St Ambrose, and two from the East: St John Chrysostom and St Athanasius.” [General Audience, Feb. 22, 2006].
“The Chair of St Peter represented in the apse of the Vatican Basilica is a monumental sculpture by Bernini. It is a symbol of the special mission of Peter and his Successors to tend Christ’s flock, keeping it united in faith and in charity.” [Angelus, Feb. 19, 2012].
He thus placed less emphasis on the archaeological authenticity of the chair than on its spiritual significance.
As you may have noticed, the feast is not celebrating a piece of antique furniture. To see what Peter considered what the chair meant to him see 1 Peter 5:1-4: I exhort the presbyters among you, as a fellow presbyter and witness to the sufferings of Christ and one who has a share in the glory to be revealed. Tend the flock of God in your midst, overseeing not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly. Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd is revealed, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
PRAYER FOR THE FEAST OF THE CHAIR OF SAINT PETER
O God, Who by delivering to Thy blessed Apostle Peter
the keys of the kingdom of Heaven,
didst confer upon him the pontifical power of binding and of loosing,
grant that, by the help of his intercession,
we may be delivered from the bonds of our sins.
Who livest and reignest with Thee,
One God, world without end.