The Feast of the Chair of St. Peter has been celebrated on February 22nd in the Roman Catholic Church since the 4th century. The ancient Romans remembered their dead in an 8 day celebration ending on February 22 when they honored the living head of their family at a family banquet. Historians say this inspired a Christian feast, the Chair of St. Peter, for honoring the Apostle Peter and his successor, appropriately called “Il Papa.”
Peter presided over the family of the church from its beginning in Jerusalem. He was its leader in Antioch in Syria. We can hear his message about Jesus in the Gospel of Mark that we’re reading at Mass these days.
His chair’s a father’s chair, a teacher’s chair, not a royal throne. A chair once part of the original 4th century celebration rests now behind the main altar of Rome’s St. Peter’s Basilica in a setting designed by Bernini. A window bearing the symbol of the Holy Spirit casts its light on the chair and those it represents – Peter the Apostle and those who succeed him.
Historians say the chair now behind the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica once stood near the baptistery of the church where people were welcomed into the Christian family. Perhaps we can hear St. Jerome, who was baptized in Rome in the 4th century, referring to his welcome into the family of the church there in this writing:
“I decided to consult the Chair of Peter, where faith was proclaimed by lips of an Apostle; I now come to ask for nourishment for my soul there, where once I received the garment of Christ. I follow no leader save Christ, so I enter into communion with you, that is, with the Chair of Peter, for this I know is the rock upon which the Church is built”.
Today’s a good day to look at our present “chairman”, “Il Papa”. Pope Francis , who became pope on March 13, 2013 and to ask God to keep him strong and faithful as a father and teacher of the church.
Today is a good time to visit that great church built over the tomb of Peter.