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What do we celebrate on the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter?

What do we celebrate on the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter?

We celebrate the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter every year, but do we know what it is that we are celebrating? What does this feast mean?

 

Reading: 1 Peter 5:1-4; Psalm 22(23); Matthew 16:13-19

The following homily was preached to the student brothers during compline. You can listen here or read below:

 

I remember when I was an undergraduate, and I was sitting in a room with some of my friends doing Lectio Divina on the night before the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, just like tonight. One of my friends remarked, “what on earth are we actually celebrating? You know, the chair of St. Peter, what does that mean?” And a friend, knowing that the friend who had asked the question was rather gullible, said that, “well, it’s the commemoration of when the great monk Melchisoo brought in a golden chair, and gave it to the Pope, and he sat on it.” And we all burst out laughing. But in the end, we never really figured out what the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter was all about.

 

Now, I suggest that one way that we can begin to think about this feast is that rather than thinking of it as a celebration of a chair of a person, St. Peter, or even of the Office of the Bishop of Rome, what we’re in fact, celebrating is the plan of salvation that Christ has carried out, because he chose to save us by founding the church, and uniting us into this. And He does this by His death and resurrection. So ultimately, when we celebrate the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, we’re doing nothing more and nothing less than celebrating the mysteries of our salvation.

 

Firstly, we need to remember that the founding of the church can’t be separated from Christ’s death. In fact, after the Gospel that we’ve just heard, Christ straightaway starts to tell His disciples that He has to be handed over, and that He will be killed, and that He will rise again. So just as He tells Peter that He’s going to found His church upon him, He also predicts the moment where the church will be founded.

 

In the Psalm of the feast that you will hear at Mass, there’s a very beautiful line: “you have prepared a banquet for me, in the sight of my foes, my head you have anointed with oil, my cup is overflowing“. We can think about this particular line as a prophecy of the founding of the Church, and the Church’s role in dispensing the sacraments to those who are members.

 

Yes, in the sight of His foes in the valley of death, as Christ was dying, the blood and water that came out from His side becomes the banquet upon which we feast. He gives us the water of baptism and His own body and blood in the Eucharist. The sacraments themselves were founded and were made efficacious at the moment of Christ’s death. We also hear Christ crying out, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Just before Christ is handed over to undergo His passion, we also hear Christ praying: “Father, make them one as we ourselves are one.” Christ is praying for the church that He is about to found. And when He is nailed upon the cross, and He says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” I think that we can take that as a prayer which He is taking with him as high priest into the sanctuary of heaven, asking God on behalf of His church, “Father, forgive them”. So it’s not a stretch to say that, at that moment, Christ bestows upon the church the power to forgive sins, the sacrament of reconciliation. We also see Christ presenting the church with her mother, our mother, Mary.

 

St. Paul, writing to the Colossians says “now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish, and free from accusation.

 

We then read in the book of Revelation, where God is praised that “the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. To her it has been granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure: for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” In other words, when Christ is presenting us holy and pure, before the Father, when He is interceding for us as our high priest, at the moment of his death, where he continues to intercede for us. He is praying for his bride the Church – we are His bride, the Church. Notice how the book of Revelation says that the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. Our just actions, the way that we live, are the clothes that the church is wearing.

 

We can contrast this for example with the fall, where our first parents, out of shame for what they’d done, covered themselves with fig leaves. Instead, the Church now wears the just deeds of us, its members.

 

So, the church is an instrument where Christ dispenses sacramental grace in order to save us. Being members of the Church is to have the merits of the Passion apply to us. It fills us with hope that we, as the church, the Body of Christ, His Bride, will come to be married to our God.
The second point that I want to make is that the church today witnesses to the suffering and resurrection of Christ, filled with the same Spirit that inspired St. Peter to make his declaration of faith.

 

In the first reading, St. Peter writes to the church, “I am an elder and witness to the suffering of Christ. And with you I have a share in the glory that is to be revealed.” He is a shepherd, because he has been entrusted with a flock. But he is a shepherd entrusted with this flock only until the chief Shepherd appears, as we will hear in the same passage. That is when we will be given the crown of unfailing glory. And so, the church that we see here and now has, as a symbol, a sign of its real unity founded upon Christ, the chair of St. Peter, the Pope, who has been entrusted with us, who are the flock of Christ, and he too is a member of that flock.

 

In the book of Acts, we see St. Peter doing something which he couldn’t do. Straight after this Gospel we’ve heard that when Christ predicts his passion, St. Peter takes Him away and rebukes Him. And Christ has to say, “Get behind me Satan, because you’re thinking like men think, and not how God thinks.” Yet now filled with the Holy Spirit after Pentecost, St. Peter preaches, not just that Christ is Lord, the Son of God, the living God, the Messiah; but he first and foremost preaches Christ crucified, risen from the dead, and ascended into heaven.

 

Indeed, the spirit has breathed the fullness of truth, that truth of the mystery of Christ, into the Church, through St. Peter who preaches it boldly so that all can hear and understand. St. Peter is the mouthpiece of the unity of the truth of the embryonic church, proclaiming whatever it is that the Spirit of Christ gives him to preach.

 

St. Peter goes on to say, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins may be forgiven, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For this promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away. Everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” It goes on to say “these people devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

 

We are a continuation of that same people that St Peter preached to. We have received that same Spirit that causes St. Peter to preach, and the Spirit of which he is preaching about.

 

We are united into that mysterious proclamation of faith that Peter makes in the Gospel we’ve heard. For Christ says to Peter, it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. This should remind us of the first chapter of St. John, where he says, “but to all who received Him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born not of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.”

 

This calling, this belief, that we have been given cannot be separated from the unity of the Body of Christ, that is to say, the Church founded by Christ at His death, upon Peter the rock. Christ says to Peter, “you are blessed.” Are we not also blessed, for being so privileged to receive this spirit of faith?

 

This then surely is what we celebrate today. That Christ has called us to be His flock, his body, to be children of God; that he has done this by dying on a cross and rising from the dead; and that He has founded the Church from his side to be his Bride. He has united this Church upon the rock of St. Peter.

 

The faith that has been breathed into us sacramentally by the Holy Spirit, is now continually being dispensed through the church. As the one church of Christ, the Catholic Church, we hope that, having been made holy and clothed with the righteous deeds of all of us, we too will be at the wedding supper of the Lamb, our own marriage, as the Church, to Christ. Amen.

 

Image: Icon – The Descent of the Holy Spirit

Br Reginald is a student brother in simple vows. He was born in London and grew up in Hounslow, before reading physics and UCL and then a PGCE at St. Mary’s, Twickenham. He met the Dominicans as a student in London and joined the Order in 2021 after spending some time teaching abroad. He was particularly influenced by the writings of St. Augustine as a teenager which drew him towards the religious life. His other interests include karate, rugby, comic books and playing the piano. He is particularly inspired by the writings of St. Catherine of Siena and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.
reginald.herbert@english.op.org

Comments (9)

  • Barry Tebb

    Deeply moving

    reply
  • Robert Steele

    I’d often wondered this too – it is an odd name for a feast of the Church. Thanks for this explanation.

    reply
  • Gurpreet kaur

    Beautifully written 🙏🙏

    reply
  • Meena Lider

    What a beautiful explanation on the feast of the chair.. thanks for sharing this.

    reply
  • Gregory Herbert

    Superb very great.God blessed him and his vocation.

    reply
  • Matrina Marianayagam

    This was a beautiful message about who is St. Peter. Thank you for sharing. I am praying for you give more wisdom to preach more about Gospel.
    Congratulations and May the Lord continue to shower his blessings upon you. Thank you Brother Reginald.🙏🙏

    reply
  • Thanges Gengadharan

    Amazing and wonderful and deeply engaged in religious
    activities for the community.
    Best wishes.

    reply
  • Christopher Roy

    He is a very good kind hearted person. He is very intelligent in his studies and he is well-all rounded with all his extra curricular activities. I wish him all the very best for his future. Many thanks Christopher Roy

    reply
  • Pushpam Jayerajah

    Wow what a beautiful expression and explanation of the feast of the chair of St Peter. There was clarity, devotion in your speech. Your words were were well selected, so that it is understood by anyone and everyone. The connection between the chair and the life death and resurrection was explained so beautifully. Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful homily with us. So proud of you. God Bless you and your mission.

    reply

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