The Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter

“You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” 

Matthew 16:18 

The Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter


February 22

Our Church has such a rich history and is deeply rooted in the faith of the early Christian leaders and communities. In short order, I will share some history and tradition behind the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter. But before that, a short history lesson in how the Chair of St. Peter is connected to the Holy See. It all comes back to that Latin which we so beautifully teach, both in class and in theology. The term Holy See comes from the Latin Sancta Sedes, or “Holy Chair”. Additionally, the chair or throne, which is the cathedra is the place of authority given to the Holy Father. So, while literally, there is a chair (and a magnificent one, at that), in St. Peter’s in Rome, the Holy See or Holy Chair is the position of the Holy Father, the Pope.

Here we are, on February 22, the date designated by the Church to celebrate the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. We recognize that St. Peter, one of the 12 Apostles, was recognized by Jesus as the leader of the Apostles and the future Church: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” Church history holds the tradition that Peter was the first Bishop of Rome, the first to “sit” in the Chair.

Today’s readings put everything into place for us. In the first reading, Peter asks the leaders of the early Christian communities to tend to their flocks by example, “overseeing not by constraint by willingly.” Then in the Gospel, as Peter announces Jesus as “the Son of the living God,” Jesus names Peter the rock on which he will build the Church, giving him the keys to the kingdom of heaven. By giving Peter the keys to the Kingdom, Jesus confers on him the responsibility to govern and teach the Church. This responsibility is not about power over others but is a gift from God for the purpose of serving the flock as the Good Shepherd would.

As we know, today’s Feast is not about celebrating a piece of furniture, though the gilt bronze casing sculpted by Bernini surrounding the relic might make one think otherwise, it is celebrating the unity of our Church. We celebrate the love, presence, and protection of Christ for us, the Church. When we think of the “chair” of something, we symbolically think of a leader or the head of something, and this is how it is with the Chair of Peter. When referencing St. Peter, we are recalling the teaching power of Peter, the first pope, and his successors. From this chair, the pope shepherds Christ’s flock.

The chair of Peter is not simply the chair of the local bishop, because we know that the Bishop of Rome (the pope) has his chair in the cathedral of John Lateran. The Chair of Peter is celebrating the role of the pope as the shepherd or bishop of the universal, world-wide Church.

In this role, we celebrate the authority of the universal bishop. Jesus himself gave the authority to Peter to lead and guide the Church in Jesus’ place. St. Paul acknowledged this when he recognized Peter as the first among the apostles (Gal 1:18). Today, and throughout history, we believe that this authority and role is passed down from pope to pope. This authority is bigger than any one person. Regardless of what personality or peculiarities a pope brings to the office, the role will outlive him to see the next pope and beyond occupy the chair.

We celebrate the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, commemorating Christ’s choosing Peter to sit in his place as the servant-authority of the whole Church. We rejoice in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, thanking Jesus for the authority he shares with humans, and praying for the person God has chosen to occupy the Chair of Saint Peter today.

Catholic Prayer: Litany of St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy. Christ hear us. Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of heaven, Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, Have mercy on us.
God the Holy Ghost, Have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God, Have mercy on us.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us.
Queen conceived without original sin, Pray for us.
Queen of Apostles, Pray for us.
Saint Peter, Pray for us.
Prince of the Apostles, Pray for us.
St. Peter, to whom were given the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, Pray for us.
St. Peter, so ardent for the glory of Christ, Pray for us.
St. Peter, whose heart was pierced with one look from Jesus, Pray for us.
St. Peter, who ceased not to grieve for having denied the Son of God, Pray for us.
St. Peter, whose cheeks were furrowed by a stream of tears which flowed to the end of thy life, Pray for us.
St. Peter, who cried out: Lord, thou knowest that I love Thee! Pray for us.
St. Peter, bound in chains for Christ, Pray for us.
St. Peter, delivered from prison by an angel, Pray for us.
St. Peter, who rejoiced to suffer for Christ, Pray for us.
St. Peter, whose very shadow healed the sick, Pray for us.
St. Peter, whose voice even the dead obeyed, Pray for us.
St. Peter, that we may have a constant and mutual charity among ourselves, Pray for us.
That we may taste and see more and more, how sweet is the Lord, Pray for us.
That we may be zealous in loyalty to thy successor, the present Vicar of Christ, Pray for us.
That we may help, at least by prayer, to restore to the unity of thy Holy See the scattered sheep, Pray for us.
That we may be prudent, and watch in prayer, Pray for us.
That we may die the death of the just, Pray for us.

V. Let the mercies of the Lord give glory to him,
R. And His wonderful works to the children of men.
V. Pray for us, Saint Peter the rock:
R. That we may be worthy of the Vicar of Christ.

Let us pray.
O God, Who, upon blessed Peter, Thine Apostle, didst bestow the pontifical power of binding and loosing, and didst give to him the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven: grant that his intercession may ensure our deliverance from the bondage of sin. Who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.
R. Amen.

Prayer Source: Kyrie Eleison — Two Hundred Litanies by Benjamin Francis Musser O.F.M., The Magnificat Press, 1944

This litany is approved for private devotion, and is among those recommended in 1851 by the archbishops of New York and Westminster.