PETER’S PENCE: A HISTORY AS ANCIENT AS THE CHURCH
From its origins to the modern era
Peter’s Pence represents a small offering, accompanied by grand desires and visions. It is an offering that each member of the faithful decides to give to the Pope so that he can provide for the needs of the entire Church, especially in those places where the Church experiences greater difficulties.
It is not by chance that Peter’s Pence, as a donation to the Successor of Peter, took on stable form in the seventh century with the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons, in connection with the feast of the Apostle to whom Jesus entrusted His Church. It then developed in the following centuries as other European peoples adhered to Christianity. It always remained a contribution of gratitude to and acknowledgement of the Pope, an expression of unity and ecclesial co-responsibility.
The bishops of the whole world, gathered in the Second Vatican Council in the early 60s, took up again and illuminated the meaning of material goods for the Church.
In the Apostolic Constitution Gaudium et Spes, promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1965, they wrote: "earthly things and those elements of man's condition which transcend the world, are closely united. The Church herself makes use of temporal things insofar as her own mission requires it” (par. 76).
And again, in the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, published the same year, the Council recalls that Christ, "by assuming human nature, bound the whole human race to Himself as a family through a certain supernatural solidarity and established charity as the mark of His disciples, saying, ‘By this will all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another’ (John 13:35)…. So, too, in every era it is recognized by this sign of love, and while it rejoices in the undertakings of others, it claims works of charity as its own inalienable duty and right. For this reason, pity for the needy and the sick and works of charity and mutual aid intended to relieve human needs of every kind are held in highest honor by the Church" (par. 8).
The Pope’s charitable works, supported by Peter’s Pence, extend, therefore to the whole of humanity. at whose service the structures of the Church exist. For this reason, Peter’s Pence also contributes to the support of the Apostolic See and the activities of the Holy See, as Pope John Paul II recalled: "It is known that the needs of the apostolate and ecclesial communities are growing especially in mission territory. There are requests for help that come from populations, individuals and families in precarious conditions. Many await support from the Apostolic See, support that they often cannot find elsewhere" (John Paul II at the Circle of St. Peter, 28 February 2003). By this openness of the Church today to all people, the Pope is thus an authoritative and disinterested builder of peace and unity among peoples.
“The Church,” wrote Pope Benedict XVI in his first Encyclical Deus Caritas est, “can never be exempted from practicing charity as an organized activity of believers, and on the other hand, there will never be a situation where the charity of each individual Christian is unnecessary, because in addition to justice man needs, and will always need, love” (29). It is not about limiting it to “just another form of social assistance. (...). The program of the Christian, the program of the Good Samaritan, the program of Jesus, is 'a heart that sees'. This heart sees where love is needed and acts accordingly" (31).
Directly referring to the Peter’s Pence, Pope Benedict XVI wanted to emphasize its particular ecclesial significance: “ ‘Peter’s Pence is the most typical expression of the participation of all the faithful in the projects of the Bishop of Rome for the good of the universal Church. It is a gesture that not only has practical value but is also highly symbolic, as a sign of communion with the Pope and attention to the needs of the brethren” (Discourse to the Members of the Circle of St. Peter, 25 February 2006).
Currently, the Peter’s Pence collection takes place throughout the Catholic world, for the most part on 29 June or the Sunday closest to the Solemnity of the Holy Apostles, Peter and Paul. The offerings come in many different ways and converge to form Peter’s Pence. They are then redistributed to those in need according to the Pope's instructions. The general criterion that inspires this practice still refers to the primitive Church. They are the free-will offerings given by Catholics all over the world, and by other people of good will, as a service for others.
"The Christian, in fact”, underlines Pope Francis, “is not an isolated person, but belongs to a people: this people who form God. One cannot be a Christian without such belonging and communion. We are a people: the people of God" (Angelus of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, 27 May 2018).
There is a key to understanding the meaning of this ecclesial belonging, which Pope Francis summarizes as follows: "Jesus teaches us service, as the way of the Christian. The Christian exists to serve, not to be served " (Homily of the Mass at Santa Marta, 26 April 2018).