Saturday, February 22, 2014

For the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, Apostle

It may seem odd to celebrate an inanimate object, but there is in fact a very good reason for today's feast day. The phrase ex cathedra, which we use in reference to the pope's infallible prerogative, means "from the chair." So, the chair of St. Peter represents the authority given to him and to his successors by Jesus Christ. It is also a symbol of unity and orthodoxy, since it is in communion with the pope that Christians are united in faith and practice.

Of course, the pope can always explain things much better than I can. Benedict XVI devoted his General Audience catechesis of February 22, 2006 to explaining the celebration. It is worth reading in full [translation by Whispers]:
  • Dear Brothers and Sisters!

    The Latin liturgy celebrates today the feast of the Chair of St. Peter. It comes from a very ancient tradition, chronicled at Rome from the end of the 4th century, which renders thanks to God for the mission entrusted to the Apostle Peter and to his successors. The "cathedra," literally, is the fixed seat of the Bishop, found in the mother church in a diocese, which for this reason is called "cathedral," and is the symbol of the authority of the Bishop and, in particular, of his "magisterium," the evangelical teaching which he, as a successor of the Apostles, is called to maintain and pass on to the Christian community. When the Bishop takes possession of the particular Church entrusted to him, he, wearing the mitre and carrying the pastoral staff, is seated in the cathedra. From that seat he will guide, as teacher and pastor, the path of the faithful in faith, in hope and in love.

    What was, then, the "cathedra" of St. Peter? He, chosen by Christ as the "rock" on which the Church was built, began his ministry in Jerusalem, after the Ascension of the Lord and Pentecost. The first "see" of the Church was the Cenacle, and it's likely that in that room, where also Mary, the mother of Jesus, prayed together with the disciples, a special place was reserved for Simon Peter. Successively, the see of Peter became Antioch, a city situated on the Oronte River, in Syria, today in Turkey, in that time the third metropolis of the Roman empire after Rome and Alexandria in Egypt. From that city, evangalized by Barnabas and Paul, where "for the first time the disciples were called Christians" (Acts 11:26), where the name Christian was born for us, Peter was the first bishop, so that the Roman Martyrology, before the reform of the calendar, also provided for a specific celebration of the Chair of Peter at Antioch. From there, Providence brought Peter to Rome. Therefore we have the road from Jerusalem, the newborn Church, to Antioch, the first center of the Church recounted by the Pagans and still united with the Church which proceeded from the Jews. Then Peter came to Rome, center of the Empire, symbol of the "Orbis" -- the "Urbs" [city] which expresses the "Orbis" [world] of the earth -- where he concluded with his martyrdom his course in the service of the Gospel. For this, the see of Rome, which received the greatest honor, is also accorded the honors entrusted by Christ to Peter to be at the service of all the particular Churches for the building up and the unity of the entire People of God.

    The see of Rome, after this movement of St. Peter, became recognized as that of the successor of Peter, and the "cathedra" of its bishop represented that of the Apostle charged by Christ to feed his flock. This is attested to by the most ancient Fathers of the Church, for example St. Iraneus, bishop of Lyon, but living in Asia Minor, who in his treatise Against heresies described the Church of Rome as "the greatest and most ancient, known of all;... founded and built at Rome by the two most glorious apostles Peter and Paul"; and then: "With this Church, for its outstanding superiority, must be accorded to it the Church universal, the faithful in every place" (III, 3, 2-3). Tertullian, a little later, for his part, affirms: "How blessed is this Church of Rome! For it the apostles poured out, with their blood, the whole of doctrine." The chair of the Bishop of Rome represents, therefore, not only its service to the Roman community, but its mission of watching over the entire People of God.

    To celebrate the "Cathedra" of Peter, as we do today, means, then, to attribute to it a strong spiritual significance and to recognize it as a privileged sign of the love of God, the good and eternal Shepherd, who wishes to gather the entire Church and guide it along the way of salvation. Among the many testimonies of the Fathers, I'd like to report that of St. Jerome, who wrote in a letter of his to the Bishop of Rome, particularly interesting because it makes an explicit reference to the "chair" of Peter, presented it as the sure grounding of truth and of peace. As Jerome wrote: "I decided to consult the chair of Peter, where is found that faith which the mouth of an Apostle exalted; I come then to ask nourishment for my soul, where once was received the garment of Christ. I don't follow a primate other than Christ; for this reason, I place myself in communion with your blessedness, that is, with the chair of Peter. I know that on this rock is built the Church" (Letters I, 15, 1-2).

    Dear Brothers and Sisters, in the apse of St. Peter's Basilica, as you know, can be found the monument to the Chair of the Apostle, Bernini's eldest work, realized in the form of a great bronze throne, held up by statues of four Doctors of the Church, two of the west, St. Augustine and St. Ambrose, two of the east, St. John Chrysostom and St. Athanasius. I invite you to stand in front of this suggested work, which today is probably decorated admirably by many candles, and pray in a particular way for the ministry which God has entrusted to me. Raising our gaze to the alabaster window which opens over the Chair, invoking the Holy Spirit, may he always sustain with his light and strength my daily service to all the Church. [Applause] For this, and for your devoted attention, I thank you from my heart.

For more on the Chair of St. Peter and papal authority, see the following links:For articles that I have written about Peter and the Papacy, see the Church Authority and the Papacy entry from the Topical Index.

St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles....pray for us.

Pax Christi,

Monday, February 17, 2014

Catholic Q&A: Part 36

This post continues my series of short answers to common (and not so common) questions about Catholicism. For the previous parts in the series, see the "Catholic Q-A Series" blog label.

Why did Aaron give in so easily to the Israelites to make them a golden calf?

I don’t really know. Aaron's job was to be Moses' representative or spokesman. He was supposed to be utterly subservient to him. We see that as long as he did that, he was fine. But, as soon as Aaron exerted his own will, he got into trouble, as evidenced not only by the golden calf incident but also by the scolding he received from the Lord when he spoke against Moses' decision to marry a Cushite woman (Num 12). Aaron had a specific role to play in God's plan for the people during their slavery in Egypt and their Exodus. For whatever reason, he was never really good at acting outside of that role.

Why didn’t Ananias and Sapphira get a chance to repent before they died?

First some background information: Ananias and Sapphira were the ones who made the apostles think that they were donating all the proceeds of the land that they sold when they were really keeping some of it for themselves (cf. Acts 5:1-11).

Now, why weren’t they given a chance to repent? Because they just weren’t. People don't always get a chance to repent before they die. Death does not always come when we expect it. This is why it is so important to remain in a state of grace. That said, only God knows the heart. He knows how sorry we are for the sins we have committed, even if we do not have the chance to express that sorrow with some act of repentance. Perhaps Ananias and Sapphira were able to cry out to God, in the silence of their hearts, before they died. We will never know.

Is it lawful for someone to take the host from the Eucharistic minister, dip it in the chalice, and eat it?

No, it is not. Dipping the host into the chalice is called intinction. While this is a lawful way to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord, the communicant is not allowed to do this himself. Instead, the Eucharistic minister dips the host into the chalice and then places it on the communicant's tongue. For more on this, see the document from the US bishops: Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion Under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States of America, nos. 49-50.

Rom 16:22 says that Tertius wrote the Letter to the Romans. I thought Paul wrote it. Can you explain?

Paul is certainly the author of the Letter to the Romans. He began by declaring his authorship of it. “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ … To all God’s beloved in Rome” (Rom 1:1, 7). This means that Tertius was his secretary. In other words, Paul dictated the letter to Tertius, and Tertius wrote it down.

Pax Christi,

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Catholic Q&A: Part 35

This post continues my series of short answers to common (and not so common) questions about Catholicism. For the previous parts in the series, see the "Catholic Q-A Series" blog label.

Is it true that blasphemy is an unforgiveable sin?

No. The only unforgivable sin is the rejection of the Holy Spirit, or perhaps despair. That’s because these sins compel a person to avoid seeking the forgiveness of God. But, if you actually confess your sin to God (in prayer or in the Sacrament of Reconciliation) with a contrite heart and a firm intention to amend your life, He will forgive it no matter what it is.

Is it sinful to have evil thoughts, even if you don’t carry them out?

It's not sinful to be tempted to do something bad or to have the sudden impulse to do something bad. We are tempted all the time to do things that we shouldn’t do. It is also common for a thought or a feeling to rush into your head that you know is uncharitable. We have to banish such thoughts and carry on. The sin is in carrying it out, like you said. It is also sinful to dwell on the sinful act or to relish in it in your mind, or to foster evil thoughts so that they grow and take root in your soul

In the Old Testament, especially Leviticus and Deuteronomy, it says that it is forbidden to eat certain foods. Do these laws apply to Christians?

Jesus said, "Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and so passes on? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man" (Mt 15:17-18). The parallel passage in Mark adds this explanation: "Thus he declared all foods clean" (Mk 7:18-19). In Acts, we read of a vision that Peter received where an angel showed him that just as food previously considered unclean is now considered clean, so should the Gentiles, who were previously considered unclean, now be considered as worthy of God (cf. Acts 10:9-16, 28). Finally, Paul wrote to the Romans, "Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for any one to make others fall by what he eats" (Rom 14:20).

It appears from all this that the laws against clean and unclean animals no longer apply to Christians. The only time we would refrain from eating or drinking something would be if it caused scandal to our neighbor.

Does the Bible forbid marriages between Christians and non-Christians?

No. Instead it actually presupposes that mixed marriages will take place and encourages such couples to stay married because the believer may end up saving the non-believer by his or her own witness to the faith (cf. 1 Cor 7:12-16). Of course, the ideal situation is one where the spouses are of the same faith.

Pax Christi,
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