12/21/2008, 00.00
VATICAN

Pope: Christmas, the solstice, and astronomy

Benedict XVI recalls that the feast of the Nativity of Christ is celebrated in conjunction with the winter solstice, and that it has a "cosmic dimension." A greeting to all of those involved in the worldwide year of astronomy, a science respected and practiced by many popes as well.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Benedict XVI today gave a brief lesson on the unity between faith and science, during the reflection offered before the Angelus with the pilgrims in St. Peter's Square. The pontiff began from the observation that "the feast of Christmas is connected to the winter solstice [which begins today, December 21], when the days, in the northern hemisphere, start to get longer again." This highlights the fact that Christ is the son of grace, who, with his light, "transfigures and ignites the expectant universe" (liturgy), and that the mystery of Christmas also has a "cosmic dimension," in addition to its "historical" one.

"In this regard," the pope said, "it may be that not everyone knows that St. Peter's Square is also a meridian: the obelisk, in fact, casts its shadow along a line that runs along the pavement toward the fountain under this window, and in these days the shadow is at its longest of the year. This reminds us of the function of astronomy in marking out the rhythm of prayer. The Angelus, for example, is recited in the morning, at noon, and in the evening, and with the meridian, which was used in ancient times to identify 'true noon', clocks were adjusted."

Recalling that 2009 has been declared by UNESCO and the UN as the "world year of astronomy," Benedict XVI greeted "all those who will participate in various ways in the initiatives for the world year of astronomy, 2009, declared at the 400th anniversary of the first telescopic observations of Galileo Galilei."

The memory of Galileo Galilei brings to the surface many controversies over the supposed enmity between the Church and science. In reality, the pope specified, "my predecessors of venerable memory included devotees of this science, like Sylvester II, who taught it, Gregory XIII, to whom we owe our calendar, and St. Pius X, who knew how to make sundials." There is therefore a friendship between faith and science, astronomy and faith. "If the heavens," the pope said, "according to the beautiful words of the psalmist, 'proclaim the glory of God' (Psalm 19[18]:2), then the laws of nature, which over the course of the centuries many men and women of science have helped us to understand better, are also a great stimulus to contemplate with gratitude the works of the Lord."

Benedict XVI did not forget to comment briefly on the Gospel for this Sunday (IV of Advent), which presents the story of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38). "Just a few days from the feast of Christmas," the pope said, "we are invited to fix our eyes on the ineffable mystery that Mary kept for nine months in her virginal womb: the mystery of God who becomes man. This is the first hinge of the redemption. The second is the death and resurrection of Jesus, and these two inseparable hinges manifest a single divine plan: to save humanity and its history by assuming them to the utmost, taking on the entire weight of all the evil oppressing them."

In these days before Christmas, the pope suggested, we should turn "our eyes toward Mary and Joseph, who are awaiting the birth of Jesus." "Let us learn from them," he concluded "the secret of recollection, in order to savor the joy of Christmas. Let us prepare ourselves to welcome with faith the Redeemer who comes to be with us, Word of the love of God for the humanity of every age."

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