Liturgical Chairs have been an interest of mine for several years. It may seem strange, but how we see the chair of the presider says a lot about how we see the role of the priesthood, and especially the role of the Bishop at Mass. (See this article for more info.)
But when it comes to the chair of St. Peter—especially this year with the resignation of Pope Benedict—a little more thinking is in order. The Pope has shown us that the ministry is not the same as the person. He holds the Chair of Peter, but only for a time. It is not his personal possession.
At universities all over the world, professors hold a chair in one discipline or another. When they retire, the chair no longer belongs to them, it goes to someone else. So when we speak of the Chair of Peter, it is not only a celebration of the teaching role of that great saint and apostle, it is also a feast of the one who holds that chair in this time, the bishop of Rome: the pope.
Furthermore, in the passion according to John, Pilate comes and sits on the judge’s bench to render his verdict. The chair of Peter is likewise a sign of the pope’s role in making the hard choices, in rendering judgments on so many things—including his own retirement from that chair.
So as we celebrate this feast, we are reminding ourselves of the ways in which we come together around the ministry of the Holy Father, as we wish him well, and the ways in which we bind ourselves to hear what comes from the one who will hold the chair in the days to come.