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

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What exactly is the and how exactly is a parent to explain apostolic succession and the universality of the Church to young kids? Try using the Olympics and a modified 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 IS the date of our son’s first reconciliation.)

And, interestingly, however wrong these answers are, they do all tie in together. Ready for another tie-in? You can use the Olympics (and really any international event) and a game of whisper down the lane to teach your kids about the feast of the Chair of St. Peter.

 

First, let’s talk about what the feast of the Chair of St. Peter is not

The feast of the Chair of St. Peter 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 to save us from our sins.

 

So, what is the feast of the Chair of St. Peter?

On the feast of the Chair of St. Peter (Feb. 22), the Church celebrates the universality and authority of the Church, 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 16:18-20).

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

Apostolic succession also ties into 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.’” In this way, priests are given the authority to exercise absolution of our sins. So yes, the feast of the Chair of St. Peter ties into the sacrament of reconciliation.

Great. So now what?

 

Ways to teach your kids about the feast of the Chair of St. Peter

1. Watch and talk about an international event, such as the Olympics

To families, the 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.

For young children, this idea can be illustrated using the Olympics or any international gathering, such as World Youth Day or the World Meeting of Families. Show your kids pictures and videos of the gatherings. Point out Catholics from these venues who are not from this country. For example, Yuna Kim, an Olympic ice skater from South Korea lit the Olympic torch at the winter games in South Korea. She wears a rosary ring and had worked with her country’s bishops in a rosary campaign.

Talk to your kids about the similarities and difference they see: “See all those people? Look at how different they are! Do they all speak English? Some do, but not all. They all believe what we believe because the Church is universal. Isn’t that cool?”

You can also show your kids a YouTube video of Mass being celebrated in a different country.

Thanks to Dynamic Catholic, here’s a video that you can watch with your family, too. It might be a little information overload for young children; it will be better to watch with your older ones.

 

2. Play a modified version of whisper down the lane to illustrate apostolic succession.

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 out loud (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 tradition whisper down the lane. The result isn’t quite the same. It’s actually very funny how jumbled it can get. Apostolic succession is special. It is not oral tradition. It is not even written history. It is a gift to our Church from God.

 

3. Pray The Apostles’ Creed

The Apostles’ Creed is 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. It is “rightly considered to be a faithful summary of the apostles’ faith.” How’s that for epic game of whisper down the lane?

 

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!”

Just in case your family fared as poorly as mine, here are a few more links to help

 

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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