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3 Ways to Explain the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter to Your Kids

What exactly is the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, and how exactly is a parent to explain apostolic succession and the universality of the Church to young kids? Try this explainer and a simple game of Whisper Down the Lane.

by Regina Lordan

Mom to 2-year-old child: “Hey, what’s the feast of the Chair of St. Peter?”

Two-year-old, as expected: “I dunno.”

Mom to 7-year-old child: “Hey, what’s the feast of the Chair of St. Peter?”

Seven-year-old, as expected: “I have no idea.”

Mom to 5-year-old child: “Hey, what’s the feast of the Chair of St. Peter?”

Five-year-old, as expected and with anticipated added sass: “I don’t even know what that means.”

Wife to husband: “Hey, what’s the feast of the Chair of St. Peter?”

Husband, (without any prior expectation from wife): “It’s Easter. … Wait, no, Pentecost. It’s when Jesus tells Peter, ‘On this rock, I will build my Church’ … Wait, I know, it’s the day of our son’s first reconciliation!”

Wife: “Ha! Yes, indeed. Well, that’s somewhat right!” (The feast of the Chair of St. Peter is not Easter and it is not Pentecost. However, it actually was the date of our son’s first reconciliation, so he gets half-credit for that one.)

And, interestingly, however wrong these answers are, they do all tie in together.

What is the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter ?

It is Not…

This feast is not Easter or Pentecost. In fact, it is not even the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, which the Church celebrates June 29 to recognize St. Peter (and St. Paul) as an apostle and in all his friendship, fumbles and faith in Jesus as God.

The story of Pentecost marks the descent of the Holy Spirit onto Jesus’ friends, giving them the strength and courage to evangelize to the world. And, of course, Easter is when Jesus rose from the dead. You can read more about the Pentecost with your kids by searching “Pentecost” online at www.pbgrace.com.

It is...

On the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, celebrated Feb. 22, the Church celebrates its universality and authority, as passed down through the succession of popes, starting with our first pope, St. Peter.

The feast day dates back to the fourth century; the reference to the chair comes from the practice of the early bishops, who preached while sitting in their official bishops’ chairs. An official chair of St. Peter grandly sits on the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica. (It is not, however, actually St. Peter’s chair.)

As the Gospel for Feb. 22 reminds us, Jesus did tell Peter:

“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. 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”

(Mt 16:18-19).

This is a pretty big day for our pope, priests and bishops. It acknowledges the pope’s teaching authority and apostolic succession. As the Catechism says: 

“The Church, ‘the pillar and bulwark of the truth,’ faithfully guards ‘the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.’ She guards the memory of Christ’s words; it is she who from generation to generation hands on the apostles’ confession of faith. As a mother who teaches her children to speak and so to understand and communicate, the Church our mother teaches us the language of faith in order to introduce us to the understanding and the life of faith”

(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 71).

Isn’t this something beautiful to ponder as parents and the teachers of our little domestic churches?

Apostolic Succession and Reconciliation

Apostolic succession also ties into the sacrament of reconciliation. Jesus, starting with St. Peter (who holds those keys to the pearly gates!), “entrusted the exercise of the power of absolution to the apostolic ministry which he charged with the ‘ministry of reconciliation’” (Catechism, 1442). In this way, priests are given the authority to exercise absolution of our sins. So indeed the feast of the Chair of St. Peter ties into the sacrament of reconciliation.

Activity: Whisper Down the Lane

Materials

  • pencils
  • index cards
  • your family: the more participants, the better

Instructions

  • Write down the following on a flashcard: “God loves you so much. God gave us Jesus to save us from our sins. St. Peter was our first pope, and he helped build the Church. It is as true today as it was when St. Peter walked this earth.” The older your kids are, the more complex your message can be (throw in words like “magisterium” for fun!)
  • Give the card to your youngest child and have that child pass it to a sibling (or a friend or other family member). Pass the card around a few times and have the last person read the card aloud (or help that person read it out loud if they cannot read yet).
  • The card should still say: “God loves you so much. God gave us Jesus to save us from our sins. St. Peter was our first pope, and he helped build the Church. It is as true today as it was when St. Peter walked this earth.” The words and the message remain the same as it is passed from one hand to the next to the next, just like apostolic succession.
  • Now, whisper to your youngest child the same exact thing. Play traditional Whisper Down the Lane. The result isn’t quite the same. It’s actually very funny how jumbled the message can get.
  • Discuss with your family: Apostolic succession is special. It is not oral tradition. It is not even written history. It is a gift to our Church from God.

OK, Retest Time!

Mom to 2-year-old child: “Hey, what’s the feast of the Chair of St. Peter?”

Two-year-old, as expected: “I dunno.”

Mom to 7-year-old child: “Hey, what’s the feast of the Chair of St. Peter?”

Seven-year-old, “It is when we celebrate the universality and authority of our Church. Through the popes, starting with St. Peter. He was the first pope.”

Mom: “Yes!” (I dare not ask him to explain universality and authority. He’s getting it, and that’s a good thing.)

Mom to 5-year-old child: “Hey, what’s the feast of the Chair of St. Peter?”

Five-year-old, with a lot of prompting: “It is about the Church. … and the popes.”

Mom: “Good job!” (Eh … we shall return to this next Feb. 22)

Wife to husband: “Hey, what’s the feast of the Chair of St. Peter?”

Husband: “It is a celebration of the continuity of the Church via the succession of the authority given from Jesus to Peter all throughout the history of the Church to today.”

Wife: “Great job!”

 

Extensions

For more information and activities, try these ideas and websites at home with your family:

  • Pray the Apostles’ Creed, the basis for the Nicene Creed that we say at Mass. It reaffirms the foundation of our Catholicism, rooted in our belief in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The catechism calls it the “faithful summary of the apostles’ faith” (Catechism, 194). How’s that for an epic game of Whisper Down the Lane?
  • Spin a globe, pick a country and explore its Catholic tradition. This feast can help us recall, in much wonderment and awe, the universality of the Church. Take a moment and think about all of the Catholic men, women and children in this world. Estimates range between 1.1 and 1.28 billion. We are all the same Church. We all believe in the same teachings of our Church (thanks to apostolic succession), and we all celebrate the sacraments in much the same way. So take a trip around the world, and view how Catholics around the world worship in the same way, albeit in different languages and with different cultural flare. You may also wish to show your children YouTube clips from the World Meeting of Families or World Youth Day events.
  • Watch “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic” from Dynamic Catholic on YouTube.
  • Check out craft ideas from Catholic Icing.
  • Read another explainer from Catholic Culture.
  • Tweeting With God offers many more answers to questions related to the feast. Teens particularly will be interested in the resource, but be careful, you can fall down a deep rabbit hole clicking through all the content.


Follow Regina Lordan:
Regina Lordan, a digital editor at Peanut Butter & Grace, is a mother of three with master’s degrees in education and political science. She currently reviews books for Catholic News Service and is a former assistant international editor of Catholic News Service.

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