Tag Archives: magisterium

Chair of Saint Peter

With the Church we pray

Grant, we pray, almighty God, that no tempests may disturb us, for you have set us fast on the rock of the Apostle Peter’s confession of faith.

Chair of Saint Peter.jpg

Has anyone promised you anything? As Catholics, we can say with certainty that we have been promised something. In fact, we are promised not only something, but Someone. We can identify that we have been promised the truth, happiness (in this life) and eternal life (happiness in the next life); we’ve also been promised a rich relationship with God, with Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Today’s feast of the Chair of Saint Peter is the Church’s way of reminding God and each other that we have been promised all these things: truth, happiness, and life eternal with God.

For a very, very long time, actually since the 4th century, the Church of Rome has had a special commemoration of the pastoral, spiritual authority of Saint Peter as the rock upon which the Lord built His Church. Historians estimate that Saint Peter was executed between the years 64 and 68. In fact, the Church in Antioch, founded by Saint Peter, has also had this feast on their liturgical calendar. The witnesses found in the Apostolic Fathers, the Roman See has always held a special place in the obedience of orthodox Christian believers because of the bishop of Rome “presides in love” and in service over all the Churches of God.

Today’s feast ought to remind each one of us that we don’t celebrate furniture but it calls us to see in Peter Jesus. Each feast of a saint, including the Blessed Mother, always points to Jesus. To do otherwise would be idolatry. The Chair of Saint Peter is fundamentally about work, the mission of bishop as overseer, teacher and pastor conferred by Jesus on Peter, and continued through the ages to Pope Benedict XVI (and soon on his successor). See the Gospel of Matthew 16:13-20. What we celebrate today is the communion of faith, the truth of the faith given to us by the Lord through the apostles to the bishop of Rome and to all bishops. You may even say the feast we celebrate today is the ministry of the Church’s Magisterium located in the Roman Pontiff in that he cannot teach error. That does not mean the pope is a saint; that the pope does not sin; on contrary, we believe the pope is a sinner and in need of redemption like each one of us: he has clay feet like you and me. But having clay feet doesn’t mean that teach that we believe in “Christ, the Son of the Living God.” His job is to help us see the face of Christ in this world, and to lead us to Him so that may enjoy eternity with Him.

In 2006, Benedict XVI gave the following address on this feast which is required reading,

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Joseph Ratzinger’s “The pastoral approach to marriage should be founded on truth”

From a little known text by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger published in 1998

The pastoral approach to marriage should be founded on truth

Concerning some objections to the Church’s teaching on the reception of Holy Communion by divorced and remarried members of the faithful

In 1998 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, introduced the volume entitled “On the Pastoral Care of the Divorced and Remarried,” published by the Libreria in the CDF’s series (“Documenti e Studi”, 17). Because of its current interest and breadth of perspective, we reproduce below the third part along with the addition of three notes. The text was published today by L’Osservatore Romano.

The Letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of 14 September 1994 concerning the reception of Holy Communion by divorced and remarried members of the faithful was met with a very lively response across wide sections of the Church. Along with many positive reactions, more than a few critical voices were also heard. The fundamental objections against the teaching and practice of the Church are outlined below in simplified form.

Several of the more significant objections – principally, the reference to the supposedly more flexible practice of the Church Fathers which would be the inspiration for the practice of the Eastern Churches separated from Rome, as well as the allusion to the traditional principles of epicheia and of aequitas canonica – were studied in-depth by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Articles by Professors Pelland, Marcuzzi and Rodriguez Luño 2, among others, were developed in the course of this study. The main conclusions of the research, which suggest the direction of an answer to the objections, will be briefly summarized here.

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The promise made by Christ: error won’t prevail

I read a recent post by my friend and fellow blogger Webster Bull’s article “Richard III and the Contemporaneity of Christ” on the Il Sussidiario (the post was first published on Bull’s blog, Witness, a few weeks ago). Webster asks a great question: how do we know the Church has gotten Christ correct? That is, do we have confidence that the Church hasn’t given the faithful a wrong teaching about the person of Jesus and the Gospel?

Well the Church relies on use of natural reason and the coherence of Divine Revelation to authentically pass on knowledge of God’s plan of salvation. Theologians, priests, catechists and the like don’t define the tenets of the Faith; we hear the sound teaching of saints like Augustine, Bonaventure, Aquinas, Ratzinger, but they are not the ones who define what is to believed. Only the Church through the communio that exists between sacred Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium, gives what is to be believed and how to live the Christian life. In divine revelation, the Lord told us, actually He promised us, that the Holy Spirit will preserve all that He (Jesus) preached and the historical reality we know as the Church: the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church, that is, error will not destroy the Truth. This historical reality, this guided companionship, this sacrament, this icon is what is known as the Church. So what was truth in the 1st century is also true (with some development since the first days) in the 21st. Hence, the contemporaneity of Christ. Christ is not a past event, He is a present reality. This theological datum is expressed in the Plus, we Catholics believe that one piece of Scripture interprets another, and all of Scripture speaks of Christ and the plan of salvation; the same is true for the dogma of the faith.

In one of his letters, Saint Jerome said that he follows no one but Christ and those in communion with Him, that is, with the chair of Peter. So, I don’t think it is possible for the Church to teach anything but the truth of Christ that is free from ideology. But we also need to use our reason –in light of magisterial teaching– to determine if error could be taught by some theologian because we know that some theologians are their own magisterium and wedded to their opinion alone when it comes to dogma or doctrine.

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The confession of Peter, the head of the Church

The Feast of the Chair of Peter


Chair of St Peter.jpgNow when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 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 16:13-19)


All-powerful Father, You have built Your Church on the rock of Saint Peter’s confession of faith. May nothing divide or weaken our unity in faith and love.


Saint Damasus said: “one Chair of Peter, one true font of baptism” (una Petri sedes, unum verumque lavacrum) bearing witness to the trust our Lord placed in Saint Peter to be the head of the Church. The feast of today is a keen reminder of the witness of Peter’s faith in the Jesus as Lord and Savior of all people with therefore an evangelizing aspect of being initiated into the Body of Christ as Saint Paul would later say. A more superficial sense of what is honored today  is what some say is the day Peter was appointed by the Lord as the Father of Church, the seed to what we now conceive as a pope. True as it is but the Chair of Peter is about witness and baptism first and foremost.


Hence, today the Church does not honor church furniture but the responsibility of the Church’s mission as teacher and pastor conferred on Peter by Jesus Christ continuing in an unbroken line of apostolic service down through the ages to Pope Benedict XVI. The Church’s liturgical theology (theologia prima) recalls the importance of the unity of the Church, founded upon the Apostle Peter. It also helps us to see the objectivity of the Church’s teaching and pastoral authority known in the magisterium under the Roman Pontiff. For the Catholic this is understood clearly in the dogmas and doctrines of the Catholic faith solemnly defined “ex cathedra” (from the chair) and extended to all the acts of the ordinary magisterium.


As a point of reference the Catechism says:


Jesus entrusted a specific authority to Peter: “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.” The “power of the keys” designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, confirmed this mandate after his Resurrection: “Feed my sheep.” The power to “bind and loose” connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgements, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church. Jesus entrusted this authority to the Church through the ministry of the apostles289 and in particular through the ministry of Peter, the only one to whom he specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom (553).


The Pope’s message on YouTube

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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