Whose Turn is it to Sit on this Chair?
This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr.
Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a member of the
Congregation Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers, Province of Nigeria South East.
He is currently the parochial vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church
Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details contact him
Although the instruction given by the 2013 Liturgical Calendar for the celebration of Mass of the hours according to the General Roman Calendar – for Nigeria, states that: “The feast of the Chair of St. Peter, the Apostles, is not celebrated this year” (p. 32), we consider it necessary to write few words on the significance of this feast. This is especially, considering the recent misunderstanding of the news of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.
From the earliest times the Church at Rome celebrated on 18 January the memory of the day when the Apostle held his first service with the faithful of the Eternal City. This feast of the Chair of St. Peter is generally attributed to a long absence of the Apostle from Rome. Since then, February 22 in the calendar of the Catholic Church represents the day of the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. This is the anniversary of its entry into a particular memory at the center of the particular mission entrusted by Jesus to Peter. The Roman Missal explains: “the symbol of the chair will emphasize the mission of teacher and pastor of Christ conferred upon Peter, which he formed in his person and in the successors, visible principle and foundation of unity of the Church”. The chair, literally, is the fixed seat of the supreme pontiff and the bishops, permanently placed in the mother church of the diocese (hence its name of “cathedral” after “cathedra” the chair) and is the symbol of the bishop and his ordinary Magisterium in the local church. The chair of St. Peter indicates his position in the apostolic college, established by the express will of Jesus, who assigned the task of “feeding” the flock, that is to lead the new People of God, the Church. The chair therefore is an office which has been occupied by several Popes, the latest being Pope Benedict XVI. He is the 264th successor of Peter, and the 265th pope of the Catholic Church.
The world woke up on Monday, 11 February, 2013 to embrace the shock, surprise and disappointment orchestrated by the news of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. This news of the Pope’s resignation has since been the talk of the town as a result of what many considered the “breaking of an age long tradition of the Roman Catholic Church.” History has it that some seven hundred and nineteen years ago a Pope resigned. The Pope in question is Pope Celestine V who resigned in 1294. Today, it has gone down in the annals of history that he is the 2nd pope to resign for a very good reason (Cf. Can 187). The reason this historic action looks and sounds bizarre to us is that we have not experienced it before. Rather than feeling disappointed concerning Benedict XVI’s resignation, we should hail him for teaching us that physically we will all go down someday; that we are different functionally and essentially; that the Church is the Church of Jesus Christ who instituted and sustains her; that without Benedict XVI, Christ will continue to take care of his Church. As shocking and as “unprecedented” as the news might seem to most of us, I think we really need to see the positive lessons his action teaches us in our modern world, especially, in African where leaders prefer to remain in power or on the throne until they rot away.
One very important truth that must not elude us all in this is the fact that Benedict XVI is going to resign from the office as the Pope on 28th February, 2013 but not from his Eternal Priesthood or even from the Holy Roman Catholic Church. Our Church is a Church in the modern world where there are endless possibilities and Pope Benedict’s resignation is only but one of such possibilities. It is a reality we must come to terms with if we must move forward as a Church. A very pertinent question that must be asked now is: Who is the next person to sit on this Chair?. This answer lies in the domain of the Holy Spirit and depends strongly on the prayers of the faithful. Let us pray: Oh Lord, here is your Church, watch over her whether we are asleep or are awake. Amen!