This past week, Bishops Frans Wiertz and Everard de Jong, respectively ordinary and auxiliary of the Diocese of Roermond, have been in Rome with a few hundred Catholics from their diocese. On Tuesday they celebrated Mass at the basilica of St. Peter, and Bishop Wiertz spoke about the nature of the Church in his homily. Since it’s a topic that has semi-regularly appeared in my blog as well, it is perhaps interesting to see what the bishop had to say about it.
Tuesday 4 May 2010 – St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome
Votive Mass of St. Peter
First reading: 1 Peter 5, 1-4
Gospel: Matt. 16, 13-19
When you look behind you – over that marvellous canopy by Bernini – you’ll see a Latin text in the dome. And if you can’t see it, you should take a look later. It says, “Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam” – “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church.”
This is a text from the Gospel of Matthew, from which we just a heard a passage. Jesus appoints Peter as leader of the Church, as the rock upon which He will build His Church. Peter als means rock or stone.
That makes it very clear where we celebrate the Eucharist today. Not in just a church in Rome, but in the Church of Rome. This basilica is built on top of the tomb of Peter, first among the Apostles.
The man who Christ Himself appointed as leader of His Church, as the central stone upon which the entire machine of the Church rests, the foundation upon which our faith community is built.
I’ll point something else out to you. Above and behind me you see an enormous and empty chair. That is the cathedra of Peter, the seat from which he leads the Church. Symbolically, because the chair and all the baroque around it date from much later, of course. But that is not what matters. What is important is that we can point out a place where the Church is. Literally and figuratively. That is here.
After Peter many took his place, up until the current Pope Benedict. He represents the daily management of the Church, but is also the connection to the Church of all ages. People didn’t just start building a Church here one day. No we build here on Peter, the rock. Sent by Christ Himself did he lay the foundation of the Church here. Or put even better: he is the foundation of the Church here.
Through the laying on of hands and the consecration that mission has been transmitted from bishop to bishop. Throughout the ages. That is what we call the apostolic succession. The Church did not invent or assume her mission, but received it through Peter from Christ.
That apostolic line in relation to out diocese is very nicely represented in this basilica, by the way. In one of the chapel there is a fresco on which we see an angel giving the key of heaven to St. Servatius, the very first bishop of Maastricht. You’ll find an image of that fresco in your program.
It is the key to the kingdom of heaven, the same one that Christ also gave to Peter. That is also what we heard in today’s Gospel. It is a confirmation of the role of the Church as the link between God and the faithful.
Now, I do know that many people have problems with the institutional nature of the Church. Who are touched by Jesus, but who think they should be able to experience their faith in their own way. To that I gladly quote the old Church father St. Cyprian. He said, “You can not say that you have God as father and at the same time not want the Church as mother.” They are two communicating vessels who are irrevocably connected.
That is why there is another beautiful symbol above the chair of Peter. The famous window with the image of a dove: the symbol of the Holy Spirit. Not the pope or the bishops run the Church, but the Holy Spirit does. Bishops and priests are merely instruments in His hands.
That is how I myself experience it as well. I am not the manager of the Diocese of Roermond company . But as parents live with their family, so I travel as a father with the faithful of Limburg through the times. No more and no less. In that I feel expressly carried by the world Church and the Church of all ages.
As Peter told the elders of the assembly in the first reading of today, I try to gladly watch over the flock. But it is the Holy Spirit who shows the way.
That is why it is good to be here as a diocese on pilgrimage, to find strength and support with Peter and his successor Benedict XVI, who we will meet tomorrow.
Connected to the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church we were able to celebrate or 450th anniversary this past year. We continue to experience that connection when we will have returned to Limburg and return to our daily affairs. We may look to the future with confidence, for we are built on Peter, the rock. Amen.
+ Frans Wiertz
bishop of Roermond