The Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter the Apostle
1 Peter 5:1-4 — Matthew 16:13-19
February 22, 2010
Scripture readings from Holy Mass:
Verse for Recollection throughout the Day:
“Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” [Matthew 16:19b]
Every year on the 22nd of February, the Church celebrates one of St. Peter’s feast days. Peter is one of those saints so important to the life of the Church that he has more than one feast day during the year. Today is “the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter”.
The chair is a symbol of authority. Jesus refers to this in Matthew 23:2-3, when he commands and warns the crowd and his disciples: “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.” Of course, Moses must have had an awfully big chair for all the scribes and Pharisees to be able to fit into it… unless this “chair” is metaphorical, referring to the teaching and judging office that Moses held in the Name of God.
It’s in the Book of Exodus that Moses explains this office among the people of Israel to his father-in-law: “Whenever they have a disagreement, they come to me to have me settle the matter between them and make known to them God's decisions and regulations” (Exodus 18:16).
In today’s Gospel, Jesus declares to Simon: “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church…” (Matthew 16:18). The name that Jesus gives to “Peter” is a second metaphor for an office of teaching and judging, but to drive the point home, Jesus uses a third metaphor by speaking of the “keys of the kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 16:19a). These metaphors are given a concrete meaning when Jesus says to Peter… not that Peter can hold the roadmap… nor that Peter can decide what kind of business cards the apostles will have… but that “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven….” This is actually a greater office than that held by Moses, yet its goal is the same: leading those who follow Jesus on earth into His Kingdom.
The “power of the keys” is used in many ways: some are specific to the Office of Peter (the papacy); others are shared with those ordained to priestly ministry. The most common example of the latter is the Sacrament of Confession, in which a priest “binds” or “looses” sins based on the penitent’s sincerity of heart.
Which leads us back to the Season of Lent. Jesus mediates the grace of His Death and Resurrection to us through the ministry of mere human beings. These human leaders of the Church have been chosen by God, and so we pray for them: to be faithful ministers of God’s grace to us.
How does Jesus’ gift of the Office of Peter help us in looking outside our own “world”?