February 21, 2001
volume 12, no. 52

Wednesday and Thursday, February 21st and 22nd

Wednesday, February 21, 2001    Meditation

    Weekday in Ordinary Time and
    Feast of Saint Peter Damian, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
      First Reading: Sirach 4: 11-19
      Psalms: Psalm 119: 165, 168, 171-2, 174-5
      Gospel Reading: Mark 9: 38-40

Feast of Saint Peter Damian, Bishop and Doctor

        Born in Ravenna, Italy at the turn of the second millennium, Saint Peter Damian became an orphan at a very early age and was cared for by his brother for whom Peter tended pigs. One of Peter's older brothers was a priest - Padre Damian and when Peter was older the priest sent him to Faenza and then to Parma to receive his education. Peter adopted his older brother's religious name as his surname. After Peter became a professor, he followed the promptings of the Holy Spirit which lead him to join the Benedictines at the monastery of Fonte Aveliana where he lived as a hermit, devoting his life to an intensive study of the Scriptures. At the age of 42 he was chosen prior and subsequently founded five more Benedictine hermitages. His fame for great austerity and denunciation of simony spread throughout Europe and he was consecrated a Cardinal as Bishop of Ostia by Pope Stephen IX in 1057. However, because of his disdain for worldliness and his uncompromising stance against the trappings of the bishopric, he tried to resign his see but Stephen's successor Pope Nicholas II wouldn't accept it. When Nicholas died Peter entreated the new pontiff Pope Alexander II to accept his resignation which was duly recognized and Peter returned to being a Benedictine monk, but he never stopped working on ecclesiastical reform. He especially defended Alexander against the antipope Honorius II and became known far and wide as a great reformer and peacemaker, including being sent by the Pope to Germany to talk the German King Henry IV out of divorcing his wife Bertha. Peter was a prolific writer and penned many mystical writings on the Eucharist and Purgatory as well as producing writings which hold today in regards the explanation of clerical celibacy, immorality, and simony. He died in Faenza, Italy in 1072 at the age of 71 enroute back from Ravenna after having reconciled that see with Rome. It was not until the nineteenth century that he was canonized though he was popularized by local cults including being immortalized in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries by Italian poet Dante in his work Divine Comedy. In 1828 Pope Leo XII officially recognized Peter as a saint of the Church and proclaimed him a Doctor, extending his feast to the Universal Church on February 21st each year.

Thursday, February 22, 2001    Meditation
    Feast of the Chair of Peter
      First Reading: 1 Peter 5: 1-4
      Psalms: Psalm 23: 1-6
      Gospel Reading: Matthew 16: 13-19

Feast of the Chair of Peter

        This feast, designated for February 22, commemorates the first service in Rome by the first Pope in Rome - Saint Peter who established the see of Antioch. He is said to have sat on a portable chair that ultimately became the "chair of Peter" and which is a liturgical emphasis on the apostolic succession, the episcopacy within Holy Mother Church and the unbroken line of pontiffs since Peter. The chair is preserved in the Vatican with evidence of this being the authentic chair dating back to the second century. It was officially made a feast day in the Roman Calendar in 394 to coincide with the day the Romans commemorated their deceased. It was first celebrated at the old St. Peter's Basilica in Rome during the middle of the fifth century, preceded by an all night vigil with the Holy Father present. In the eighth century the Franks moved the feast to January 21 while the rest of Europe virtually ignored the feast altogether. However, at the beginning of the eleventh century it was revived and observed on February 22 where it has been fixed ever since.

        The Chair of Peter is actually three chairs; one a ceremonial portable wood chair in St. Peter's Basilica that many believe was first used by the Apostle Saint Peter to declare the Divinity of Jesus after he had arrived in Rome. That chair is located behind the main altar below the great circular window depicting the Holy Spirit. Another is built into the wall in the marble apse which is not usable but symbolic of the apostolic succession, hierarchy and authority of the Church. The third is a bronze replica by the sculptor Bernini of Peter sitting in the chair. This is located jutting out from one of the four great pillars supporting the dome and is to the right of the main altar near the entrance to the crypt below. The feast was first established by Pope Saint Mark who also instituted the Pallium and published the first Roman calendar of religious feastdays. As early as 394 there were two feasts commemorating the Chair of Peter, one celebrated on January 18 which was celebrated in France until the eight century, and the February 22nd feast focused on Peter founding the See of Antioch. In the 11th century it was extended to the universal Church, some say by Pope Saint Leo IX who transferred the feast for the See of Rome to February 22nd and eliminated the Antioch reference because of the Eastern Schism which occurred during his pontificate.

February 21, 2001
volume 12, no. 52
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