|As the rock upon which Christ founded the Church,
Peter is responsible for guaranteeing communion with Christ as well as
love for Christ by all
At the General Audience in St.
Peter's Square on Wednesday, 7 June, the Holy Father reflected on Peter,
the "rock" on which Christ founded the Church and leader of the Apostles.
The following is a translation of the Pope's Catechesis, given in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We are returning to the weekly Catecheses that we began this spring. In
the last Catechesis two weeks ago, I spoke of Peter as the first of the
Apostles: today let us return once again to this great and important
figure of the Church.
In recounting Jesus' first meeting with Simon, the brother of Andrew,
John the Evangelist records a unique event: Jesus "looked at him and said,
'So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas (which means
Peter)'" (Jn 1:42).
It was not Jesus' practice to change his disciples' names: apart from
the nickname "sons of thunder", which in specific circumstances he
attributed to the sons of Zebedee (cf. Mk 3:17) and never used again. He
never gave any of his disciples a new name.
Yet, he gave one to Simon, calling him "Cephas". This name was later
translated into Greek as Petros and into Latin as Petrus.
And it was translated precisely because it was not only a name; it was a
"mandate" that Petrus received in that way from the Lord. The new
name Petrus was to recur frequently in the Gospels and ended by
replacing "Simon", his original name.
Peter's special prominence
This fact acquires special importance if one bears in mind that in the
Old Testament, a change of name usually preceded the entrustment of a
mission (cf. Gn 17:5; 32:28ff., etc.).
Indeed, many signs indicate Christ's desire to give Peter special
prominence within the Apostolic College: in Capernaum the Teacher enters
Peter's house (cf. Mk 1:29): when the crowd becomes pressed on the shore
of Lake Genesaret, seeing two boats moored there, Jesus chooses Simon's
(cf. Lk 5:3); when, on certain occasions, Jesus takes only three disciples
with him, Peter is always recorded as the first of the group: as in the
raising of Jairus' daughter (cf. Mk 5:37; Lk 8:51), in the Transfiguration
(cf. Mk 9:2; Mt 17:1: Lk 9:28) and during the agony in the Garden or
Gethsemane (cf. Mk 14:33: Mt 26:37). And again: the Temple tax collectors
address Peter and the Teacher pays only for himself and Peter (cf. Mt
17:24-27); it is Peter's feet that he washes first at the Last Supper (cf.
Jn 13:6), and for Peter alone he prays that his faith will not fail so
that he will be able to strengthen the other disciples in faith (cf. Lk
Moreover, Peter himself was aware of his special position: he often
also spoke on behalf of the others, asking for the explanation of a
difficult parable (cf. Mt 15:15), the exact meaning of a precept (cf. Mt
18:21) or the formal promise of a reward (cf. Mt 19:27).
It is Peter in particular who resolves certain embarrassing situations
by intervening on behalf of all. Thus, when Jesus, saddened by the
misunderstanding of the crowd after the Bread of Life discourse, asks:
"Will you also go away?", Peter's answer is peremptory in tone: "Lord, to
whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (cf. Jn 6:67-69).
Equally decisive is the profession of faith which, again on behalf of
the Twelve, he makes near Caesarea Philippi. To Jesus' question: "But who
do you say that I am?" Peter answers: "You are the Christ, the Son of the
living God" (Mt 16:15.1). Jesus responded by pronouncing the solemn
declaration that defines Peter's role in the Church once and for all: "And
I tell you: you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church.... I
will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on
earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be
loosed in heaven" (Mt 16:18.19).
In themselves, the three metaphors that Jesus uses are crystal clear:
Peter will be the rocky foundation on which he will build the edifice of
the Church; he will have the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven to open or
close it to people as he sees fit; lastly, he will be able to bind or to
loose, in the sense of establishing or prohibiting whatever he deems
necessary for the life of the Church. It is always Christ's Church, not
Thus, vivid images portray what the subsequent reflection will describe
by the term: "primacy of jurisdiction".
Peter, first among the disciples
This pre-eminent position that Jesus wanted to bestow upon Peter is
also encountered after the Resurrection: Jesus charges the women to
announce it especially to Peter, as distinct from the other Apostles (cf.
Mk 16:7); it is to Peter and John that Mary Magdalene runs to tell them
that the stone has been rolled away from the entrance to the tomb (cf. Jn
20:2), and John was to stand back to let Peter enter first when they
arrived at the empty tomb (cf. Jn 20:4-6).
Then, Peter was to be the first witness of an appearance of the Risen
One (cf. Lk 24:34; I Cor 15:5). His role, decisively emphasized (cf. Jn
20:3-10), marks the continuity between the preeminence he had in the group
of the Apostles and the pre-eminence he would continue to have in the
community born with the paschal events, as the Book of Acts testifies (cf.
1:15-26; 2:14-40; 3:12-26; 4:8-12; 5:1-11, 29; 8:14-17; 10; etc.).
His behaviour was considered so decisive that it prompted remarks as
well as criticism (cf. Acts 11:1-18; Gal 2:11-14).
At the so-called Council of Jerusalem Peter played a directive role
(cf. Acts 15; Gal 2:1-10), and precisely because he was a witness of
authentic faith, Paul himself recognized that he had a certain quality of
"leadership" (cf. I Cor 15:5; Gal 1:18; 2:7ff., etc.).
Moreover, the fact that several of the key texts that refer to Peter
can be traced back to the context of the Last Supper, during which Christ
conferred upon Peter the ministry of strengthening his brethren (cf. Lk
22:31ff.), shows that the ministry entrusted to Peter was one of the
constitutive elements of the Church, which was born from the commemoration
of the Pasch celebrated in the Eucharist.
This contextualization of the Primacy of Peter at the Last Supper, at
the moment of the Institution of the Eucharist, the Lord's Pasch, also
points to the ultimate meaning of this Primacy: Peter must be the
custodian of communion with Christ for all time. He must guide people to
communion with Christ; he must ensure that the net does not break, and
consequently that universal communion endures. Only together can we be
with Christ, who is Lord of all.
Thus, Peter is responsible for guaranteeing communion with Christ, with
the love of Christ, guiding people to fulfil this love in everyday life.
Let us pray that the Primacy of Peter, entrusted to poor human beings,
will always be exercised in this original sense as the Lord desired, and
that its true meaning will therefore always be recognized by the brethren
who are not yet in full communion with us.