POPE PETER --THE GREATEST OF THE GREAT
There is no pope in the history of orthodox Roman Catholicism who was more thoroughly Orthodox, Roman, or Catholic than the first pope of Christendom, Pope St. Peter I, the greatest of the Great.
What fortifies this truth more than anything else is the very life of Pope Peter the Great himself, a life of unswerving self-sacrifice, a life lived out finally in Rome, and a life laid down to seed the very soil from which Christ’s Church has sprung.
We see how the Roman Catholic Church has thrived and risen or failed and lessened due to the strength or weakness of the hand ruling from the throne of Peter. And the first hand to rule was a strong hand, a steadying hand, a commanding hand, a ruling hand. For it is the battle of Christ against Satan, of good versus evil, of life versus death that goes on from the first pope St. Peter to the last pope at the end of time. And what a battle is this unmistakably, it is the battle for souls, an endless confrontation that manifests itself in the very life of Peter himself.
We can remember how this Pope Peter professed the very greatest belief in Jesus Christ when asked with all the apostles
‘Whom do men say that I am?’
Peter with conviction responded to Our Divine Lord Himself :
"You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!"
Not one of the other apostles had the magnanimous faith to make this public affirmation of belief. Nor must we forget Pope Peter’s betrayal:
"I do not know Him."
These words were predicted by Christ Himself about His number one apostle. Could one not almost see the rivers of tears in Peter’s rough fisherman’s face for this denial, a denial that later our Merciful Lord wanted Peter to publicly disavow with his threefold response to, ‘do you love me?’
This is the same Peter who pronounced he would not allow His Master to go to the death by crucifixion with such emotional love that Our Lord had to authoritatively tell Peter to "get behind me Satan" if he, in any way, would dare to block the whole purpose of Christ’s Mission to save mankind from sin forever. This was the life of Peter and the life of us all: our initial profession of faith, our protestations of faithfulness, and our betrayals and sin, our repentance and return to virtue. Not once but many, many times throughout our lives.
This suffering, this cross, this dying to oneself, this resurrection, is the life of Pope Peter the Great and the paradigm for all orthodox Roman Catholic popes following Peter, and moreover, for all of us members of the Church hereafter. Why? Because this is the life of Christ, a life that we must all lead by following Our Divine Master, and Peter, and each Vicar of Christ; or renounce Him by following the world, the flesh, the devil and ourselves. This is the true Roman Catholic Orthodoxy at its very best, the living out of Christ’s Passion and Death and all the morality and doctrine it represents. Pope Peter was, indeed, the most orthodox of the orthodox, for he lived this paradigm to perfection.
We ask, now, how Pope Peter and the greatest of the Great was the most Roman of all popes? It was to Rome that Peter finally came to live out his faith most outwardly, most visibly, and most convincingly. Here it was in Rome that Peter established the see of the Roman Catholic Church; here he wrote and delivered his letters to the faithful of Rome in Latin; here he administered the sacraments to the hungry sheep; and here he died in the most ignominious death like his Savior, professing his intensely faithful love for Christ to the bitter end.
No pope can be more Roman than Pope Peter the Great’s papacy: the pope who chose for the See of Peter to reside in Rome, the pope who chose to teach and to preach and to administer the sacraments and Mass in Roman Latin, and finally the pope who chose to write the Church’s theology, laws, and addresses in Latin. Truly, can any pope be more Roman than Pope Peter I?
The universality of Pope Peter the Great’s papacy must not be denied either, for it was fed by the most powerful public statement of belief in Christ possible after his denial, yes, the most public statement of a martyr’s death. Here was Peter’s repentance to Our Lord for his three denials most publicly rendered for all time, and for all members of the world to see as his greatest testimony possible. This seed by Pope Peter of the martyr’s blood, more than anything else, was what enabled the Church to become totally universal or catholic.
For was this not the most earnest wish of Our Lord and Master Himself that His Church above all be catholic; in fact, was this not His command: "Go ye, therefore, teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Those who believe and are baptized will be saved, those who do not believe, will be lost." (Matt 28: 16-20)
It is through this spirit of teaching, preaching, and crusading vigorously Christ’s command to baptize all nations that the Church can then only become truly universal and catholic. It was only by this most public testimony of Peter’s martyrdom concerning the true faith that he could actually fulfill Christ’s command to teach and baptize all and thus make the Church catholic. In no way was it Christ’s command to keep the faith secretly or for only a few–no, it was to teach and preach to all or be indefatigably universal.
And this for Peter, the first pope, could only come through great sacrifice and penance on his own part. Without this penance and great sacrifice, as Peter knew from Christ His Divine Teacher, the Catholic Church would never be orthodox, Roman, or Catholic. And as Pope Peter, the greatest of the Great, likewise knew, only a total imitation of Christ’s sacrifice of the Cross for sin in his own life would do. He, too, must be crucified like His Savior as Vicar of Christ on earth.
Undeniably, the "Missa Latina Tridentina"(the Tridentine Latin Mass) demonstrates most vociferously Christ’s total sacrifice for sin; by all means the Mass of the Ages is a totally Orthodox Roman Catholic prayer about the holiness of true sacrifice. This was the ‘propitiatory’ sacrifice of the Mass said by our first pope, Peter I, the greatest of the Great. And clearly it is this same Mass of the Ages, said today by our current pope, Pope Benedict XVI. What a great orthodox Roman Catholic pope was Pope Peter and all popes who have followed him since and who will follow him in modern times, just as Pope Benedict XVI, our current pope, so militantly and vigilantly has done.
Here every pope in Catholic history and every Catholic becomes most forcefully Orthodox Roman and Catholic, too, when they like Peter profess their true belief in the Mass that Jesus Christ again has come down on the altar to immolate Himself for our sins. Here by their belief they say again as Peter: "Thou art the Christ the Son of the Living God."
Every Catholic pope and each member of the Church who expresses Peter's words through his faith at the holy sacrifice of the Mass in the transubstantiated Presence of Christ's Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity preaches and teaches most vociferously the Orthodox Roman Catholic faith. Here again every Catholic pope and church member is being crucified or immolated of their sins as Peter was crucified at Rome. Unless this immolation from our sins takes place in a most unmistakably and definitively clear liturgy and language as it does so at the Tridentine Latin Mass of the Ages, then we cannot, as Peter could not, be faithful to Christ or Orthodox Roman Catholics.
This profession of belief in Jesus Christ at the most holy sacrifice of the Mass makes us all free of the world and brings the Church and us to Heaven and the gates of Hell cannot prevail against it. When the popes as Peter are truly crucified of their sins, they are the fortified rock of the Church, then only the contagion of heresy will never "be able to infect it, nor idolatry and unbelief to overcome it." (Pope Leo Great's Tribute to St. Peter)
In conclusion, unless the pope himself be petrine with a willingness to literally take up his cross and be crucified as Peter was, then he is not being truly orthodox, Roman, or Catholic. And if the holy sacrifice of the Mass does not likewise express vociferously, vigorously, and vehemently this same sacrificial nature of immolating ourselves for our sins with the priest, then the Mass becomes only a meal, a social gathering, or an ‘impetratory’ feasting on demands and supplications before God.
Let us consider the real spirit of the sacrificial nature of Christ’s infinite immolation for our sins at every Mass and how truly repentant we should be, as verified so beautifully by Thomas a Kempis in his Imitation of Christ:
" Lord, all things are Thine that are in heaven and upon earth.
I desire to offer up myself to Thee as a voluntary oblation, and to remain for ever Thine.
Lord, in the simplicity of my heart, I offer myself to thee this day, as Thy servant forevermore, for thy homage, and for a sacrifice of perpetual praise.
Receive me with this sacred oblation of Thy precious Body, which I offer to Thee this day in the invisible presence of assisting Angels, that it may be for salvation unto me and all Thy people.
Lord, I offer to Thee all my sins and offences, which I have committed in Thy sight and that of Thy holy angels from the day in which I was first capable of sin until this hour, upon thine altar of propitiation: that Thou mayst at the same time burn and consume them all with the fire of Thy charity, and mayst blot out all the stains of my sins, and cleanse my conscience from every fault, and restore unto me thy grace, which by sin I have lost, fully pardoning me all and mercifully receiving me to the kiss of peace.
What can I do for my sins but humbly confess and lament them, and incessantly implore thy propitiation?
Hear me, I beseech Thee, in thy mercy when I stand before thee, O my God.
All my sins are exceedingly displeasing to me; I will never commit them any more; but I am sorry for them, and will be sorry for them as long as I live; and am prepared to do penance, and to make satisfaction to the utmost of my power.
Forgive, O my god, forgive me my sins, for the sake of Thy holy Name.
Save my soul, which thou has redeemed with Thy precious Blood.
Behold, I commit myself to Thy mercy: I resign myself into Thy hands.
Deal with me according to Thy goodness, not according to my impiety and wickedness."
Pope St. Peter the greatest of the Great,
pray for us sinners.
(Imitation of Christ, Book IV, chapter ix)