Last year I took a closer look at the Liturgical candle that was in our church. While the candle was beautiful and ornate, I couldn’t help but notice the inverted cross.
In recent times, the upside down cross is used as an anti-Christian symbol. It is meant to turn the tables on Jesus’ victory and show the devil’s victory. In reality, this upside-down cross is actually a very old symbol that goes back to Saint Peter, the first pope, who was crucified as Jesus was but upside down.
Peter was fleeing the growing persecution in Rome and along the way meets Jesus. He asks our Lord, “Quo vadis (Where are you going?)” His reply is a gentle rebuke: “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” Peter understood what Jesus meant. Turning around, he returned to the city to later be crucified, as Jesus had previously, but for Peter it would be upside down. So just as the cross is the symbol of Jesus’ death and triumph, so too the upside down cross is about Peter’s death. There is even a church in Rome called “Domine Quo Vadis” which is dedicated to this meeting! Since then, the Catholic church has used this upside down cross to refer to either Peter himself or subsequent popes after him.
Another symbol of the pope is keys.
The origin of the keys goes back to when Jesus made Peter the first pope. This found in Matthew 16:13-19:
When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
To understand the importance of what a key meant, you’ll have to go back a little further to the book of Isaiah 15:15, 19-25. This is the part of the Bible which Jesus was actually making a reference to:
“Thus says the Lord, the GOD of hosts:
Up, go to that official, Shebna, master of the palace,(say)
I will thrust you from your office
and pull you down from your station.
On that day I will summon my servant
Eliakim, son of Hilkiah
I will clothe him with your robe,
gird him with your sash,
confer on him your authority.
He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem,
and to the house of Judah.
I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder;
what he opens, no one will shut,
what he shuts, no one will open. I will fix him as a peg in a firm place,
a seat of honor for his ancestral house;
On him shall hang all the glory of his ancestral house:
descendants and offspring,
all the little dishes, from bowls to jugs.
On that day, says the LORD of hosts, the peg fixed in a firm place shall give way, break off and fall, and the weight that hung on it shall be done away with; for the LORD has spoken.”
Each year, the church celebrates the feast of The Chair of St. Peter on Feb. 22nd. In fact, cathedra is the Latin word for “chair”. Cathedral comes from this word because that was where the Bishop’s chair was. However, while there is a true piece of furniture by that name, the significance of this feast is about the role of pope. The Lord knew that we would always need to have a father in charge of the Christian family on earth; someone to shepherd and guide us. The chair of St. Peter is about the role of pope, his authority, and his mission to help protect and care for the church. Ultimately, it is about the pope being a father (which is what the word “pope” means). Beyond any one pope in particular, we celebrate that we have had an unbroken line of popes back to the first pope, Peter. By God’s love and grace, we always have had a father for the church militant here on earth. Happy Father’s day!