Today is the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter. The Latin word for chair is CATHEDRA and from that we get the English word cathedral since it is the church where the Bishop's 'cathedra' or chair resides. The chair is a symbol of authority going back to ancient antiquity. While kings, queens and other monarchs had thrones during the Mediaeval era, going back even further, we see the Emperor of the Roman Empire having is imperial CHAIR. Whenever he sat on that chair, all judgments issued were considered 'official' and binding on the empire. Local authorities, especially the governors of the empire, also had a chair which symbolized the authority of Caesar. Whenever the Governor sat on the chair, he represented the Emperor and his authority.
Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram ædificabo Ecclesiam meam
Jesus commissioned Peter as the first pope in Matthew 16:18 and He entrusted to him the keys of the kingdom. Hence, Our Divine Lord's promise to every Roman Pontiff, "whatever you declare bound on earth, shall be bound in heaven; whatever you loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Not only is this the biblical foundation for the doctrine of Papal Infallibility (Catechism #891; V2 Lumen Gentium #25) but it is also the canonical raison d'être for Papal Primacy. The keys Christ gave Peter were not physical keys but symbolic ones. The two crossed keys in the Papal flag (one silver, one gold) represent these keys.
Chancellors were traditionally given two keys by the sovereign who installed them into office. Every King or Queen as monarch needed a trusted person to represent the crown. Literally speaking, the Lord Chancellor would be given a key to the royal prison and a key to the royal treasury. Because he was so trusted by the ruler, the Lord Chancellor acted in persona regis (in the person of the king). He had the keys and the authority to lock up and imprison any and all of the enemies of the king. He could also show mercy and compassion and occasionally release a prisoner. The power to bind and loose was indeed a significant one. So was the key to the treasury. The Chancellor had the authority to collect and protect the revenues (taxes) levied on the inhabitants of the realm. He was keeper of the King's gold, so to speak. That same key which locked up the gold could also unlock it. Besides collecting, the Lord Chancellor could also disperse. He had authority to buy and make purchases; to pay the knights and soldiers their wages; to give alms to the poor on behalf of the monarchy.
So when Jesus gave Peter the keys, He was giving the first pontiff the power and authority to bind and loose. As the 1983 Code of Canon Law states, the Roman Pontiff enjoys supreme, full, immediate and universal ordinary power (CIC #331) Unlike the separation of the Judicial, Legislative and Executive powers in our American government, the Pope possesses all three in his office as supreme head of the universal Church. No tribunal or even Ecumenical Council can override his decisions or contradict his authority. His infallibility only extends to matters of faith and morals, but his plenitudo potestates in terms of ecclesiastical jurisdictional authority has no limit. Hence, while he is not infallible in his executive or legislative powers, he is still supreme and there is no higher authority save God Himself. His teaching authority (papal magisterium) is either EXTRAORDINARY (ex cathedra) or ORDINARY (papal encyclicals).
Saint Ambrose said it best:
UBI PETRUS IBI ECCLESIA
Where Peter is, there is the Church. One Church has maintained a consistent two millennia continuity with the Vicar of Christ and Successor of Saint Peter. The Eastern Orthodox split in 1054 had many contributing factors but the final act was the separation of the Eastern Bishops from the unity with Rome and particularly with the Bishop of Rome as supreme head of the universal church. Although there had been Patriarchs of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, and later Constantinople, the Patriarch of Rome was more than primus inter pares (one among equals). When the Council of Chalcedon read the Tome of Pope Saint Leo, the Bishops said "God has spoken to us through Peter". The Protestant Reformation began in 1517 when Martin Luther separated himself from Rome (aka, the Pope) and formed the Lutheran Church. King Henry VIII did likewise in 1534. Note that the dates of establishment of these churches root themselves in the act of separating from the authority of the Pope. Albeit there are theological, liturgical, economic, political and other elements in every schism the Church has endured, nevertheless, there remains ONE SUCCESSOR OF SAINT PETER and he was, is and will always be the Bishop of Rome. Jesus said HE was building HIS church on the rock of PETER. The gates of hell shall not prevail. Despite schism after schism, scandal after scandal, controversy after controversy, there is still one Vicar of Christ on earth, one Successor of Saint Peter.
The so-called sede vacantists who claim there is no valid pope are no different from the Protestants or Orthodox who came before them centuries ago. UBI PETERUS IBI ECCLESIA. Since the Holy See is and can be judged by no one, no council or synod has the power to depose any pope or even to declare him heretical and excommunicated. Unlike divine inspiration where the Holy Ghost personally ensures only what and how God wants what to be said is faithfully written by the sacred author, papal infallibility is not of the same genre. It merely means an absence of doctrinal or moral error being taught. This is no guarantee that a particular pope is LIVING the proper moral life or that he even personally believes all that he should, but it does mean that God prevents him from imposing an error upon the people. Infallibility is a negative charism which simply means every Pope is protected from issuing a universal error in faith and morals. He can, as we have seen in church history, commit moral evils and theoretically any pope could have some personal theological mistakes, but he is prevented by papal infallibility from imposing them as formal doctrine upon the rank and file. His jurisdictional authority is not connected to his infallibility, hence, his prudential judgments in making bishop assignments or granting dispensations or adjudicating tribunal cases are all prone to being done better or more timely. Nevertheless, since he possesses the fullness of authority, his decisions still have complete efficacy and full effect. In other words, the pope's authority in non-magisterial matters MUST still be obeyed and adhered to by all the faithful. Subsequent popes can improve their predecessors prudential judgments by making their own non-magisterial authoritative decisions.
What is true is always true. How it is said and when it is said, is a matter of prudential judgment. Revealed dogmas can never be repealed or negated nor can they be contradicted. Their explanation can be enhanced and improved at any time. I am always leery about making any criticism of any papal decision even non-magisterial. The reason is only someone who KNOWS with metaphysical certitude exactly what what the pope in question KNEW, WHEN did he know it and HOW did he understand what he knew, can make an educated opinion on that papal judgment. Best to leave it in the hands of God Who alone knows all that is in the hearts and minds of all men. Already, in the advent of a potential beatification of Pope John Paul the Great, there are some on both the right and left who wish to question his prudential judgments in matters of liturgy, bishop appointments, and other non-magisterial decisions. While this is allowable as none are connected to papal infallibility, because of papal primacy, it would be prudent to avoid dissecting and second-guessing what any pontiff was thinking.
I realized that when I became a pastor and was tempted to externalize my private opinion on prudential judgments of my predecessors. My mentor, Fr Bob Levis, warned me the day I became a pastor for the first time (2002). Never critique who came before you. Try to improve where you can but make it look organic, natural and logical as opposed to undoing what was done before. And it works. When the 2002 IMGR was finally was implemented, I used it as the impetus to install a Crucifix on the wall of the sanctuary and placed the Resurrected Christ over the door of the back of the church so people could see it on their way out, while they would see the Crucified Christ on their way in and during the Sacrifice of the Mass. I also moved the Tabernacles in both of my two churches to the center of the sanctuary. When people saw this was a continuation rather than a disruption, they appreciated it. The latest documents from Rome are there to fine tune and properly implement what was intended and actually said at Vatican II, not the amorphous and ambiguous 'spirit of Vatican 2'
When Pope Benedict XVI came to America, I used the opportunity to introduce to my parishioners the option of celebrating Mass AD ORIENTEM and using the six candles and crucifix on the altar of sacrifice. I also placed a kneeler at Communion to afford the option of receiving on one's knees or standing, in the hand or on the tongue, as is allowed by our local diocese. When the people see these things as logical extensions of what we believe (lex orandi, lex credendi), they appreciate not having their intelligence insulted. By not trashing or bashing my predecessors, I showed respect for the office I myself now held. Mistakes can and must be corrected and undone but they can and ought to be done PRUDENTLY and with CHARITY but also with some DIGNITY. Whether the Extraordinary or the Ordinary Form, both have the reverence and elegance to fulfill the spiritual needs of the faithful since both are valid and licit and have come to us from Holy Mother Church. Either one can sadly be abused and when the Celebrant becomes the center of attention rather than Christ and His un-bloody reenactment of Calvary on the altar, then the sacred liturgy deteriorates from divine worship to human approval and amusement. Even the so-called 'quickie' TLM of the 1950's some pastors were infamously famous for (one priest in my original diocese bragged he had the shortest Sunday Mass in all thirteen counties and was known as the Golfers' special), were no different than some of the Novus Ordo vernacular Masses said for the same audience.
If all us priests and all the bishops celebrated Mass with the same reverence, attention and devotion as is evidenced by His Holiness Pope Benedict, then we would have nothing to worry about in terms of vocations, donations or any other concerns.
Canti Religiosi - Christus vincit Christus regnat Christus imperat