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Why do we celebrate the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter?

The “chair” to which this feast refers is the cathedra, or office, of the Apostle Peter. Given by Christ to St. Peter (Matthew 16:13-18), Peter’s supreme pastoral office is passed to each of his successors as Bishop of Rome, that is, where Peter last served and where he died a martyr.

Throughout the 2,000-year history of the Church, there have been 266 popes, beginning with Peter. Among them are many saints and martyrs who have devoted themselves to the Gospel.

The Church celebrates the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter each year on February 22.

CHAIR OF SAINT PETER

What does the Chair of St. Peter represent?

While an actual chair exists in Rome that some believe was used by St. Peter, the Chair of St. Peter represents the papacy, the unbroken succession of Popes throughout the Church’s 2,000-year history. Given by Christ Himself to St. Peter in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 13, verses 16-18, Peter’s supreme pastoral office is passed to each of his successors as Bishop of Rome.


Who was the first Pope?

Christ Himself appointed Saint Peter as the first Pope. Although the honorific title developed over time, Peter’s office as head of the apostles is evident in the New Testament.


What is the seat of the Pope called?

The seat of the Pope is referred to as the Chair of Saint Peter or in Latin, Cathedra Petri.


Who was Pope the longest?

Peter himself was the longest reigning pope, occupying his office from the year of Christ’s death until sometime between 64 and 67 A.D. when he was martyred on Vatican Hill. Blessed Pius IX was his longest reigning successor. His papacy lasted from 1846 to 1878. The second longest reigning successor was St. John Paul II (1978-2005).

“The Chair of St Peter, represented in the apse of the Vatican Basilica, is a monumental sculpture by Bernini. It is a symbol of the unique mission of Peter and his Successors to tend Christ’s flock, keeping it united in faith and in charity.” - Pope Benedict XVI

Were there any bad Popes?

Out of 266 Popes in Church history, only a few have been truly problematic. For one, Pope John XII bore an illegitimate child and gave land to his mistress. Then there was Pope Benedict IX, who was charged with simony, the act of selling offices and benefices. And lastly, there was Pope Urban VI. After cardinals had conspired against him, Pope Urban complained that they weren’t screaming loudly enough as they were being tortured. Many others were simply men of their times, participating in the intrigues of their day, whether to advance their own fortunes, that of their family, or those of the Church.


Were any Popes martyrs?

The Romans ruthlessly followed the principle by which the Lord Himself was put to death, “strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter” (Mt. 26:31). Thus, Peter himself received the martyr’s crown, as the Lord told him he would (John 21:18-19). Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History cites Origin that “(Peter) came to Rome and was crucified head downwards.” Pope Clement (88-99 A.D.) in a letter to Corinth makes note of Peter’s “glorious testimony,” as if the manner was well-known. During the age of Roman persecution (30-313 A.D.) at least 28 of the first 33 popes are known to have been martyred. This is strong testimony that Peter and his successors in Rome were understood by the emperors to be the Chief Shepherds of Christ’s flock (John 21:15-17). In the end, the flock survived; the pagan empire did not.


Are any Popes Saints?

The Church considers martyrdom to be the highest degree of the Imitation of Christ. But in addition to martyr popes, many have shown the outstanding moral qualities that merited their recognition for the “white martyrdom” of a virtuous life. Including the martyrs, 83 of the popes are recognized as Saints. Nine others are called Blessed.

“Do not doubt that just as it was for Christ and for Peter, so it will be for you: your most effective witness will always be one that is marked by the Cross. The Cross is God’s Chair in the world. On it Christ has offered humanity the most important lesson, that of loving one another as he has loved us (cf. Jn 13: 34): even to the ultimate gift of oneself.” - Pope St. John Paul II

Where is St. Peter buried?

Bones believed to belong to St. Peter are laid to rest under the great dome and papal altar of the Basilica of St. Peter. After his martyrdom in Nero’s circus on Vatican Hill, Peter was laid to rest in a nearby cemetery. In the 2nd century a small shrine was built at the location. After Constantine legalized Christianity (313 A.D.), the site was given to the Church by the emperor and the first St. Peter’s was built over the presumed place of Peter’s burial. Excavations conducted in the 1940s and 1950s underneath the current Renaissance Basilica found the foundations of the Constantinian church, the cemetery, numerous pagan tombs, and under the area where the main altar has been traditionally placed, remains believed to be St. Peter.


Who was the next Pope after Peter?

After the death and burial of Peter, likely in 67 A.D., Linus became the Bishop of Rome, and thus Pope. According to St. Irenaeus writing in the 2nd century, he was appointed in advance, After the Holy Apostles (Peter and Paul) had founded and set the Church in order, they gave over the exercise of the episcopal office to Linus. The same Linus is mentioned by St. Paul in his Epistle to Timothy. His successor was Anacletus. (Against Heresies, III.3.3) Pope Linus’s pontificate concluded with his own martyrdom in 76 A.D. The Church commemorates his death on September 23.

“Let us thank God together for founding his Church on the rock of Peter.” - Pope St. John Paul II