Let”s turn again to Matthew 16:19, where Our Lord says to Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Part of giving Peter the “keys” involved the authority to “bind and loose.” As we see a couple chapters later in Matthew, this was an authority shared with the other apostles (Mt. 18:18).
This “binding and loosing” authority may sound strange to us, but this language had several familiar meanings in Jesus’ time, including: [more]
(a) the ability to make “binding” decisions or binding interpretations of the law;
(b) the authority to include or exclude members in a given community; and
(c) the forgiveness of sins (“loosing” in the sense of releasing or freeing from sins) (see Rev. 1:5; see generally Catechism, nos. 553, 881).
All these meanings come into play with Peter as Christ’s prime minister or vicar who has been entrusted with the keys of the kingdom and made head of the apostles and pastor of the universal Church.
The authority to “bind and loose” was confirmed and fulfilled on Easter Sunday, when Our risen Lord appeared to His disciples and breathed on them, saying: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn. 20:22-23).
I don”t know about you, but the consideration of the “binding and loosing” authority entrusted to Peter and the other apostles gives me a greater appreciation for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Tomorrow we will conclude this series by considering papal succession. After all, one might argue, it”s one thing to concede that certain authority was given to Peter; it”s quite another thing to say that this authority has been passed in an unbroken succession up to Pope Benedict XVI. We will tackle that issue in the next post.