Today, February 22nd the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair. Some of you are probably thinking “that has got to be one expensive piece of furniture, to have its own feast day!” While there is a physical chair, traditionally attributed to the first pope in St. Peter’s Basilica; the wooden chair, now housed in an ornamented bronze enclosure, actually dates back to the year 875 A.D and is a gift from Holy Roman Emperor Charles the Bald to Pope John VIII. So it is a real longshot that the Apostle himself ever used the chair, but still, I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for the Vatican to list it on eBay if you are in the market for second-hand apartment décor.
Long before a bald emperor was assembling his latest Ikea purchase, the Church was venerating the Chair of St. Peter, as a symbol of the unbroken succession of the Papal authority and Christian unity. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke of this sign during a papal audience on February 22, 2006.
So, what was the "Chair" of St Peter? Chosen by Christ as the "rock" on which to build the Church (cf. Mt 16: 18), he began his ministry in Jerusalem, after the Ascension of the Lord and Pentecost. The Church's first "seat" was the Upper Room, and it is likely that a special place was reserved for Simon Peter in that room where Mary, Mother of Jesus, also prayed with the disciples.
Again, on the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter in 2012 he spoke of the spiritual significance of the relic that has a special place in the basilica in his Angelus address:
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 special mission of Peter and his Successors to tend Christ’s flock, keeping it united in faith and in charity…The Chair of Peter is therefore the sign of authority, but of Christ’s authority, based on faith and on love.
This feast we celebrate today is hardly about the hardwood and more about the visible witness and authority of the Catholic Church throughout history. Simply, our church is fortified by and continues to draw upon the strength of the unbroken succession of apostolic leadership passed down to us through the ages; beginning with Christ and His selection of Peter to take His seat until He returns.
Holy Mother Church has been faithful to this seat established by Christ and the result is that the Gospel message is most potently proclaimed by her throughout the world. In being obedient to promptings of the Holy Spirit, the teaching authority of the Church is charged with the “authentic interpretation of the word of God (CCC 85).” The eternal truths of our faith are clearly illuminated and the word is made flesh by Christ’s real presence in the sacraments for all those faithful to the Pope and Bishops in union with him around the world.
Each of us is marked by our belief and faithfulness to the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church as we proclaim in the Nicene Creed. Our credo beckons us to share in that role of “understanding and handing on revealed truth (CCC 91).” In other words, we are called to pull up our chair around the banquet table, listen to the clear and consistent voice of Christ spoken to us from the “Chair” of Peter; then nourished by word and sacrament serve others humbly and with great joy.