Benedict XVI’s Sermon for Sts. Peter and Paul

What did the Pope of Christian Unity really say to new Archbishops and to the delegate of the Ecumenical Patriarch?

From the website of Vatican Radio here is the English text of the Holy Father’s sermon for the Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul, during which he imposed the pallium on 38 Metropolitan Archbishops from around the world.

Remember that the meaning of the pallium is a hermeneutic (interpretive lens) for the sermon, as is the presence of representatives from the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch.

I am also wondering if perhaps… perhaps… one of the "Leonine Prayers" might not also be involved…

Let us pray.
O God, our refuge and our strength, look down with mercy upon the people who cry to Thee; and by the intercession of the glorious and immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of God, of Saint Joseph her spouse, of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and of all the saints, in Thy mercy and goodness hear our prayers for the conversion of sinners, and for the liberty and exaltation of the Holy Mother the Church. Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.

My emphases and comments.

Dear brothers and sisters!

    The biblical texts of this Eucharistic Liturgy of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, in their great wealth, highlight a theme that could be summarized thus: God is close to his faithful servants and frees them from all evil, and frees the Church from negative powers. It is the theme of the freedom of the Church, which has a historical aspect and another more deeply spiritual one.  ["… and for the liberty and exaltation of Holy Mother Church…." ]

    This theme runs through today’s Liturgy of the Word. The first and second readings speak, respectively, of St Peter and St Paul, emphasizing precisely the liberating action of God in them. Especially the text from the Acts of the Apostles describes in abundant detail the intervention of the Angel of the Lord, who releases Peter from the chains and leads him outside the prison in Jerusalem, where he had been locked up, under close supervision, by King Herod (cf. at 12.1 to 11). Paul, however, writing to Timothy when he feels close to the end of his earthly life, takes stock which shows that the Lord was always near him and freed him from many dangers and frees him still by introducing him into His eternal Kingdom ( see 2 Tim 4, 6-8.17-18). The theme is reinforced by the Responsorial Psalm (Ps 33), and also finds a particular development in the Gospel of Peter’s confession, where Christ promises that the powers of hell shall not prevail against his Church (cf. Mt 16:18).

    Observing closely we note a certain progression regarding this issue. In the first reading a specific episode is narrated that shows the Lord’s intervention to free Peter from prison. In the second Paul, on the basis of his extraordinary apostolic experience, is convinced that the Lord, who already freed him "from the mouth of the lion "delivers him" from all evil", by opening the doors of Heaven to him. In the Gospel we no longer speak of the individual Apostles, but the Church as a whole and its safekeeping from the forces of evil, in the widest and most profound sense. Thus we see that the promise of Jesus – "the powers of hell shall not prevail" on the Church – yes, includes the historical experience of persecution suffered by Peter and Paul and other witnesses of the Gospel, but it goes further, wanting to protect especially against threats of a spiritual order, as Paul himself writes in his Letter to the Ephesians: " For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens"(Eph 6:12). [Which is why there are still martyrs.]

    Indeed, if we think of the two millennia of Church history, we can see that – as the Lord Jesus had announced (cf. Mt 10.16-33) – Christians have never been lacking in trials, which in some periods and places have assumed the character of real persecution. These, however, [NOTA BENE…] despite the suffering they cause, are not the greatest danger for the Church. [Here is the core…] In fact it suffers greatest damage from what pollutes the Christian faith and life of its members and its communities, eroding the integrity of the Mystical Body, weakening its ability to prophesy and witness, tarnishing the beauty of its face. [Again, we are into our identity as Catholics.  We can be undermined from without and from within.] This reality is already attested in the Pauline Epistle. The First Epistle to the Corinthians, for example, responds to some problems of divisions, inconsistencies, of infidelity to the Gospel which seriously threaten the Church. [This is definitely a threat from within, though also no doubt under the influence of secular values, conformity to the "wisdom of this world".] But the Second Letter to Timothy – of which we heard an excerpt – speaks about the dangers of the "last days", identifying them with negative attitudes that belong to the world and can infect the Christian community: [Dangers from without, which nevertheless slither in.] selfishness, vanity, pride, love of money, etc. (cf. 3.1 to 5). The Apostle’s conclusion is reassuring: men who do wrong – he writes – "will not make further progress, for their foolishness will be plain to all" (3.9). There is therefore a guarantee of freedom promised by God to the Church, it is freedom from the material bonds that seek to prevent or coerce mission, both through spiritual and moral evils, which may affect its authenticity and credibility.  [Perhaps the Holy Father is being a little more optimistic here than, say, an Augustinian perspective easily admits.  It may be that the foolishness of the wicked is not "plain to all" today, precisely because we are living in a time when there is a very weak sense of objective truth.]

    The theme of the freedom of the Church, guaranteed by Christ to Peter, also has a specific relevance to the rite of the imposition of the pallium, which we renew today for thirty-eight metropolitan archbishops, to whom I address my most cordial greeting, extending with it affection to all who have wanted to accompany them on this pilgrimage. [NB:] Communion with Peter and his successors, in fact, is the guarantee of freedom for the Church’s Pastors and the Communities entrusted to them. [This might not be a guarantee of freedom in the material sense.  Consider Card. Kung or Card. Mindszenty.  This must focus on the deeper sense of freedom.] It is highlighted on both levels in the aforementioned reflections. Historically, union with the Apostolic See, ensures the particular Churches and Episcopal Conferences freedom with respect to local, national or supranational powers, that can sometimes hinder the mission of the ecclesial Church.[Yes, there is a sense in which union with Rome can be helpful from the diplomatic and political point of view.]  Furthermore, and most essentially, the Petrine ministry is a guarantee of freedom in the sense of full adherence to truth and authentic tradition, so that the People of God may be preserved from mistakes concerning faith and morals. [Which must must must involve union with our past, must involve continuity.] Hence the fact that each year the new Metropolitans come to Rome to receive the pallium from the hands of the Pope, must be understood in its proper meaning, as a gesture of communion, and the issue of freedom of the Church gives us a particularly important key for interpretation. [The symbolic "’yoke" and "bond" placed on the Archbishop is a sign of freedom.  Not freedom from, but freedom within.] This is evident in the case of churches marked by persecution, or subject to political interference or other hardships. [Political interference…. Belgium also?] But this is no less relevant in the case of communities that suffer the influence of misleading doctrines or ideological tendencies and practices contrary to the Gospel. Thus the pallium becomes, in this sense, a pledge of freedom, similar to the "yoke" of Jesus, that He invites us to take up, each on their shoulders (Mt 11:29-30). While demanding, the commandment of Christ is "sweet and light" and instead of weighing down on the bearer, it lifts him up, thus the bond with the Apostolic See – while challenging – sustains the Pastor and the portion of the Church entrusted to his care, making them freer and stronger[When the Pope puts the pallium on a man, he refers to it as a "spur of fortitude".]

    I would like to draw a final point from the Word of God, in particular from Christ’s promise that the powers of hell shall not prevail against his Church. These words may also have a significant ecumenical value, since, as I mentioned earlier, one of the typical effects of the Devil is division within the Church community. [In this sense, it might seem as if the devil has prevailed, at least for a time.] The divisions are in fact symptoms of the power of sin, which continues to act in members of the Church even after redemption. But the word of Christ is clear: " Non praevalebunt – it will not prevail" (Matt. 16:18). The unity of the Church is rooted in its union with Christ, and the cause of full Christian unity – always to be sought and renewed from generation to generation – is well supported by his prayer and his promise. [So, all who are in union with Christ in some sense, also have some sense of unity.] In the fight against the spirit of evil, God has given us in Jesus the ‘Advocate’, defender, and after his Easter, "another Paraclete" (Jn 14:16), the Holy Spirit, which remains with us always and leads the Church into the fullness of truth (cf. Jn 14:16; 16:13), which is also the fullness of charity and unity. [Of which the pallium is a symbol.] With these feelings of confident hope, I am pleased to greet the delegation of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which, in the beautiful custom of reciprocal visits, participates in the celebrations of the patron saints of Rome. Together we thank God for progress in ecumenical relations between Catholics and Orthodox, and we renew our commitment to generously reciprocate to God’s grace, which leads us to full communion.

    Dear friends, I cordially greet all of you: Cardinals, Brother Bishops, Ambassadors and civil authorities, in particular the Mayor of Rome, priests, religious and lay faithful. Thank you for your presence. May the Saints Peter and Paul help you to grow in love for the holy Church, the Mystical Body of Christ the Lord and messenger of unity and peace for all men. May they also help you to offer the hardships and sufferings endured for fidelity to the Gospel with joy for her holiness and her mission. May the Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles and Mother of the Church, always watch over you and especially over the Ministry of metropolitan archbishops. With her heavenly help may you always live and act in that freedom that Christ has won for us. Amen

As I read this through, it occurred to me that while this sermon is clearly rooted in the Scripture readings for the Mass and the prayers for the pallium imposition, it also resonates with that prayer from the Leonine Prayers.  That is to say, the themes  that develop are not unlike those one might have in mind were one to be praying the Leonine Prayers frequently.

Remember: Benedict XVI is the Pope of Christian Unity.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Thank you, Jesus, Lord, for this most wondrous Pope!
    How beautiful, wondrous, and challenging for us all, Archbishop, Bishop, Priest, Consecrated and Laity!
    The Bride of Christ, His Holy Church, will prevail; He has promised it…we cannot lose hope! She may be diminished in numbers, but She will always be present in the world until Jesus comes again.

  2. I don’t know from Leonine (though it’s a reasonable thought), but I surely have noticed the Holy Father getting more eschatological lately. It’s like he’s widening his gaze from the world square to the cosmic chessboard.

    Ad multos annos, and may God protect him!

  3. wanda says:

    Oh, our precious Holy Father. What a gift to the Church and to the world. I must remember to pray more often for him, his health, safety and for God’s grace to fill him and strengthen him for his mission.

  4. rachmaninov says:

    This homily seems to be along the same lines of the Fatima visit. The Holy Father again referred to the sin within the Church being greater than troubles from outside, as he explained concerning the 3rd secret on May 11 as well as martyrdom and persecution. There simply has to be a reason for this. I think the Pope knows more than he lets on…in terms of a time frame

  5. Archicantor says:

    Is it appropriate for an Anglican to admit that while reading this he could only think of and feel within himself the reaction of the crowds to St. Peter’s great address at Pentecost? “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?'” (Acts 2:37)

    Much more from this pope and I’m going to have to convert… How soon are these Ordinariates supposed to be up and running?

  6. Archicantor: He is the Pope of Christian Unity.

    And he is so, because he is teaching clearly.

  7. Re: timeframe

    Well, I doubt we’re facing the end of the world more than we’ve ever been, per se. (Of course, I say that knowing it could end the next second.) But we’re certainly going through a rough patch, and Peter naturally sails the Barque with an eye toward storms.

  8. Francis says:

    ‘And he is so, because he is teaching clearly’. Indeed- the Petrine ministry by itself is worthless if the Pope does not teach Catholic Truth. Thank God Benedictus PP hasnt emulated his ‘predecessor’ in summoning unholy convocations, as at Assisi for example.

  9. Gulielmus says:

    Francis– he has, however, offered a positive interpretation of Assisi that cannot be dismissed by thinking Catholics.

  10. Geoffrey says:

    “Thank God Benedictus PP hasnt emulated his ‘predecessor’ in summoning unholy convocations, as at Assisi for example.”

    Here we go again…

  11. Francis says:

    @ Gulielmus

    I assure you that i struggle very hard to see how Dignitatis Humanae, Nostrae Aetate and the Assisi Meetings fit in with Tradition, or even better, with the Hermeneutic of Continuity. Indeed, St Paul would be surprised, to say the least.


    Yes, ‘here we go again’ because the Church is not some cloud-cuckoo club where everything goes. What do you make of Catholic Truth, or Truth simply? I love my pagan brother by praying for him, not with him. I love my pagan brother, and at same time, be faithful to the spirit of saint Paul, if i speak to him of Our Lord Jesus Christ and of salvation in Him…

    From today’s alleluia:
    Sancte Paule Apostole, praedicator Veritatis et doctor gentium, intercede pro nobis.

    In most people’s minds, even of the so-called Catholics, John Paul II is ranked with Mahatma Gandhi(you should read how Nirad Chaudhuri, an Indian, debunks the myth of Hindu non-violence), Martin Luther King,and what not- what ‘cloud of witnesses’ indeed,- not with Pope St Leo I the Great, nor with Pope St Celestine V.

    Apostolic See- what’s the use of such a name when one is not inflamed with missionary zeal? Can there be a Pope in partibus?


  12. Francis says:

    “In fact it suffers greatest damage from what pollutes the Christian faith and life of its members and its communities, eroding the integrity of the Mystical Body, weakening its ability to prophesy and witness, tarnishing the beauty of its face. This reality is already attested in the Pauline Epistle. The First Epistle to the Corinthians, for example, responds to some problems of divisions, inconsistencies, of infidelity to the Gospel which seriously threaten the Church.”

  13. chironomo says:

    The homily given by Fr. Fryar at last night’s High Mass for Sts. Peter and Paul (Christ the King, Sarasota FL) was along the same lines… I have to believe that he had read Benedict’s homily thoroughly.

    He made an interesting point about the FSSP and how it was John Paul’s idea to designate Peter as the patron saint for this order…a patronage historically reserved for the Holy See. He then connected this to to the mission of the FSSP in preserving tradition as a defense to attacks both from without and from within.

    His main point seemed to be that there can be no “freedom” of faith or belief without that freedom ocurring within the structures of the Church, her teachings and her institutions. Only by strengthening that Church can the faith be strengthened. I’m not a theologian, so I may be interpreting his words as I heard them, but it seems to be much the same message as what Benedict was saying…

  14. irishgirl says:

    Benedict XVI IS the ‘Pope of Christian Unity’! And that’s what I call him when I remember him in my Rosary intentions!

    Wow-another ‘home run’!

    He stands on the watchtower of ‘Saint Peter by the Tibur’!

  15. Supertradmum says:

    After the disastrous Supreme Court decisions last week and this week, the Holy Father’s words are even more pertinent. I wish complacent Catholics, who are in denial as to the increasing persecution of the Church, will read these words and ponder the implications of “Historically, union with the Apostolic See, ensures the particular Churches and Episcopal Conferences freedom with respect to local, national or supranational powers, that can sometimes hinder the mission of the ecclesial Church.”

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