Father Tirso

This coming Saturday is the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. Yes, there is a feast for St. Peter’s chair. And, yes, it celebrates an actual and physical chair which is believed to have been used by St. Peter. It is in a unique reliquary in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. The most noticeable marker would be the Holy Spirit stained glass window which many of us have seen pictures of even if we have not seen it in person. Underneath that famous stained-glass window is a large reliquary made of bronze created by the famous artist Bernini. In it is a wood chair.

About fifteen years ago, I had the privilege of concelebrating a Sunday Mass at the altar underneath the Chair of St. Peter. From my vantage point, the Chair of St. Peter was a massive shrine high above my head. I could not help but be reminded of the grandeur of God and the great sacrifice that St. Peter had given by his martyrdom.

The Chair of St. Peter is not the only relic of St. Peter that is enshrined in the basilica named after him. Underneath the main church, there lies the site that is believed to be the exact location where St. Peter was crucified. The story goes that St. Peter was crucified in the city of Rome hanging upside down because he did not feel worthy enough to die in the exact same manner as the Messiah. The obelisk that stands outside of the basilica in St. Peter’s Square is an archaeological artifact that dates back to the exact time of St. Peter’s death and stood near the spot where the saint was executed.

The wood chair that is believed to have been used by St. Peter in the exercise of his ministry as Bishop of Rome is encased in a larger than life reliquary that is itself shaped like a large throne. The wooden chair inside the reliquary dates back to the early centuries around the time when St. Peter lived and died in Rome. Like most relics, we will never be able to determine exactly whether or not it was actually used by St. Peter but the point to the relic is much greater than simply determining its place in history.

The Chair of St. Peter symbolizes the authority that St. Peter was given when Jesus entrusted to him the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven as we read in Matthew 16. It was at that point when Jesus said to St. Peter, “You are ‘Rock’ and on this rock I will build my church, and the jaws of death shall not prevail against it. I will entrust to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus then gives to St. Peter the authority to act in the name of God Himself in matters between heaven and earth. This essentially made St. Peter into the first pope even if the first Christians did not use that term.

The word “pope” comes from the Latin “pontifix” which simply means “bridge.” As a bridge, St. Peter became the connection between the Church on earth and the Church in heaven. He became the link that united the Church with Jesus the true head of his Church. All other popes who have followed after St. Peter are entrusted with the same responsibility. St. Peter was called to provide the People of God with a direct access and link to the Savior.

As we know well, St. Peter did not always do this to the best of his ability. Immediately after his famous profession of faith, St. Peter is addressed by Jesus with the words, “Get behind me Satan!” St. Peter did not want Jesus to suffer and die in the way he had predicted. We also know that he had denied knowing Jesus right before the crucifixion. St. Peter was a human being who had flaws and committed errors. Likewise, all of the popes after him are also flawed human beings who are also capable of making errors. Still, the Chair of St. Peter stands as a reminder that Jesus entrusted to St. Peter—and the popes who have shared in his ministry—the awesome responsibility of being a bridge that provides a direct link to the Savior.

The Feast of the Chair of St. Peter is celebrated on February 22nd . The authority given to St. Peter by Jesus is a reminder that God has chosen all of Jesus’ followers to be instruments through which God’s People might come to know God’s own love, presence, and action in their lives. Even if the wooden chair in the reliquary at St. Peter’s Basilica may not be the actual chair upon which St. Peter sat, it is still points to the reality that the Church will forever be connected to Jesus the Savior through the ministry and mission of St. Peter the first “bridge.”

Fr. Tirso S. Villaverde, Jr.

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