Some people believe that Jesus Christ is God but that he never intended to establish a Church, at least not a visible Church. Yet, in today‟s Gospel of St. Matthew, Chapter 16: 13-20, we read about Jesus Christ establishing for all time the Petrine (Pee – trine) Ministry which refers to St. Peter‟s ministry, the first Pope, which is referred to as the papacy (páy – pa – see), from the word papa „pope‟.
Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” Cf. Mt. 16:13-20
We see how Jesus Christ gives Simon a new name “Peter” which comes from the Greek word Petros. We know from the Bible that when God changes a person‟s name it means there is a change in relationship with God, such as when God changed the name of Abram to Abraham, since he would be the father of many nations and the father of our faith of the One, True God.
“I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Cf. Mt. 16:13-20 This amazing office and juridical responsibility that Jesus Christ gave to St. Peter, our first Pope, has been lived out by his successors with more or less effectiveness and fruitfulness. Not all Popes become saints, but all Popes have the immense burden of carrying the Cross of Jesus Christ for the growth of the Church both in sanctity and numerically, but always rely-ing on the Holy Spirit as the primary giver of both these out-comes.
From the Glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: PAPACY: The supreme jurisdiction and ministry of the pope as shepherd of the whole Church. As successor of St. Peter, and therefore Bishop of Rome and Vicar of Christ, the pope is the perpetual and visible principle of unity in faith and communion in the Church.
The Pope is the Bishop of Rome because that is where St. Peter was martyred around the year 64 A.D. under the rule of Roman Emperor Nero. He was said to be crucified upside down, at St. Peter‟s request, because he did not feel worthy to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was crucified. St. Peter‟s crucifixion occurred at Nero‟s Circus, at the foot of the Vatican Hill.
It is believed that at St. Peter‟s Basilica, directly beneath the main altar underground, the bones of St. Peter were finally laid to rest in a simple, but distinctive tomb. Tourists to Rome can see this place by going on the Scavi Tour which is a guided, 1.5-hour excursion through the underground necropolis where they found the bones of what is believed to be the bones and thus grave of St. Peter.
Of course, this is not a doctrine of the faith but is historical data that is highly probable since much of the evidence points to this historical truth. However, as practicing Catholics it is essential for us to believe the words of Jesus Christ in the Gospel of Matthew, and the Spirit led organic development of this sacred truth about the Pope‟s office, the Papacy.
Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), paragraph 880:
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.” Just as “by the Lord’s institution, St. Peter and the rest of the apostles constitute a single apostolic college, so in like fashion the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s successor, and the bishops, the successors of the apostles, are related with and united to one another.”
CCC 881: 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. “The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of apostles united to its head.” 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.
CCC 882: The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, “is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the whole company of the faithful.” “For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.”
CCC 886: “The individual bishops are the visible source and foundation of unity in their own particular Churches.” As such, they “exercise their pastoral office over the portion of the People of God assigned to them,” assisted by priests and deacons. But, as a member of the episcopal college, each bishop shares in the concern for all churches. The bishops exercise this care first “by ruling well their own Churches as portions of the universal Church,” and so contributing “to the welfare of the whole Mystical Body, which, from another point of view, is a corporate body of Churches.” They extend it especially to the poor, to those persecuted for the faith, as well as to missionaries who are working throughout the world.
Let us continue to praise Jesus Christ as divine head of the Catholic Church who has given us our Pope and Bishops as teachers and shepherds of the faithful, that we might learn from them how to become more profoundly missionary disciples of Jesus Christ for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. May we pray for the Pope and our local bishops daily, especially being attentive to the prayers said for them at every Holy Mass.
Peace in Christ,
Fr. Thomas McCabe