DISCOVER THE PRAYERS OF THE POPES
This special resource features prayers that were written for or by our Holy Fathers. We selected the material contained in this eBook to exemplify the special role of Peter’s successors, taking examples from the most recent popes.
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Throughout the 2,000-year history of the Church, there have been 266 popes, beginning with Peter. Among them are many saints and martyrs who have devoted themselves to the Gospel.
The Church celebrates the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter each year on February 22.
While an actual chair exists in Rome that some believe was used by St. Peter, the Chair of St. Peter represents the papacy, the unbroken succession of Popes throughout the Church’s 2,000-year history. Given by Christ Himself to St. Peter in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 13, verses 16-18, Peter’s supreme pastoral office is passed to each of his successors as Bishop of Rome.
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” - Matthew 16:18-19
Christ Himself appointed Saint Peter as the first Pope. Although the honorific title developed over time, Peter’s office as head of the apostles is evident in the New Testament.
The seat of the Pope is referred to as the Chair of Saint Peter or in Latin, Cathedra Petri.
Peter himself was the longest reigning pope, occupying his office from the year of Christ’s death until sometime between 64 and 67 A.D. when he was martyred on Vatican Hill. Blessed Pius IX was his longest reigning successor. His papacy lasted from 1846 to 1878. The second longest reigning successor was St. John Paul II (1978-2005).
Out of 266 Popes in Church history, only a few have been truly problematic. For one, Pope John XII bore an illegitimate child and gave land to his mistress. Then there was Pope Benedict IX, who was charged with simony, the act of selling offices and benefices. And lastly, there was Pope Urban VI. After cardinals had conspired against him, Pope Urban complained that they weren’t screaming loudly enough as they were being tortured. Many others were simply men of their times, participating in the intrigues of their day, whether to advance their own fortunes, that of their family, or those of the Church.
The Romans ruthlessly followed the principle by which the Lord Himself was put to death, “strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter” (Mt. 26:31). Thus, Peter himself received the martyr’s crown, as the Lord told him he would (John 21:18-19). Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History cites Origin that “(Peter) came to Rome and was crucified head downwards.” Pope Clement (88-99 A.D.) in a letter to Corinth makes note of Peter’s “glorious testimony,” as if the manner was well-known.
During the age of Roman persecution (30-313 A.D.) at least 28 of the first 33 popes are known to have been martyred. This is strong testimony that Peter and his successors in Rome were understood by the emperors to be the Chief Shepherds of Christ’s flock (John 21:15-17). In the end, the flock survived; the pagan empire did not.
The Church considers martyrdom to be the highest degree of the Imitation of Christ. But in addition to martyr popes, many have shown the outstanding moral qualities that merited their recognition for the “white martyrdom” of a virtuous life. Including the martyrs, 83 of the popes are recognized as Saints. Nine others are called Blessed.
“Let us thank God together for founding his Church on the rock of Peter.” - Pope St. John Paul II
Bones believed to belong to St. Peter are laid to rest under the great dome and papal altar of the Basilica of St. Peter. After his martyrdom in Nero’s circus on Vatican Hill, Peter was laid to rest in a nearby cemetery. In the 2nd century a small shrine was built at the location. After Constantine legalized Christianity (313 A.D.), the site was given to the Church by the emperor and the first St. Peter’s was built over the presumed place of Peter’s burial. Excavations conducted in the 1940s and 1950s underneath the current Renaissance Basilica found the foundations of the Constantinian church, the cemetery, numerous pagan tombs, and under the area where the main altar has been traditionally placed, remains believed to be St. Peter.
After the death and burial of Peter, likely in 67 A.D., Linus became the Bishop of Rome, and thus Pope. According to St. Irenaeus writing in the 2nd century, he was appointed in advance,
After the Holy Apostles (Peter and Paul) had founded and set the Church in order, they gave over the exercise of the episcopal office to Linus. The same Linus is mentioned by St. Paul in his Epistle to Timothy. His successor was Anacletus. (Against Heresies, III.3.3)
Pope Linus’s pontificate concluded with his own martyrdom in 76 A.D. The Church commemorates his death on September 23.
Immediately upon election as Bishop of Rome, the one elected becomes Pope, remaining so until the moment of his death. While it is infrequent, a pontificate can end due to a resignation, which we recently witnessed when Pope Benedict XVI resigned in 2013. A Pope cannot otherwise be validly unseated by any human agency.
The Lord chose Peter to be the chief apostle during His public ministry (Mt. 16:13-18). After the Lord’s death and resurrection, and just before His Ascension, Jesus confirmed His choice, telling Peter to feed His lambs and tend His sheep (John 21:15-17). Finally, on Pentecost, traditionally understood as the birthday of the Church and of her mission to the world, Peter assumes the full dimensions of his office by initiating the evangelization of a world without Christ visibly present, except in and through His Church and His Vicar.
“Do not doubt that just as it was for Christ and for Peter, so it will be for you: your most effective witness will always be one that is marked by the Cross. The Cross is God’s Chair in the world. On it Christ has offered humanity the most important lesson, that of loving one another as he has loved us (cf. Jn 13: 34): even to the ultimate gift of oneself.” - Pope St. John Paul II
The Petrine office continues Christ's ministry in the world in a visible fashion so that the unity of the Church may be known in all ages and places by the unity of faith, sacraments and governance of those who believe in Christ. Thus, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches,
CCC 880-882 When Christ instituted the Twelve, “he constituted [them] in the form of a college or permanent assembly, at the head of which he placed Peter, chosen from among them.” ... The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the “rock” of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock.... This pastoral office of Peter and the other apostles belongs to the Church’s very foundation and is continued by the bishops under the primacy of the Pope.... The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, “is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.”
While St. Peter as an apostle was capable of inspired revelation in his writing and teaching, the death of the last apostle, St. John (c. 98 A.D.), ended Revelation which had begun with Moses and the prophets and was perfected in Christ (Heb. 1:1-2). The role of the successors of the apostles since has consisted in guarding that Divine Deposit of the Faith, whether written or orally taught, that is, Sacred Scripture or Apostolic Tradition (2 Thess. 2:15).
Nonetheless, Christ provided a guarantee of divine assistance, promising the Holy Spirit would assist them in this task (John 14:26), giving to Peter esp. the duty, and thus the charism to “confirm his brothers” (Luke 22:31). This is also inherent in Christ’s earlier promise to Peter that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Kingdom of whose keys Peter is custodian. (Mt. 16:18-19)
Even so, the highest exercise of the Pope’s teaching charism is limited to a particular context, defined by the First Vatican Council as,
. . . in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals.
Different words can be used for the Papacy, a term which is a generic one for the office. The individual is called Pope or, more formally, Supreme Pontiff. Thus, the reign of an individual pope is called his Pontificate. The diocese of any bishop is called his See, but the Roman diocese by a very early tradition is called the Apostolic See, given the continuous and unique connection to the Apostle Peter.
This title, meaning Vicar of the Son of God, used in a single medieval document, is not, nor ever has been, used by the Church. Beginning in the 1600s some Protestants have used it for polemical purposes to suggest by numerology that it identifies the Pope as the antichrist. A Vicar is simply a modern way of saying the biblical “vizier” who as keeper of the keys acted on behalf of the king. Finally, the Pope is not the Vicar of the Son of God as a Divine Person, but as Redeemer, carrying out Christ’s ministry in His name.
“The Chair of St Peter, represented in the apse of the Vatican Basilica, is a monumental sculpture by Bernini. It is a symbol of the unique mission of Peter and his Successors to tend Christ’s flock, keeping it united in faith and in charity.” - Pope Benedict XVI
While it is possible that Peter himself sat on the actual Chair, the Chair greatly emphasized the spiritual significance to the unique and the special mission of Peter and his Successors to tend Christ’s flock. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reemphasized the importance of the Chair and the underlying role it plays in his General Audience on the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter in 2006:
Celebrating the “Chair” of Peter, therefore, as we are doing today, means attributing a strong spiritual significance to it and recognizing it as a privileged sign of the love of God, the eternal Good Shepherd, who wanted to gather his whole Church and lead her on the path of salvation.
The chair said to be Peter’s cathedra (seat of office) is wood. The historical relic in St. Peter’s is enclosed in a sculpted gilt bronze casing designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and executed between 1647 and 1653.
Why do the Popes wear red shoes?
Traditionally, the Popes wear red shoes to symbolize and commemorate the blood of martyrdom.
Videos About Chair of Saint Peter
Directly beneath the main floor of St. Peter’s is the Necropolis, consisting of many of the former popes’ tombs, and the chapel containing the remains of St. Peter. Below that level are the “scavi,” excavations conducted during the 1940s and 50s, which revealed parts of a necropolis dating to Imperial times. It was here that the bones thought to be St. Peter were found, in the area long believed to contain them.