In yesterday’s Gospel Our Lord warns “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.”
The Chair of Moses was not just a figure of speech, it was an actual chair, which symbolized the authority held by Moses. After Moses died, this authority passed to Joshua, then to the Judges, then to the prophets, and then to the Great Assembly.
In Exodus Moses says, “… the people come to me to inquire of God; when they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between a man and his neighbor, and I make them know the statutes of God and his decisions.”
God has now fully revealed Himself to us through His Son, and He still has a representative on earth who preserves the statues of God. He sits on the Chair of Peter. He is the Pope. The significance of the Feast of the Chair of Peter, which we celebrated last week, is that the man sitting in the Chair of Peter (the new Chair of Moses) has teaching authority. His task is to preserve the purity of doctrine, so that we can be certain we are professing the true faith, or as the Catechism says, so the People of God can abide “in the truth that liberates” (CCC 890).
For more on the continuity between the Chair of Moses and the Chair of Peter see Steve Ray’s website here.
The Catholic Church has been led by many successors to St. Peter 264 to be exact. Some have been holy, some have been martyrs, and some were downright scoundrels. But no matter how awful their personal lives were they never defiled the purity of doctrine which it was their duty to preserve. The Holy Spirit guides and protects Christ’s Church.
The great blessing of our times is that we have had popes whose example we can follow. They teach not just with doctrine but by their personal holiness. The one thing you hear over and over again from those who meet Pope Benedict is that he is so humble. He truly lives what Our Lord said, “The greatest among you must by your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”