In his weekly Wednesday audience, held earlier today at the Vatican, Pope Benedict used the occasion of today’s Feast of the Chair of St. Peter to explain the nature and origin of the papacy itself, saying that Christ, the Good Shepherd, seeks to unite His Church and lead faithful to salvation through the esteemed office.
Today’s audience had been highly anticipated by watchers because it is the first on a theme picked entirely by Benedict himself. Last week, he completed a long running catechetical series on the Scriptural canticles and Psalms which compose the Liturgy of the Hours. It was begun by Pope John Paul II a number of years ago.
Speaking today in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall the Pope called today’s feast, the day "with which we give thanks to God for the mission entrusted to the Apostle Peter and his Successors.”
“The 'cathedra'“, he said, “is literally the seat of the bishop. ... It is the symbol of his authority and, particularly, of his 'Magisterium,' in other words of the evangelical teaching that he, as successor to the Apostles, is called to protect and transmit to the Christian community."
The Pope went on to recall the fact that the Church’s first "seat" was the Cenacle, pointing out that "it is probable that a special place was reserved for Simon Peter in that room, where Mary Mother of Jesus also prayed together with the disciples.”
Subsequently, he explained, Peter's seat became Antioch, from which, Providence led him to Rome "where he crowned with martyrdom his journey in the service of the Gospel.”
“For this reason”, Benedict added, “the see of Rome, which obtained the greatest honor, also received the obligation entrusted by Christ to Peter to be at the service of all particular Churches, for the edification and unity of the entire People of God."
He said that "To celebrate the 'Chair' of Peter means, then, giving it a strong spiritual significance, and recognizing therein a privileged sign of the love of God, the good and eternal Shepherd Who wishes to unite the whole of His Church and lead her along the way of salvation.”
The Pope then Quoted St. Jerome, one of the Church’s early Fathers, who wrote, “I follow no leader save Christ, so I consult the Chair of Peter, for this I know is the rock upon which the Church is built'."
The pontiff concluded his catechesis by imploring the crowd to pray, "especially for the ministry with which God has entrusted me.” Likewise, he asked them to “Call upon the Holy Spirit to support with His light and strength my daily service to the whole Church."