Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, apostle.
Since early times, the Roman Church has had a special commemoration of the primatial authority of St. Peter. As witness one of the most renowned of the Apostolic Fathers, the Roman See has always held a peculiar place in the affection and obedience of orthodox believers because of its "presiding in love" and service over all the Churches of God.
"We shall find in the Gospel that Jesus Christ, willing to begin the mystery of unity in His Church, among all His disciples chose twelve; but that, willing to consummate the mystery of unity in the same Church, among the twelve He chose one. He called His disciples, said the Gospel; here are all; and among them He chose twelve. Here is the first separation, and the Apostles chosen. And these are the names of the twelve Apostles: the first, Simon, who is called Peter. [Mt. 10, 1-2] Here, in a second separation, St. Peter is set at the head, and called for that reason by the name of Peter, 'which Jesus Christ,' says St. Mark, 'had given him,' in order to prepare, as you will see, the work which He was proposing to raise all His building on that stone.
"All this is yet but a beginning of the mystery of unity. Jesus Christ, in beginning it, still spoke to many: Go, preach; I send you [see Mt. 28, 19]. Now, when He would put the last hand to the mystery of unity, He speaks no longer to many: He marks out Peter personally, and by the new name which He has given him. It is One who speaks to one: Jesus Christ the Son of God to Simon son of Jonas; Jesus Christ, who is the true Stone, strong of Himself, to Simon, who is only the stone by the strength which Jesus Christ imparts to him. It is to him that Christ speaks, and in speaking acts on him, and stamps upon him His own immovableness. And I, He says, say to you, you are Peter; and, He adds, upon this rock I will build my Church, and, He concludes, the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. [Mt. 16, 18] To prepare him for that honor Jesus Christ, who knows that faith in Himself is the foundation of His Church, inspires Peter with a faith worthy to be the foundation of that admirable building. You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. [Mt. 16, 16] By that bold preaching of the faith he draws to himself the inviolable promise which makes him the foundation of the Church.
Pictured is the Chair of Saint Peter found in Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome. The relic is enclosed in a sculpted gilt bronze casing designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and executed between 1647 and 1653.
The reliquary, like many of the medieval period, takes the form of the relic it protects, i.e. the form of a chair. Symbolically, the chair Bernini designed had no earthly counterpart in actual contemporary furnishings. It is formed entirely of scrolling members, enclosing a coved panel where the upholstery pattern is rendered as a low relief of Christ instructing Peter to tend to His sheep. Large angelic figures flank an openwork panel beneath a highly realistic bronze seat cushion, vividly empty: the relic is encased within.
The cathedra is lofted on splayed scrolling bars that appear to be effortlessly supported by four over-lifesize bronze Doctors of the Church: Western doctors Saint Ambrose and Saint Augustine of Hippo on the outsides, wearing miters, and Eastern doctors Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Athanasius on the insides, both bare-headed. The cathedra appears to hover over the altar in the basilica's apse, lit by a central tinted window through which light streams, illuminating the gilded glory of sunrays and sculpted clouds that surrounds the window.
Above, on the golden background of the frieze, is the Latin inscription: "O Pastor Ecclesiae, tu omnes Christi pascis agnos et oves" (O pastor of the Church, you feed all Christ's lambs and sheep). On the right is the same writing in Greek. Behind the altar is placed Bernini's monument enclosing the wooden chair, both of which are seen as symbolic of the authority of the Bishop of Rome as Vicar of Christ and successor of Saint Peter.
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.