Papal Primary, Apostolic Succession, and Infallibility


A Homily Given the Weekend of August 24, 2-14

“… and upon this rock I will build my Church, … and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”
Two friends were planning to set up a business. One of the friends knew someone with the right connections that could help them make a go of their start-up venture. They were seriously consid­ering bringing him on as a partner. But, one night, the friend who knew him went out for a drink with this potentially helpful as­sociate, and listened as the man called his wife on his cell phone to tell her he was staying late at the office, all the while winking at the friend. The meeting ended pretty quickly after that, with no mention of the venture or an invitation to be part of it. The friend told his other friend, “If he could lie so easily to his wife, how can we trust him?”
In today’s gospel, we hear about Peter’s profession of faith and his primacy as pope. 

In this passage, from St. Matthew’s Gospel, St Peter is promised primacy over the whole Church, a primacy which Jesus will confer on him after His resurrection, as we learn in the Gospel of St John. This supreme authority is given to Peter for the benefit of the Church as a whole. Because the Church has to last until the end of time, this authority will be passed on to Peter’s successors down through history. The Bishop of Rome, the Pope, is the successor of Peter the apostle. Pope Francis our current pope is the 264th successor of St. Peter, and is considered first among equals in the ranks of cardinals and the bishops.  The solemn Magisterium of the Church, in the First Vatican Council, about 150 years ago, solemnly defined three things; first, the doctrine of the primacy of Peter, secondly, apostolic succession, and thirdly, their infallibility in matters of faith and morals – in these terms:
First, with regards to papal primacy, the First Vatican Council definitively states; “We teach and declare, therefore, according to the testimony of the Gospel that the primacy of jurisdiction over the whole Church was immediately and directly promised to and conferred upon the blessed Apostle Peter by Jesus Christ the Lord. And after His Resurrection, Jesus conferred upon Simon Peter alone the jurisdiction of supreme shepherd and ruler over His whole fold with the words, ‘feed my lambs’; and, ‘feed my sheep’.
“Therefore, if anyone says that the blessed Apostle Peter was not constituted by Christ the Lord as the Prince of all the Apostles and the visible head of the whole Church militant, or that he received immediately and directly from Jesus Christ our Lord only a primacy of honor and not a true and proper primacy of jurisdiction: let him be condemned.”
Secondly, with regards to apostolic succession, the First Vatican Council definitively states;”Now, what Christ the Lord, supreme shepherd and watchful guardian of the flock, established in the person of the blessed Apostle Peter for the perpetual safety and everlasting good of the Church must, by the Will of Christ, endure without interruption in the Church which was founded on this rock and which will remain firm until the end of the world. Indeed, no one doubts, in fact it is obvious to all ages, that the holy and most blessed Peter, Prince and head of the Apostles, the pillar of faith, and the foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior and the Redeemer of the human race; and even to this time and forever Christ lives, and governs, and exercises judgment in His, the bishops of the holy Roman See, which Christ established and consecrated with His own blood. Therefore, whoever succeeds Peter in this Chair holds Peter’s primacy over the whole Church according to the plan of Christ himself. For this reason, ‘because of its greater sovereignty’ it was always necessary for every church, that is, the faithful who are everywhere, to be in agreement’ with the same Church in Rome.
“Therefore, if anyone says that it is not according to the institution of Christ our Lord Himself, that is, by divine law, that St Peter has perpetual successors in the primacy over the whole Church; or if anyone says that the Roman Pontiff is not the successor of St Peter in the same primacy: let him be condemned.
And lastly, with regards to papal infallibility, the First Vatican Council definitively states; “We think it extremely necessary to assert solemnly the prerogative which the only-begotten Son of God deigned to join to this highest pastoral office.”And so, faithfully keeping to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, for the glory of God our Savior, for the exaltation of the Catholic religion, and for the salvation of all Christian peoples, We, with the approval of the sacred council, teach and define that it is a divinely revealed dogma: that the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when, acting in the office of shepherd and teacher of all Christians, he defines, by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the universal Church, possesses through the divine assistance promised to him in the person of St Peter, the infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed His Church to be endowed in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals; and that such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are therefore irreversible because of their nature, and not just because of the agreement of the Church.
“But if anyone presumes to contradict this our definition (God forbid that he do so): let him be condemned.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us exactly what we should believe and hold as sacred. Our baptismal certificates are much more than membership cards identifying us as belonging to a group of like-minded Christians.  Jesus’ question to His followers asks us, as well, exactly what we mean when we say we are “Catholic,” how we can dare to identify ourselves as members of this unique family of faith. We are Catholic, not because we just happen to be the “first church,” or the “oldest church,” but because we believe what has been handed down to us through the apostles from its founder – Jesus Christ – the Son of the Living God; in particular the sacramental life of the Church; the intercession and the communion of saints – especially the Mother of God; and the infallibility of the papacy – the unbroken line of Truth which safeguards, transmits and clarifies the Deposit of Faith, given to us by God, along with the Church’s Magisterium – the bishops in union with him, either gathered together in a council (aka the extraordinary magisterium), or in a dispersed manner (aka the ordinary magisterium).
We don’t trust in the papacy just because the pope is the head of the church and first among equals, because as humans, we can be deceived or be deceived. We trust the papacy because it was willed by the heavenly Father – the 1st Person of the Blessed Trinity, it was instituted by Jesus Christ Himself – the 2nd Person of the Blessed Trinity and is guided and protected by the Holy Spirit – the 3rd Person of the Blessed Trinity, who can neither deceive nor be deceived. 
The pope is infallible in matters of faith morals, but not infallible in secular matters; for instance, the pope doesn’t know who is going to win the World Series or the Kentucky Derby.
However, if, God forbid, the pope were to intentionally attempt to incorrectly change a divinely revealed dogma or incorrectly add a new teaching to the Deposit of Faith, the Holy Spirit Himself would physically prevent the pope from doing so.
So let us always pray for our pope, his health and protection, and his intentions. 
May the Lord preserve Our Holy Father, give him a long life, make him blessed upon the earth, and protect him from the power of his enemies.
Mary, Queen of Apostles, pray for us!