Consistory 2014 & The Feast of the Chair of Peter

From the old Martyrology:

Quintodecimo kalendas Februarii: Cathedra sancti Petri Apostoli, qua primum Romae sedit. 

Ocvato kalendas Martii: Antiochiae Cathedra sancti Petri Apostoli, ubi primum discipuli cognominati sunt Christiani. 

Today’s feast is a fusion of what were formerly two feasts; 18 January was the Feast of the Chair of Peter at Rome, while 22 February commemorated the Chair of Peter at Antioch. John XXIII’s revision of the calendar (1960) consolidated the two celebrations into a single Feast of the Chair of Peter on 22 February.

The consolidation of the feasts, though not uncontroversial, has some merit. The dual feasts are based on the traditional dates of Peter’s first liturgy in Rome (18 January) and of the Petrine Confession at Caesarea Philippi (22 February). Both feasts are indisputably Roman in origin, and the designation of a feast “at Rome” and a feast “at Antioch” are relatively late developments; the two feasts refer originally to different celebrations in the city of Rome itself. The testimony of the first six centuries of Christianity recognize the true location of Peter’s first preaching in Rome as the Villa Acilii, near the Via Salaria and Via Nomentana. Today, this area holds the catacombs of Priscilla (St. Priscilla was the wife of a martyr named Acilius Glabrio), where, among others, the body of Saint Agnes was buried. At the Villa Acilli was kept an actual chair purported to be the one from which Peter first preached to the Romans. This chair was venerated on 18 January in memory of Peter’s first arrival. Yet due to its location (the Via Salaria and Via Nomentana are common egress points into the City; almost every sack of Rome arrived from that direction, and Peter himself entered through it), this original cathedra Petri was lost or destroyed during the Germanic invasions of the 6th and 7th centuries AD.

When Christianity became legal and the great Basilica was built, the Romans demmed it more fitting to celebrate the Apostle not at a remote chapel (at that time outside Rome proper), but at the very place of his martyrdom, i.e., on the Vatican Hill. There Christians celebrated Peter’s first confession at Caesarea Philippi (cf. Matthew 16:11-18) at the location of his final confessio. An authority no less than Gregory the Great wrote that this day, 22 February, was the day in which beatus bar-Jona voce Redemptoris fide devota praelatus est et per hanc Petri petram basis Ecclesiae fixus est (the blessed son of Jonah, by his devout faith, was given primacy by the words of the Redeemer, and through this rock of Peter the foundation of the Church was laid).

By consolidating the feasts, John XXIII closely bound the fact of Peter’s preaching with the fact of his martyrdom; in other words, suffering and evangelization are inseparable. In recent years, as in this year, 22 February has often been chosen by popes as the date for the elevation of select men to the cardinalate. The formula pronounced by the Holy Father at the imposition of the red hat alludes to this unity between the preaching of the Gospel and a willing readiness to suffer for its sake.

Ad laudem omnipotentis Dei et Apostolicae Sedis ornamentum, 
accipite biretum rubrum, Cardinalatus dignitatis insigne, 
per quod significatur usque ad sanguinis effusionem, 
pro incremento christianae fidei, 
pace et quiete populi Dei, 
libertate et diffusione Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae 
vos ipsos intrepidos exhibere debere.

To the praise of God Almighty and the adornment of the Apostolic See,
receive the red biretta, insignia of the dignity of the cardinalate,
by which is signified that, unto the shedding of blood,
for the increase of the Christian faith
the peace and tranquility of the people of God,
the freedom and growth of the Holy Roman Church,
you must be intrepidly ready to act. (my translation and emphasis)

As previously announced (and covered on this site here and here), Pope Francis today elevated 19 men to the Sacred College of Cardinals.  When the Pope officially announced the names of his newly-chosen collaborators back in January, he made known the contents of his letter personally addressed to each of the neo-porporati. Here he likewise speaks of the connection between the cardinalate and humble suffering for the sake of Christ, with reference to Paul’s magnificent exininavit semetipsum from the letter to the Philippians.

Il Cardinalato non significa una promozione, né un onore, né una decorazione; semplicemente è un servizio che esige di ampliare lo sguardo e allargare il cuore. E, benché sembri un paradosso, questo poter guardare più lontano e amare più universalmente con maggiore intensità si può acquistare solamente seguendo la stessa via del Signore: la via dell’abbassamento e dell’umiltà, prendendo forma di servitore (cfr Fil 2,5-8). Perciò ti chiedo, per favore, di ricevere questa designazione con un cuore semplice e umile. E, sebbene tu debba farlo con gaudio e con gioia, fa’ in modo che questo sentimento sia lontano da qualsiasi espressione di mondanità, da qualsiasi festeggiamento estraneo allo spirito evangelico di austerità, sobrietà e povertà.

The cardinalate is neither a promotion, nor an honor, nor an award; it is simply a service which requires a wider vision and a deeper heart. And, though it seem a paradox, this ability to look further and to love more universally and intensely can be had only by following the same path of the Lord: the way of lowliness and humility, taking the form of a servant (Philippians 2:5-8). Wherefore I ask you, please, to receive this designation with a simple and humble heart. And, though you should do so with happiness and joy, do it in such a way that these sentiments be distant from any expression of worldliness, from any celebration extraneous to the Gospel spirit of austerity, sobriety, and poverty.

The Gospel reading at this consistory was not, as is usual, the story of Simon bar Jonah’s confession at Caesarea Philippi from the Gospel of Matthew (16:11-18). Instead, Pope Francis selected a passage from Mark (10:32-45), in which Jesus, on the ascending road to Jerusalem, makes his third prediction of his suffering and death: “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him, spit upon him, scourge him, and put him to death, but after three days he will rise.”

The ambitious Sons of Thunder, James and John, have selective hearing– they ignore the details of the Passion and remain firmly affixed on the resurrection, not knowing what it entails. As Francis said in his address to the Cardinals, for these two disciples, salire a Gerusalemme voleva dire partecipare al trionfo del Messia, alla sua vittoria– to go up to Jerusalem meant to participate in the Messiah’s triumph, in his victory, though they understood it the worldly sense. They ask Jesus to place them at his side when he sits in glory. Referring again to his suffering, and death, he challenges them: “You know not what you ask. Can you drink the chalice I will drink or be baptized with my baptism?” The haughty brothers reply quickly, exclaiming a slogan oft repeated in our time by the blissfully naive: “Yes we can!”

Christ confirms that they will indeed drink and be baptized as he will, but that a place at his side is not his to give. The other ten disciples “grew indignant” at the sons of Zebedee; sensing their distress, Jesus said to them all:

You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.

It’s easy to see why Pope Francis chose this pericope. It’s so consonant with his vision of a humble Church with humble pastors, a vision already expressed in his letter to the new Cardinals. He reminds them not to rest on their laurels or to lord their new status over the people entrusted to their care, but to resolutely follow Christ. This is not easy, says the Pope: non è facile, non è comodo, perché la strada che Gesù sceglie è la via della croce– to follow Christ is neither easy nor comfortable, because path that Jesus chooses is the way of the Cross. And now, present at the tomb of the Apostle Peter, these 19 men are exhorted to follow Christ, to preserve the faith, and to defend the Holy Roman Church, even unto the shedding of blood.

This day is also special because it marks Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s first official public appearance since his resignation. Wearing his simple white cassock without the fascia (a symbol of office), he sat with the Cardinal-Bishops as a sort of primus inter Cardinales, ahead of the Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Rahi. During Cardinal Parolin’s brief address to the reigning Holy Father, he made happy mention of Papa Ratzinger’s presence, and the assembly interrupted the speech with thunderous applause. Moments before, during the entrance, Francis broke from the procession, going out of his way to greet Benedict, and in an eloquent gesture which demonstrated his profound humility, Benedict removed his zucchetto in front of his successor, a man who less than a year ago removed his own zucchetto (erstwhile red) before Ratzinger– all as Palestrina’s triumphant setting of Tu es Petrus resounded through the great Basilica.

With the Pope Emeritus, the new Cardinals, all the members of the Sacred College, and the entire Church, we ask the Blessed Apostle Peter to intercede for us to Jesus, the Messiah, Son of the living God, that Pope Francis will continue to resolutely follow Christ, even unto the way of the Cross. Rogamus pro eo, ut non deficiat fides sua; et aliquando conversus ad nos, frates suos Cardinales et populum sanctum Dei in fide Ecclesiae confirmet. Amen.

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