The Catholic Defender: The Chair of Saint Peter
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. ~Matthew 16:17–19
The Feast of the Chair of St. Peter celebrates the papacy and St. Peter as the first bishop of Rome. St. Peter's original name was Simon. He was married with children and was living and working in Capernaum as a fisherman when Jesus called him to be one of the Twelve Apostles.
Jesus bestowed to Peter a special place among the Apostles. He was one of the three who were with Christ on special occasions, such as the Transfiguration of Christ and the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was the only Apostle to whom Christ appeared on the first day after the Resurrection. Peter, in turn, often spoke on behalf of the Apostles.
One of the main reasons for celebrating the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter is to celebrate the unity of the Christian Church. Another important reason is that the Chair symbolizes the authority of Saint Peter and his dedication towards building a strong foundation for the Church.
This feast commemorates Christ’s choosing Peter to sit in his place as the servant-authority of the whole Church.
After the “lost weekend” of pain, doubt, and self-torment, Peter hears the Good News.
The Feast of the Chair of St. Peter is a commemoration of the contributions of the Apostle to the Christian Church. It celebrates his authority and endless efforts to build a strong community around the teachings of Christ and has been celebrated since the earliest times in the Christian era.
St. Peter was known to hold the keys to the kingdom of heaven, entrusted to him by Jesus himself. For this and many other reasons, St. Peter became a celebrated figure in Christianity.
Angels at the tomb say to Magdalene, “The Lord has risen! Go, tell his disciples and Peter.” John relates that when he and Peter ran to the tomb, the younger outraced the older, then waited for him.
Peter entered, saw the wrappings on the ground, the headpiece rolled up in a place by itself.
John saw and believed. But he adds a reminder: “They did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead” (John 20:9).
They went home. There the slowly exploding, impossible idea became reality. Jesus appeared to them as they waited fearfully behind locked doors. “Peace be with you,” he said (John 20:21), and they rejoiced.
The Pentecost event completed Peter’s experience of the risen Christ. “They were all filled with the holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4) and began to express themselves in foreign tongues and make bold proclamation as the Spirit prompted them.
Only then can Peter fulfill the task Jesus had given him: "Once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32).
Originally, the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter was celebrated on January 18 and February 22. January 18 was when the Saint gave his first sermon in Rome, while February 22 was when he gave his first sermon in Antioch.
He at once becomes the spokesman for the Twelve about their experience of the Holy Spirit—before the civil authorities who wished to quash their preaching, before the Council of Jerusalem, for the community in the problem of Ananias and Sapphira.
He is the first to preach the Good News to the Gentiles. The healing power of Jesus in him is well attested: the raising of Tabitha from the dead, the cure of the crippled beggar. People carry the sick into the streets so that when Peter passed his shadow might fall on them.
Even a saint experiences difficulty in Christian living.
When Peter stopped eating with Gentile converts because he did not want to wound the sensibilities of Jewish Christians, Paul says, “ opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong. They were not on the right road in line with the truth of the gospel…” (Galatians 2:1).
At the end of John’s Gospel, Jesus says to Peter, “Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18).
What Jesus said indicated the sort of death by which Peter was to glorify God. On Vatican Hill, in Rome, during the reign of Nero, Peter did glorify his Lord with a martyr’s death, probably in the company of many Christians.
Second-century Christians built a small memorial over his burial spot. In the fourth century, the Emperor Constantine built a basilica, which was replaced in the 16th century.
Saint Peter is revered in the Christian community across the globe and is an important figure when it comes to the history of the Vatican. He is considered as the first Pope and the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter marks the longstanding Papacy in Rome since the 1st century.
There were two chairs associated with Saint Peter, one kept in St. Peter’s Basilica and the other in the Catacomb of Priscilla. Each of these chairs was revered and celebrated, however, because St. Peter’s Basilica is the final resting place of the Apostle, the ancient oak chair is the one that is referred to as the Chair of St. Peter. It is considered a historical treasure and is safely kept in the Papal Altar of the Basilica.
St. Peter’s Basilica is free to enter for all, even during mass. To be a part of the mass on the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, you can simply enter the Church after a security check. Keep in mind that there is bound to be large crowds of people waiting to get in, so it might take a few hours to bypass the security lines.
Pope John XXIII in 1960 tried to initiate the celebration of a universal feast date which was met with a lot of disapproval. After much speculation, February 22 was made to be the official date of the Feast in the year 1969 and has been marked in the Roman Calendar since then.
Initially, the Chair was kept inside the monastery of St. Martin, after which it was shifted to St. Peter’s Basilica, where it sits today. The Chair has been studied many times before, the last time being in 1968.
“Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that no tempests may disturb us, for you have set us fast
on the rock of the Apostle Peter’s confession of faith.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.” – Roman Missal