“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.”
As well as being found in the Gospel and inscribed around Michelangelo’s dome at St. Peter’s Basilica, these words were the first proclaimed at this weekend’s consistory for the elevation of twenty-two new cardinals, including two American bishops, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Cardinal Edwin O’Brien of Baltimore. These words marked the theme and this event made the pinnacle of the past two weekends, which for the students of Bernardi have been an unofficial official celebration of Peter the Apostle, his office and those who have filled it, and the teaching authority of the Apostolic Church.
We started this celebration in a particularly unique and fortunate way with the Confirmation of Joe Boyle, our youngest companion here in Rome. This sacrament was bestowed in the context of a liturgy presided by Cardinal Raymond Burke, and is itself a manifestation of the apostolic authority handed to Peter by Christ, from whom in an unbroken line Cardinal Burke receives his authority. All the members of this line have been guided by the Holy Spirit; now Joe Boyle, having perfected what was begun in his baptism, will be guided by the Holy Spirit in spreading the Gospel as a full member of the Church.
The following day we attended mass as a group at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the pope’s official ecclesiastical seat as Bishop of Rome, with a choir of St. Thomas students and our very own Joe Campbell on the organ.
Then came this weekend, with Saturday’s consistory and Sunday’s mass. I arrived with other students at both events around six o’clock in the morning, and as a result we were able to sit inside the Basilica for both. After the consistory Saturday, the American cardinals had a reception at the North American College up the hill where we met and congratulated them. We met many of the other cardinals at a similar event in the papal palace. The frescoes and statues covering nearly every inch of those walls were spectacular: a fitting reception hall for the cardinals, princes of the church, and a fitting home for the pope, steward of the King.
Equally (if not more) jubilant was Sunday’s mass, which consisted of the liturgy on the altar above the tomb of Peter, in the Basilica of Peter, celebrating the actual official Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, which was moved from Wednesday to Sunday for the special occasion of the Consistory. The 1500-year-old statue of St. Peter came to life, decked in amice, alb, tiara, stole, cope and ring. Oh, and we saw this guy:
This grand celebration was all the more magnificent for happening in Rome, the city of the Caesars, the philosophers and their gods, all of whom in their absence present a stark contrast to the vitality of the Church. Onlookers at Benedict’s election in 2005 noticed a thoughtful look on the face of a certain Cardinal Francis George. When later asked what he was thinking at that moment, Cardinal George replied,
“I was gazing over toward the Circus Maximus, toward the Palatine Hill where the Roman Emperors once resided and reigned and looked down upon the persecution of Christians, and I thought, ‘Where are their successors? Where is the successor of Caesar Augustus? Where is the successor of Marcus Aurelius? And finally, who cares? But if you want to see the successor of Peter, he is right next to me, smiling and waving at the crowds.”
Upon this rock, He built his Church. And the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.