Peter and the Pope, and the Apostles and Bishops: The Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

Peter and PaulCentral idea: Peter and the pope, and the apostles and bishops. Doctrine: The hierarchical structure of the Church. Practical application: Assisting the hierarchy.

To view the Lectionary 591 readings, click here.

Central Idea: Peter and the pope, and the apostles and bishops

Reading 1 Acts 12:1-11

In those days, King Herod laid hands upon some members of the Church to harm them.
He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword,
and when he saw that this was pleasing to the Jews
he proceeded to arrest Peter also.
–It was the feast of Unleavened Bread.–
He had him taken into custody and put in prison
under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each.
He intended to bring him before the people after Passover.
Peter thus was being kept in prison,
but prayer by the Church was fervently being made
to God on his behalf.

On the very night before Herod was to bring him to trial,
Peter, secured by double chains,
was sleeping between two soldiers,
while outside the door guards kept watch on the prison.
Suddenly the angel of the Lord stood by him
and a light shone in the cell.
He tapped Peter on the side and awakened him, saying,
“Get up quickly.”
The chains fell from his wrists.
The angel said to him, “Put on your belt and your sandals.”
He did so.
Then he said to him, “Put on your cloak and follow me.”
So he followed him out,
not realizing that what was happening through the angel was real;
he thought he was seeing a vision.
They passed the first guard, then the second,
and came to the iron gate leading out to the city,
which opened for them by itself.
They emerged and made their way down an alley,
and suddenly the angel left him.
Then Peter recovered his senses and said,
“Now I know for certain
that the Lord sent his angel
and rescued me from the hand of Herod
and from all that the Jewish people had been expecting.”

  • There are always people ready to persecute both the leaders and the members of the Church. King Herod Agrippa was one-such tyrant, with no regard for justice.
  • Members of the Church are always also ready to pray for one another and especially for their leaders.
  • God also always assigns angels to watch over his Church and protect her members, and sometimes this aid is dramatic.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9

R. The angel of the Lord will rescue those who fear him.

I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall be ever in my mouth.
Let my soul glory in the LORD;
the lowly will hear me and be glad.

Glorify the LORD with me,
let us together extol his name.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.

Look to him that you may be radiant with joy,
and your faces may not blush with shame.
When the poor one called out, the LORD heard,
and from all his distress he saved him.

The angel of the LORD encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
Taste and see how good the LORD is;
blessed the man who takes refuge in him.

  • To fear God means to never want to do anything that would displease him, as a good child never wants to displease his or her good father.
  • The one who fears to offend God also turns to God and to his or her guardian angel in times of distress. God will deliver those who fear him either in this life or in the next.
  • This Psalm perfectly expresses the joy of one who fears God and who has been delivered from distress. It also perfectly expresses the joy of those who enter heaven.

Reading 2 2 Tm 4:6-8, 17-18

I, Paul, am already being poured out like a libation,
and the time of my departure is at hand.
I have competed well; I have finished the race;
I have kept the faith.
From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me,
which the Lord, the just judge,
will award to me on that day, and not only to me,
but to all who have longed for his appearance.

The Lord stood by me and gave me strength,
so that through me the proclamation might be completed
and all the Gentiles might hear it.
And I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.
The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat
and will bring me safe to his heavenly Kingdom.
To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.

  • Because Sts. Peter and Paul did the work Christ sent them to do in a hostile world, they had to be rescued from dangers many times. Both apostles could pray our responsorial psalm with the words personally applying to them.
  • We honor them today not because they escaped death many times (until they were finally put to death). We honor them because the Lord gave them the most important task to do—to announce the Gospel and to build up the Church—and they did it faithfully despite powerful opposition, with the help of God, of angels, and of the rest of the faithful.

Gospel Mt 16:13-19

When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi
he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
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.”

  • When Christ established his Church he placed the Apostles at her head. Christ also placed Simon (Peter) at the head of his Apostles and of his Church.
    • After Simon confessed Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Our Lord gave him a new name, Rock on which he would build his Church.
      • Rock: Kepa in Aramaic, Cephas in Greek, Petros in Latin, Peter in English.
  • Christ established his Church never to be destroyed, despite the many trials she will face (“the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it”).
  • Christ gave Peter divine authority in the Church. A decision he makes for the Church on earth will be ratified in heaven.
    • For example, Peter took the initiative to create a new apostle to replace Judas who killed himself. Peter also determined that Gentiles who converted to Christianity did not have to adopt the Mosaic Law, a decision ratified in the Council of Jerusalem.

Doctrine: The hierarchical structure of the Church

  • By divine institution, the Church has sacred ministers called clerics (CCC 934).
  • The first of these “clerics” were the apostles, to whom Christ gave a share in his saving mission with power to act in his person (CCC 935).
  • Christ made Peter the Church’s visible head.
  • “The bishop of the Church of Rome, successor to St. Peter, is ‘head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ and Pastor of the universal Church on earth’”(CIC, can. 331) (CCC 936).
  • “The Pope enjoys, by divine institution, ‘supreme, full, immediate, and universal power in the care of souls”’ (CD 2) (CCC 937).
  • “The Bishops, established by the Holy Spirit, succeed the apostles. They are ‘the visible source and foundation of unity in their own particular Churches’” (LG 23) (CCC 938).
    • “Helped by the priests, their co-workers, and by the deacons, the bishops have the duty of authentically teaching the faith, celebrating divine worship, above all the Eucharist, and guiding their Churches as true pastors. Their responsibility also includes concern for all the Churches, with and under the Pope.” (CCC 939)

Practical Application: Assisting the hierarchy

  • Members of the laity have their own distinct work to do as family members, in their professional work, and as citizens. They are not clerics but are also not second-class Christians. (Some Catholics think that only what the clergy does is important.)
  • When we consider assisting the hierarchy of the Church, we probably should have in mind three persons: the pope, our diocesan bishop, and the pastor of our parish.
  • We can offer prayers and sacrifices for them, just as for Peter “prayer by the Church was fervently being made.”
  • We can also learn the current agenda of these three persons. When they speak we can listen and when they write something we can read it. In this way we can know their minds and tell others.
    • Then, if we are qualified, we can assist in carrying out their agenda.
  • We can also let our own concerns and views be known when necessary.
    • According to the Code of Canon law 212 §3, “According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, [the laity] have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.







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