By Kathleen Naab
VATICAN CITY, FEB. 20, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Everything in the Church, and love itself, rests upon faith, Benedict XVI said Sunday as he concelebrated Mass with the Church’s 22 newest cardinals.
After Saturday’s consistory, the new princes of the Church celebrated Mass on Sunday with the Pope in St. Peter’s Basilica.
The Holy Father drew from the art of the church to offer his reflection, speaking of Bernini’s great bronze sculpture of the throne of Peter.
He described it as “one of the most famous artistic treasures of this Vatican Basilica: […] an enormous bronze throne that seems to hover in mid air, but in reality is supported by the four statues of great Fathers of the Church from East and West. And above the throne, surrounded by triumphant angels suspended in the air, the glory of the Holy Spirit shines through the oval window.”
“It represents a vision of the essence of the Church and the place within the Church of the Petrine Magisterium,” the Pontiff reflected.
He noted how the window opens the Church toward the outside, and how the “the Church herself is like a window, the place where God draws near to us, where he comes towards our world.”
“The Church is the place where God ‘reaches’ us and where we ‘set off’ towards him: she has the task of opening up, beyond itself, a world which tends to become enclosed within itself, the task of bringing to the world the light that comes from above, without which it would be uninhabitable.”
Presides in charity
Benedict XVI spoke of how the bronze throne encloses a wooden chair that was long though to be St. Peter’s. He went on to mention its symbolic value as the “throne of truth” and an indication of the words Christ spoke to Peter at the Last Supper.
He continued: “The chair of Peter evokes another memory: the famous expression from Saint Ignatius of Antioch’s letter to the Romans, where he says of the Church of Rome that she ‘presides in charity’ (Salutation, PG 5, 801). In truth, presiding in faith is inseparably linked to presiding in love. Faith without love would no longer be an authentic Christian faith. But the words of Saint Ignatius have another much more concrete implication: the word ‘charity,’ in fact, was also used by the early Church to indicate the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the Sacramentum caritatis Christi, through which Christ continues to draw us all to himself, as he did when raised up on the Cross (cf. Jn 12:32). Therefore, to ‘preside in charity’ is to draw men and women into a eucharistic embrace — the embrace of Christ — which surpasses every barrier and every division, creating communion from all manner of differences.”
Bernini’s throne is supported by Sts. John Chrysostom and Athanasius, fathers from the East, and Sts. Ambrose and Augustine, from the west.
They “represent the whole of the tradition, and hence the richness of expression of the true faith of the holy and one Church,” the Pope said. “This aspect of the altar teaches us that love rests upon faith. Love collapses if man no longer trusts in God and disobeys him. Everything in the Church rests upon faith: the sacraments, the liturgy, evangelization, charity. Likewise the law and the Church’s authority rest upon faith. The Church is not self-regulating, she does not determine her own structure but receives it from the word of God, to which she listens in faith as she seeks to understand it and to live it.”
The Holy Father continued his reflection by focusing on the ascending and descending movement of the altar of the Chair. “This,” he said, “is the reciprocity between faith and love. The Chair is placed in a prominent position in this place, because this is where Saint Peter’s tomb is located, but this too tends towards the love of God. Indeed, faith is oriented towards love. A selfish faith would be an unreal faith. Whoever believes in Jesus Christ and enters into the dynamic of love that finds its source in the Eucharist, discovers true joy and becomes capable in turn of living according to the logic of this gift. True faith is illumined by love and leads towards love, leads on high, just as the altar of the Chair points upwards towards the luminous window, the glory of the Holy Spirit, which constitutes the true focus for the pilgrim’s gaze as he crosses the threshold of the Vatican Basilica.”
On Saturday, the Pope had reminded the cardinals of their “new and stronger bonds not only to the Roman Pontiff but also to the entire community of the faithful spread throughout the world.”
“In carrying out their particular service in support of the Petrine ministry, the new Cardinals will be called to consider and evaluate the events, the problems and the pastoral criteria which concern the mission of the entire Church,” he told the group in his reflection during the consistory. “In this delicate task, the life and the death of the Prince of the Apostles, who for love of Christ gave himself even unto the ultimate sacrifice, will be an example and a helpful witness of faith for the new Cardinals.”
Sunday after the Mass, the Holy Father prayed the midday Angelus with those in St. Peter’s Square. He invited the faithful to “entrust the new cardinals to the maternal protection of Mary Most Holy, that she might always assist them in their ecclesial service and sustain them in trials.”
“Mary, Mother of the Church, help me and those who tirelessly work with me for the unity of the People of God and to proclaim to all peoples the message of salvation, humbly and courageously accomplishing the service of truth in charity,” he said.
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On ZENIT’s Web page:
Full text of Saturday reflection: www.zenit.org/article-34329?l=english
Full text of Sunday homily: www.zenit.org/article-34326?l=english
Full text of Angelus address: www.zenit.org/article-34330?l=english