Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Natalis Petri de Cathedra

The Blessed Cardinal Schuster has much to say about the feast of the Chair of St Peter. The text immediately following is from the entry in "The Sacramentary" for February 18, the feast of the St Peter's Chair at Rome. Due to the conflation of the two feasts this also describes today's old feast of St Peter's Chair at Antioch.

The early history of this feast is lost in the shadows of the catacombs, and in spite of recent studies it is still impossible to say that all which is doubtful and obscure therein has been solved. From the third century at least, there was venerated at Rome, in that cemetery district lying between the Via Salaria and the Via Nomentana, the memory, symbolized probably by a chair carved in wood or in tufa, of the apostolic ministry which St Peter exercised at that spot. Beside this place lamps were kept burning, and the pilgrims of the sixth century, when visiting it, were in the habit of carrying home with them as objects of devotion flocks of tow or cotton which had been dipped in the perfumed oil of the lamps. Later we find the sella gestatoria apostolicae confessionis, as Ennodius calls it, in the Baptistery of Damasus in the Vatican, so that it was said of Pope Siricius, the successor of Damasus :Fonte sacro magnus meruit sedere sacerdos.

Whilst, however, at Rome the Natalis Petri de Cathedra is entered in the Philocalian Calendar on February 22 as early as the fourth century, the Gallican churches, in order perhaps to avoid keeping this feast in Lent, were in the habit of anticipating it on January 18. The two uses continued to flourish independently side by side for several centuries, until at last their origins became confused outside of Rome, and instead of one chair of Peter, two were commemorated, of which one was attributed to Rome, that of January 18, which was already firmly established in Gallic territory, while the other, after being connected with various places, was finally adjudged to Antioch.

The Rome of the Middle Ages neglected for some time the Natalis Petri de Cathedra, perhaps when the chair was removed from its original place, and brought to the Vatican; or still more probably when it became customary to celebrate solemnly with an almost similar intention the Natalis Ordinationis of the Pope, a feast which brought every year a great concourse of bishops to Rome. The fact remains that the feast is altogether missing in the Roman Sacramentaries, and reappears only on the traditional date in the calendars of the eleventh century and the later Ordines Romani. Urban VI (1378-89) wished to restore the feast to its ancient place of honour, and ordered that on that day one of the cardinals should preach a sermon to the people at the Papal Mass at the Vatican. But the ardent zeal of the Pontiff led to no permanent result, and it was only in 1558 that Paul IV again ordained the celebration of the festival of the Cathedra S Petri qua primum Romae sedit on January 18, in accordance with the Gallican tradition.

The venerated relic of the Chair of St Peter is no longer kept in the baptistery as in the fifth century, but in the apse of the Vatican Basilica, of which it forms one of the most precious treasures. It now consists of a few wooden boards only, but from early times it has been lined with storied ivory panels. The Renaissance did not appreciate the profound dogmatic significance of that chair at such time as the Roman Pontiffs actually took their seat thereon. The grandiose art of Bernini has enclosed the precious relic in a colossal reliquary, and the result has been that the Pope can no longer sit, as did the Pontiffs of the first fifteen centuries, on his true and historic chair, that which Prudentius described simply as : Cathedra Apostolica.

In discussing the texts of the liturgical propers, Bl Ildefonso has this to say about the papacy:

The only legitimate Eucharist, therefore, is that which is offered in Communion with the Roman Pontiff, whose name has been commemorated in the anaphora from the earliest centuries. To omit the name of the pope in the Mass was, in the eyes of Ennodius of Pavia, to offer, in defiance of ancient tradition, a maimed and incomplete sacrifice : sine ritu catholico et cano more, semiplenas nominatim hostias.

. . . .

The Pontifical Primacy is the polar star which guides the barque of the Church across the treacherous and stormy ocean of time. Bishops, patriarchs, entire nations, once glorious and believing, have many times made grievous shipwreck of their faith; indeed, the Scriptures tell us that in the last era of the world many false prophets and pseudo-Christs shall appear, who will endeavour to mislead the multitudes, even working false miracles to confirm their errors. If, then, we cannot trust anyone, since all are liable to err, from whom must we seek safety in this supreme matter of our eternal salvation, if not from Peter? His faith, as we know on the testimony of our divine Redeemer Himself, can never fail, and the sheep which Peter recognizes as belonging to his fold, will be recognized and admitted as such also by Jesus Christ the chief Shepherd.

From the monastic office:

Iam, bone Pastor, Petre, clemens accipe
Vota precantium, et peccati vincula
Resolve, tibi potestate tradita,
Qua cunctis cælum verbo claudis, aperis.

Quodcumque vinclis super terram strinxeris,
Erit in astris religatum fortiter:
Et quod resolvis in terris arbitrio
Erit solutum super cæli radium :
In fine mundi iudex eris sæculi.

Gloria Patri per immensa sæcula,
Sit tibi, Nate, decus et imperium,
Honor, potestas, Sanctoque Spiritui,
Sit Trinitati salus individua
Per infinita sæculorum sæcula.

Peter, blest Shepherd! hearken to our cry,
And with a word unloose our guilty chain;
Thou who hast power to ope the gates on high
To men below, and power to shut them fast again.

Peter, whatever thou shalt bind on earth,
The same is bound above the starry sky;
What here thy delegated power doth loose,
Is loosed in heaven's great citadel on high.
To judgement shalt thou come when the world's end is nigh.

Praise to the Father through all ages be,
The same to Thee, O co-eternal Son,
And Holy Ghost, one glorious Trinity,
To Whom all majesty and might belong;
So sing we now, and such be our eternal song.