Like a number of other solemnities, that of Sts. Peter and Paul enjoys two Mass formularies: one for the vigil, in the evening of June 28, and one for the day itself. In both, the first reading is from Acts and tells of a miracle involving Peter; the second is an autobiographical section from the Pauline epistles; and the gospel tells of Jesus conferring authority on Peter.
Vigil Mass: The first reading tells of Peter’s healing, in the name of Jesus, of a crippled beggar at the gate of the temple. This is one example of Peter’s prominence in the early church. If we consider ourselves as entering the world spiritually crippled by our innate sinfulness, the reading suggests that our spiritual healing comes through the Church, of which Peter was appointed head (see the gospels of both Masses) to care for God’s people.
The responsorial psalm — Ps 19: 2-5 with responsory from verse 5 — calls to mind the spread of the gospel through the work of the apostles.
The second reading — Galatians 1:11-20 — was also, except for the last verse, proclaimed on the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time this year. It tells us that Paul received his faith in Jesus by direct revelation from God so that he might proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles (just as Peter’s faith in Jesus as Messiah came by revelation, as told in the day Mass gospel).
In the gospel — John 21:15-19 — We hear Peter’s threefold profession of love for Jesus, to which Jesus responds with a threefold command to feed is sheep. We see this as meaning that he is to be responsible for providing the nourishment of the Word of God and of the sacraments to the church. We see this shepherding role as continuing in the papacy. Jesus also predicts his death by martyrdom.
Mass during the Day: In the first reading — Acts 12:1-11 — the miracle is not performed by Peter but for Peter. His is in prison. Just as Jesus was killed at Passover, Herod’s intent is to kill Peter immediately after the celebration. But he has not completed the work God has for him. It is not yet time for the martyrdom predicted in the gospel of the vigil, so God miraculously rescues Peter from the prison.
The responsorial psalm — Ps 34:2-9 with responsory based on verse 8 — reflects on Peter’s rescue from prison.
The second reading — 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18 — brings us to the final stage of Paul’s life. He has completed the work whose beginning was recounted in the second reading of the vigil Mass. He has proclaimed the gospel from Antioch to Rome (and according to some traditions to Spain). Now his rescue will not be from death but through death into the life of heaven.
The gospel — Matthew 13:16-19 — is the familiar account of Peter’s profession of faith and Jesus’ response. Jesus realizes that it is by revelation that Peter recognizes him as Messiah. This means that he is the one who is to hold the metaphorical keys to the kingdom of heaven: his decisions will be ratified by God. As with the shepherding role assigned in the gospel of the vigil, we understand this power of the keys and foundational position to continue for the Church in Peter’s successors. The two functions are actually in a way the same thing, expressed in different images.
Sts. Peter and Paul are the leading figures in the establishment of the Church through the proclamation of the gospel, and their work is a task continues to the day.