Feast of the Chair of St Peter (February 22)

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Feast of the Chair of St Peter (February 22)

The feast of the Chair of St Peter principally commemorates his teaching ministry as first among the Apostles, sitting in the office of bishop of Rome, and celebrates the successors of Peter who have held that sacred office. But it also is the feast of a relic long reputed to be his actual throne or the Cathedra Petri and on the feast 110 candles illuminate the reliquary that contains it.

Since the fourth century, the relic has been venerated by the faithful. Previously reserved in the Baptismal Chapel of what is referred to as the Old St Peter's Basilica, built by the Emperor Constantine around 333AD, today it can be found encased in the Bernini bronze throne enshrined in the apse of St Peter's Basilica. The throne is supported by the statues of four Doctors of the Church:  two from the West, St Augustine and St Ambrose, and two from the East:  St John Chrysostom and St Athanasius, beneath the well-known stained glass image depicting the Holy Spirit as a dove.

Described as an ancient oak chair with four legs, the chair has four strong iron rings intended for carrying-poles, set into the legs. The wood is much worm-eaten, and pieces have been cut from various spots at different times, evidently for relics. It has been repaired and ornamented over time. In medieval liturgical custom the Pope was enthroned on the relic for part of his coronation ceremony, and used it as his liturgical throne in the Basilica on the feast. While its veneration has persisted through the Renaissance and the Counter-Reformation periods, the Bernini work commissioned by Pope Alexander VII since acts as a kind of reliquary. The last time the relic was exposed was in 1867 by Blessed Pius IX on the occasion of the eighteenth centenary of the martyrdom of Ss. Peter and Paul.

St Jerome wrote:  "I decided to consult the Chair of Peter, where that faith is found exalted by the lips of an Apostle … I enter into communion with your beatitude, that is, with the Chair of Peter, for this I know is the rock upon which the Church is built" (cf. Le lettere I, 15, 1-2).  Pope Benedict reminds us that celebrating the ‘Chair’ of Peter means attributing a strong spiritual significance to it and recognising it as a privileged sign of the love of God, the eternal Good Shepherd, who wanted to gather his whole Church and lead her on the path of salvation.

On this feast we give thanks to God for the mission he entrusted to the Apostle Peter and his Successors. Let us be renewed in our assent to the Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff and pray for him and his ministry.