Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, who are the foundational blocks of the mission of the Church. Both were martyred in Rome sometime during the persecution of Nero, around 64 AD. Both are instrumental in laying the groundwork for the message of the Gospel: Peter to the House of Israel and Paul as the Apostle to the Gentiles. Both are remembered and honored at their place of death and burial by two awesome churches. And it is on this feast that the Church recognizes the primacy of Peter and his successor, the Bishop of Rome. His symbol are the keys of the Kingdom entrusted to him at the time of his declaration of faith.
Peter died by crucifixion (at his request, upside down because he was unworthy to die as did Jesus) on Vatican Hill at the circus located there. He was buried in the adjoining cemetery, and his grave was marked and venerated from the beginning, although in secret. When Constantine converted and built a church over his grave, the first Saint Peter's came to be. The present basilica was built over the same spot, with Peter's tomb located in the necropolis below the crypt and under the main altar.
Paul, a Roman citizen by birth, was brought to Rome to be judged by the emperor. Found guilty, he was condemned to death as well, but since crucifixion was beneath the dignity of even the worst Roman citizen, he was beheaded just outside the city walls. This is the sight of the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls. His ministry was to preach the Gospel message to the Gentile community, and his symbol is the two edged sword, which Scripture describes as the Word of God.
The Preface proper to this feast is very beautiful, mentioning that Peter is "foremost in confessing the faith" and established "the early Church from the remnant of Israel". It says that Paul is the faith's "outstanding preacher ... master and teacher of the Gentiles".
A number of years ago I had the honor of celebrating Mass in the Clementine Chapel which is at the tomb of Peter and under the high altar. I also had the opportunity to be a part of the Scavi tour of the underground necropolis that has been excavated since the 1940's, I believe, and leads to the bones attributed to be those of Peter.
As pastor of the Church of Saint Paul in Greensburg, we were looking for an image of Paul for our letterhead, and I chose Paul holding the sword. Many wondered at that, until they became aware that this sword represents the Word of God.
On this Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, please pray for Peter's successor, Francis, and those who share the ministry of the Apostles, including our own Bishop, Edward and our retired Bishop, Lawrence. Pray for those who form the rock solid foundation of Faith and who preach unceasingly the Word of God.