St Francis Q&A

Friday, February 22, 2008

Feast of the Chair of St. Peter

Still on for tonight: Stations of the Cross (7 pm) and Eucharistic Adoration (7:30 pm) in the Church. All are invited!!
A blogger recently posted the following comment which is fitting to address on today’s feast of the Chair of St. Peter: “One last note--the magisterium, to which some believe we ought to always humbly submit, long insisted that the sun revolved around us. I'm sure they are learned men, but men all the same, with traditions and personal rights and powers they need to protect, just like anyone else. Is anyone else excited at how much this debate is similar to the whole Copernicus one? History does always repeat itself and it's quite awesome to behold God's pattern in it all.”

Although the comment approaches blasphemy, I appreciate it because it allows us to understand the teaching authority of the Church, past and present. The difference between the Copernicus debate and the one on which the above comment is made is that the Copernicus debate did not involve faith and morals. When the Pope or bishops teach outside of faith and morals, then they are prone to error just like any of us. But, when the Magisterium of the Church teaches about faith and morals, it does so without error. This is the divine authority Jesus gives to St. Peter and what we celebrate on today’s feast: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:19).

The Catechism instructs us about the power that Jesus gives to Peter:

The "power of the keys" designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, confirmed this mandate after his Resurrection: "Feed my sheep" (Jn 21:15-17; cf.10:11). The power to "bind and loose" connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgments, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church. Jesus entrusted this authority to the Church through the ministry of the apostles (cf. Mt 18:18) and in particular through the ministry of Peter, the only one to whom he specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom. (#553)

Christ gives St. Peter the power to bind and loose, and Peter’s binding and loosing on earth will be bound and loosed in heaven. In basic terms, Christ gives Peter the power to continue His teaching on earth. Peter and his successors teach with the authority of heaven; Peter was given the “keys of the kingdom” by Christ and he passed them on to his successor (which has been passed down to our current Pope, Benedict XVI).

A few years ago, a man asked me, “what exactly does binding and loosing mean?” Binding means to impose an obligation; loosing means lifting an obligation. These obligations are in relation to God’s law (faith and morals). Christ has full authority to impose and lift God’s law; He entrusts this authority on earth to the first Pope and his successors (and to the first bishops and their successors).

As Catholics, we are obligated to follow the Magisterium’s teachings on faith and morals because of the divine authority of their Office. When we celebrate the “Chair of St. Peter”, we celebrate his Office – the power and authority given to him by Christ – and the unity of the Church founded upon him. explains this feast further: “Like the committee chair, this chair refers to the occupant, not the furniture. Its first occupant stumbled a bit, denying Jesus three times and hesitating to welcome gentiles into the new Church. Some of its later occupants have also stumbled a bit, sometimes even failed scandalously. As individuals, we may sometimes think a particular pope has let us down. Still, the office endures as a sign of the long tradition we cherish and as a focus for the universal Church.”


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