This Monday, February 22, we will celebrate the Feast of the Chair of Peter. Now this might seem like a strange thing to celebrate, but the feast commemorates Jesus’ choosing of the Apostle Peter to sit in his place as the servant-leader of the universal Church.
After the heart-wrenching pain of Good Friday and the questioning of what went wrong, Peter hears the Good News of Easter Sunday. Angels at the tomb announce to Mary Magdalene, “The Lord has risen! Go, tell his disciples and Peter.”
John, in his Gospel, relates that he and Peter ran to the tomb. John arrived first but waited for Peter before entering. Peter entered the tomb, saw the burial cloths, the one covering the head rolled up in a place by itself. John saw and believed but adds the reminder, “They did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” They returned to the Upper Room and it was there that things unfolded as Jesus stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
The Pentecost event completed Peter’s experience of the risen Lord. “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit,” and began to express themselves in foreign tongues and make bold proclamation, as the Holy Spirit prompted them.
Only then can Peter fulfill the mission Jesus had given him, “Once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.” Peter becomes the spokesperson for the Twelve about their experience of the Holy Spirit: before the civil authorities who tried to silence their preaching, before the Council of Jerusalem, for the community in the problem of Ananias and Sapphira. Peter is the first to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. The healing power of Jesus through him is well documented.
On Vatican Hill in Rome, Peter died by crucifixion during the reign of the Emperor Nero. Peter’s life is best summed up at his meeting with Jesus after the resurrection by the Sea of Tiberius, in the presence of the men he was to lead. Jesus’ three-fold question, “Do you love me?” was responded to with, “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you.” Jesus’ command to Peter, “Feed my sheep.”
In every Catholic Church the priest’s chair has a prominent place in the sanctuary to show that he presides in charity over the local parish. This chair is linked with the bishop’s chair in the cathedral to express the unity of each parish with its bishop as a diocesan church. And the bishop’s chair is linked with the Chair of Peter in Rome, which the pope as the Successor of Peter presides in charity over the universal Church.
As we celebrate this feast may we remember that we are part of something much larger. And may we remember that the Church on earth is intimately linked with the Church in Heaven every time we gather and celebrate the Eucharist.
— Fr. Dennis, February 21, 2021