What about Peter?
by Father Richard Sorfleet
The celebration of The Chair of St Peter the Apostle on February 22nd affords a reflection on one of the fundamentals of the Eucharistic Catholic Church, that of the role and primacy of Peter and his successors and how a progressive and inclusive church which engages the contemporary world can and still remains rooted and committed to Catholic tradition.
The collect of the day reads:
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. [The Roman Missal 3rd ed 2011]
With the recent meeting of Pope Francis and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church which in part dealt with a 1000 years' separation with Orthodoxy, and the soon to be 500th anniversary of the Protestant revolt, there have been no shortage of disturbing storms among Christians on the meaning and implications of Peter's confession.
To understand this, we must examine the gospel itself [Matthew 16: 13- 19]
Peter Confesses Jesus as the Christ
13 When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?"
14 So they said, "Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"
16 Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
17 Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." [NKJV 1982]
The Gospel narrative consists of two parts with a) Peter's words Mt 16: 16 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God' and b) Jesus' reply Mt 16: 18 you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. and adding in v 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.
The tempests referred to in the collect have arisen from the emphasis of part a) Peter's definition of who Jesus is, or the implications of part b) that of Petrine authority.
Taking the first part of Mt 16: 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven with
one interpretation being that through our own belief in what Peter confessed, this faith in Christ as the Son of God opens the gates of heaven to all.
9After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, saying, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" [Rev 7: 9- 10, NKJV 1982]
It is therefore with good reason that the Apostle Peter remains in the popular imagination and depiction as the heavenly gate keeper.
The collect of the day gives us the proper insight into the Gospel message, by dwelling on his confession of faith that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God, and that through our own belief in this sets us securely on that sure rock.
The keys to the Kingdom flow from that faith and in the words of the Prayer over the Offerings that she [the Church] holds that faith in its integrity.
That integrity is expressed through the shared beliefs of the Catholic Church, not in a jurisdictional obedience. The gospel according to Matthew does however require us to look at Christ's words of on this rock I will build my Church, first from the point of view that it is faith that is the foundation stone of the Church and the special place that Peter has in that construction.
The Affirmation of Faith thereby correctly calls upon us to give the Bishop of Rome a primacy of honor in the Church universal, as Catholic believe based on Gospel warrant.
The second aspect of the continuity of that faith is through Apostolic succession and it is by which we are assured of the authority of the Keys to which Christ granted Peter in His Church.
The term "apostolic succession" refers to the doctrine in Catholic and Orthodox churches that holds that certain spiritual powers, who Jesus Christ first entrusted to the twelve apostles, is passed on in an unbroken line of succession from apostle to bishop to bishop, and from these bishops to the priests who assist them in their pastoral duties. The validity of apostolic succession is a key factor in determining the sacerdotal powers of the Church. [ECC Affirmation of Faith]
In the Roman Canon we pray:
...firstly for your holy catholic Church. Be pleased to grant her peace, to guard, unite and govern her throughout the whole world, together with your servant N our Pope and N our Bishop, and all those who, holding to the truth, hand on the catholic and apostolic faith. [The Roman Missal 3rd ed 2011]
We are set upon the rock of the one holy catholic and apostolic faith though our own confession of it, and hold to it and hand it on through apostolic succession.
The feast of The Chair of St Peter is a time to reflect on who we are, what we believe and pray that this faith guides us on our journey and remains the rock of our witness.
Our blog offers information on our monthly liturgical services, special events, news, and donation requests for our church and missions. It will also contain homilies for reading or printing.