The massive bronze throne that adorns the apse is lit up with metre-high tapers, making one of Bernini’s most impressive works even more glorious. It’s actually a reliquary, for it contains the relics of a chair which tradition assigns to Peter himself, symbolizing the teaching authority of the Roman pontiff.
Bernini’s “chair” is supported by clouds of glory pouring out of the Holy Spirit window, as if to say that the enormous weight of the Petrine office can only be supported by God Himself. But Peter has human collaborators too, and Bernini situated four great fathers of the Church — Ambrose, Augustine, John Chrysostom and Athanasius — alongside the cathedra of Peter, prince of the apostles.
I have a special affection for the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s. I was ordained a deacon there in 2001, and always stop to offer a prayer of thanksgiving whenever I am in Rome. So it was a blessing to be able to offer the Holy Mass in St. Peter’s this past Feb. 22.
Fifteen years ago a few of my classmates gathered for Mass on the feast of the Chair of Peter, and I found my homily notes from that day: “My brothers, we are amidst the foundations of this immense temple, and we are able to touch, as it were, the solidity of the Church’s foundations. This very basilica is a standard lifted up amongst the nations as a testimony to the faith of the Church.”
These days in Rome have a different feel than when I preached that 15 years ago. Solidity on matters of fundamental importance appears to have given way to shifting sands. Those gathered around the throne are divided. Yet what was true 15 years ago must remain true now. The Church, by Christ’s own will, is built upon Peter.
The presence of Athanasius is perhaps more comforting now than on previous visits. His was a tumultuous fourth-century life, and even as a patriarch he was exiled repeatedly amidst the controversies of the day. He paid dearly for his defense of the divinity of Christ against powerful forces, both in the Church and in society.
I have been writing this column for more than six years now, appearing in every issue of The Catholic Register. I have looked forward to this weekly appointment, and was proud to carry on in a little way the tradition of the late Msgr. Thomas Raby, the proudest boast of our Kingston presbyterate. His “Little World of Father Raby” column ran for decades. So six-plus years does not seem very significant.
Matters in Rome and elsewhere mean that interest in my columns has grown in recent years and time only allows me to write so many. Yes, I am aware that some readers already think that even one column from me is too many!
This will be my last weekly column for The Catholic Register. I will not disappear entirely, but will appear only once a month, likely on a topic of particular Canadian interest.
Over the years I have met a great number of Catholic Register readers, many of whom have been gracious enough to offer a kind word on my column. I always thank them for reading. Without readers, us writers would look pretty silly, as in different circumstances Cardinal John Henry Newman observed about the laity in the Church. I am truly grateful. In a world with so many competing rivals for our attention, it is a kindness and a compliment for a reader to give me a few moments of precious time. I do appreciate it.
The world of the printed word is changing rapidly and my shift in focus is partly a consequence of that. But Catholic journalism is always about our words, somehow or the other, making the one Word available to our readers. That continues wherever, and however, our words are printed.
Thank you, readers, and God bless.
(Fr. de Souza is the editor-in-chief of Convivium.ca and a pastor in the Archdiocese of Kingston, Ont.)