The Chair of Saint Peter,
Designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680),
Encasing the first century chair by repute originally used by St Peter, Bronze and gilt-bronze,
Executed between 1647-1653,
© Christian Art

The Chair of Saint Peter,
Designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680),
Encasing the first century chair by repute originally used by St Peter, Bronze and gilt-bronze,
Executed between 1647-1653,
© Christian Art

Gospel of 22 February 2024

Feast of St Peter's Chair

Matthew 16:13-19

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ ‘But you,’ he said ‘who do you say I am?’ Then Simon Peter spoke up, ‘You are the Christ,’ he said ‘the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Simon son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.’

Reflection on the gilt-bronze sculptural chair

Today is a feast day which has a rather peculiar name: the Chair of St Peter. How does the chair of an apostle merit a holy day? Let us first of all look at the object itself. The Chair of St Peter is a relic kept at the very back of St Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. It is a basic wooden relic throne that tradition claims was used by St Peter himself when he was leading the early Christians in Rome. The chair is now enclosed in a sculpted gilt-bronze ornamental chair designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, which he completed between 1647 and 1653. In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI described the chair as 'a symbol of the special mission of Peter and his Successors to tend Christ's flock, keeping it united in faith and in charity'. The chair is of course only a few feet away from St Peter's tomb. The wooden throne chair was a gift from Holy Roman Emperor Charles the Bald to Pope John VIII in 875 AD.

In today's Gospel reading Christ says, 'You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church'. Whilst the chair in St Peter's might look opulent in its magnificence, it is not intended to be a regal throne or a vain assertion of power. No, it is placed at the very end of the basilica to be an authentic reflection of the office entrusted by Jesus Christ to Saint Peter and his successor-shepherds of the Church. Peter was entrusted with his role to interpret the message of Jesus for the Church. Within our own Roman Catholic tradition, we consider this role of Peter to reside with the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. In every age the church looks to him as the focal point of unity for all disciples of the Lord and as the authoritative interpreter of the message of Jesus for the church and the world.

Peter’s unique understanding of Jesus was the basis of the authoritative role Jesus went on to give him. Whereas Peter’s role was unique, the question of Jesus is addressed to us all, ‘Who do you say I am?’

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Noelle Clemens
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Noelle Clemens
1 month ago

Just got back from a birthday lunch….
This is one of the most solemn moments in the New Testament, when Jesus begins to establish His church on earth, handing the keys of His kingdom, and the power of earthly authority to a fisherman – because Peter recognised Him as the Son of the living God. His very name, given earlier, shows he was always destined to be the rock, the house on a sure foundation: “The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” on which the church was to be built. How crucial is that recognition in our own lives, to acknowledge the Son of, not just a god, but the Living God.
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God have mercy on me, a sinner.” Years ago, when I had to have a PET scan and was terrified and claustrophobic, these words were of great comfort.

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
1 month ago
Reply to  Noelle Clemens

Very well written Noelle.

Noelle Clemens
Member
Noelle Clemens
1 month ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

Gracias, Chazbo, muy amable.

Last edited 1 month ago by Noelle Clemens
Elvira
Member
Elvira
1 month ago
Reply to  Noelle Clemens

Me gusta lo que dices

Will Howard
Member
Will Howard
1 month ago

“Who…” , yes that’s right, who do we say Jesus is?

I know who Jesus thought Peter was! – at least referred to him as sounding-off like (grin).
…I say this ‘somewhat’ tongue in cheek.

Thankfully , we are celebrating the man’s Grace of State – rather than his state of grace – graciously today. I can only smile, hopefully with Fr. P.: “Whilst the chair in St Peter’s might look opulent in its magnificence, it is not intended to be a regal throne or a vain assertion of power.” Certainly, the church (small c) as institution of history, is by no means immune from ‘vain power’ …sort of where our reliquaries runs away on us.

I do by all means BELIEVE in the necessity of ‘holy headship’ … that at least offers some semblance of a hope for unity: family, country, faith. By all means politic is a necessary evil. But on the celebratory level, when we celebrate the Petrine tradition we are celebrating the unity of the ‘Grace’ at work through Holy Mother – large C Church – underneath all ‘guilt’-bronze. This is the Church that, the gates of hell have no chance of holding out against.

In an hour or so I’ll be offering Mass for “Peter” and his successors who have inhabited that humble li’l wooding seat down through the ages. As on all feasts days I like to pray the ‘Cannon’ – relishing the double litany of Saints (including St. Peter) … with whom we see yet, the single Church united in the Unity of Christ, ‘who is’, son of man, Son of God.

Pk
Member
Pk
1 month ago

I wonder what Jesus thinks of all this gold and over the top churches and cathedrals. Jesus was such a simple and basic man while He walked on this earth. I wonder how the Vatican went from a simple wooden chair to what it is now.
My favorite piece this week is of the monk standing in the field at sunrise in his plain
brown clothes.

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
1 month ago
Reply to  Pk

A lot of people make this point Pk. Yes Jesus was a simple man but because some people think so highly of him they want to pay tribute to him with the most beautiful things that they can put together. Hence magnificent churches, artworks, gold etc.

But there are Christians who eschew this physical glorification of him. Radical protestants and in the Catholic Church orders of monks and nuns who live lives af great simplicity.

Mark Crain
Member
Mark Crain
1 month ago

One sentence jumps out at me in today’s translation of Matthew:

“Simon son of Jonah, you are a happy man!”

It flies in the face of my worldly conception that being assigned such authority and responsibility would be, well, a heavy load to bear. Rethinking Peter as a happy man reminds me of the joy that comes with accepting Jesus as my savior.

Noelle Clemens
Member
Noelle Clemens
1 month ago

Ad maiorem Dei gloriam. In this phrase, attributed to St Ignatius is, almost, the Italian for gold, and the complete French word. Gold and glory, the two are intertwined in Baroque architecture and sculpture, to offer the most magnificent honour to God that man could devise. It’s necessary to take this monument in the context of the vastness of St. Peter’s, where nothing can be considered too large, or too elaborate.

Patricia O'Brien
Member
Patricia O'Brien
1 month ago

Peter is the rock AND a person, upon which the Church, that is we the people, are living stones.
Following on from my post yesterday which was about my aunt, for whom scandals in the church rocked her faith – these mean nothing to me. They are men, simply men- we have had corrupt popes and abusive priests; but these just sinful men (as we all are in that sense). To me what makes the Church rock solid is Jesus Himself at its heart.,.as it was, is now and ever shall be.

Elvira
Member
Elvira
1 month ago

Very well, Patricia. Peter is the ROCK, he received the ministry of unity, his mission was to sustain the faith of believers and be a sign of unity.
🙏🏻 Let us pray today for Francis so that he may exercise the ministry he has received from the Lord, with wisdom and free

Rya Lucas
Member
Rya Lucas
1 month ago

I agree with you, Patricia. I too know people who had left the church because of the scandals. The scandals in itself made me angry and sad. We have to pray for those sinners; they ruined so many lifes. They have to answer to God!!

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
1 month ago

Yes Patricia – our leaders have been all too human and fallible. But I have read that although a pope may be rotten personally, the institution isn’t. Also altough a priest may be sinful, his rôle is holy and he may perform holy acts such as celebrating Mass and giving absolution?

What do you reckon? I ask because I value your opinion 😀

Patricia O'Brien
Member
Patricia O'Brien
1 month ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

Well, a sacrament cannot be undone…hence matrimony is for life – likewise Holy Orders. Actually. I personally know of four priests who have left the priesthood (some to marry) but in essence, they will ever remain priests. I suppose, what I am trying to say is that these sacraments may be abused by infidelity to its vows, but its character, once conferred remains. A priest cannot stop being one.
Not sure if that’s what you were asking…

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
1 month ago

It was. It’s tricky when horrible things happen in our church. There was a parish near here with a tremendously charismatic priest who packed the church out. Standing room only – now he is serving a long prison sentence.
😖

Elvira
Member
Elvira
1 month ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

According to the doctrine of the Catholic Church three sacraments can be received only once in life because they imprint indelible character, these are: Baptism, Confirmation and Priestly Order, the sacramental character is a spiritual mark that cannot be erased or removed: these are forever.
The Priestly Order: the sacrament of the priesthood is forever, it marks “a character” that is indelible..
Therefore, he who receives it cannot fail to be a priest. But the Church, by her own request, or by disciplinary measures, can prevent or prohibit her from exercising the priesthood, “suspension a divinis”, but that does not mean that she ceases to be a priest.
When a priest becomes secularized, he has asked the Church to dispense with the exercise of the priesthood. Before this the Church studies him and grants him the reduction of the clerical state, but he remains a priest. He can give him dispensation and allow him to marry, but in this case the Church also forbids him to exercise the priesthood.

Noelle Clemens
Member
Noelle Clemens
1 month ago
Reply to  Elvira

Would you agree that, by the same token, neither baptism nor confirmation can be revoked? You can fail to honour those sacraments, but they cannot be entirely abandoned…

Elvira
Member
Elvira
1 month ago

Yes .., The question is addressed to all of us, who do you say I am? Many answers: a friend, a teacher, a revolutionary, the son of God … What reasons did the other disciples have for not recognizing their identity? In our world, even Christians, we doubt the divine nature of Christ, do I have doubts? of what kind? have I changed my understanding of Jesus Christ throughout my life? Today’s text allows us to reflect on our personal history and our relationship with the Master, but it also opens us to an invitation to be courageous, “little Peters” that we proclaim aloud the identity of Jesus Christ so that our humble confession will serve to strengthen this Church in which we live, always threatened from outside.

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
1 month ago

And that is one magnificent sight when you reach the back of the basilica! People forget that Rome is substantially a baroque city and it doesn’t get much more baroque than Bernini. The beautiful fountains he created – the Trevi which is such a visual and aural drama with and the many other churches and public spaces.

Not to forget Borromini and da Cortona who personify Roman Baroque. The British like to dismiss the baroque as ‘over the top’ but Kenneth Clark said put your prejudices aside and let the sights of the baroque move you emotionally. It is designed to have an immediate emotional effect before an intellectual one.

Elvira
Member
Elvira
1 month ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

I agree, the sculptural groups of Bernini are absolutely spectacular and get what they propose: the spectator is shocked by the sculpture

Elvira
Member
Elvira
1 month ago
Reply to  Elvira

I was thinking “The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa”

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
1 month ago
Reply to  Elvira

That is so beautiful and in a concrete way shows her in intense communion with Jesus in heaven.

Noelle Clemens
Member
Noelle Clemens
1 month ago
Reply to  Elvira

“…..get what they propose” is not quite right Elvira. Rather “achieve their objective” or “succeed in what they’re trying to achieve”. Disculpe, lo digo por su interés, en un espíritu de camaradería. Un saludo, N🌻

Elvira
Member
Elvira
1 month ago
Reply to  Noelle Clemens

Querida Noelle, no tienes porqué disculparte. Te agradezco un montón que me corrijas ..😍🌹

Noelle Clemens
Member
Noelle Clemens
1 month ago
Reply to  Elvira

Muy amable, Elvira. You do so very well in your English that I think – and hope! – that you take great pleasure in language and its complexities. 🌻💥

Last edited 1 month ago by Noelle Clemens
Patricia O'Brien
Member
Patricia O'Brien
1 month ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

Hmm..not keen myself…

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
1 month ago

What Patricia? The whole of the baroque, Roman baroque, secular baroque architecture, baroque painting? There’s lots of it. 😃

Patricia O'Brien
Member
Patricia O'Brien
1 month ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

Morning Chazbo. Well, painting yes, I do like the drama of the Baroque style but when you get into sculpture and architecture, it’s just too well.. BIG – and gaudy. I lived in Rome for a couple of years and those fountains (Navona, Trevi) ugh…I never took to them. Churches too and even St Peter’s itself. It’s all so unsubtle – but then that’s what it’s meant to be.
As you say C – lots of it too, ie unavoidable 🤣

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
1 month ago

Good on you!!

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