Question: The Catholic Church teaches that Peter was given primacy amongst the apostles, yet Peter considered himself a “fellow elder” and thus, did not view himself as one superior to the other apostles. So, aren’t the local churches to be led by a plurality of elders?
— John C., Reform Baptist
Answer: The text, which you cite is 1 Peter 5:1, wherein Peter exhorts the leaders of the Church to be zealous shepherds. But what you see as equivalency may simply be fraternity.
For example, when my archbishop writes a letter to the priests, he begins, “My dear brother priests … ” Now, the archbishop is a priest, and shares that in common, as a brother, with all the priests of this diocese. But his salutation is not a declaration that there is no difference, or that he does not also have authority over us as the cardinal archbishop.
In the letter you cite, Peter begins by writing of himself, Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ (1 Pt 1:1). Hence your point that he thought of himself merely as a fellow elder does not seem supported.
Further, the Catholic Church’s position on the primacy of Peter does not rise or fall based on one text. Our teaching is based on a number of foundational texts and also on Sacred Tradition.
Thus we see that Christ singles Peter out and calls him “the rock,” giving him the keys of the Kingdom of heaven, a sign of special authority (Mt 16:19). He also assigns Peter with the special role of uniting the other apostles, when the devil would sift (divide) them like wheat (Lk 22:31-32). Peter is also singled out by Jesus at the lakeside and told to “tend my sheep” (Jn 21).
In Acts, we see Peter is listed first among the apostles. He preaches the first sermon, works the first miracle, pronounces sentence on Ananias and Sapphira, is led by the Spirit to baptize the first Gentiles and presides over the Council of Jerusalem.
The Catholic Church also bases its understanding of Peter’s office on the broad and consistent testimony of the Fathers of the Church and other witnesses to the practice of Christian antiquity. These sources attest that Peter and his successors were accorded special dignity. Their authority to rule over the whole Church in a unique and singular way is confirmed by these sources.
Flags and the Church
Question: I am a veteran and currently debating with my pastor who refuses to allow the American flag to be displayed in the front of the Church. He has it back in the vestibule. Are there rules about this?
— Joseph, Pennsylvania
Answer: There are no specific rules about flags in either the liturgical books or the Code of Canon Law.
However, the U.S. bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy encouraged pastors not to place the flag within the sanctuary. They recommended an area be found outside the sanctuary, or in the vestibule of the church. But these are recommendations only and it remains for the diocesan bishop to determine regulations in this matter.
So, your pastor is on fairly good ground. Patriotism remains an important virtue for Christians. But how that patriotism is expressed in the location of the flag can admit of some local differences, and should conform well to liturgical norms as well as pastoral solicitude.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.