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December 22nd, 2008

Happy Solstice, from the Pope!

At his weekly "Angelus" prayer and public address at noon on Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI had a nice call out to us astronomers. I haven't seen an official English translation yet, but here's my translation of his comments. (Below the cut is a longer essay I wrote last night about his comments):

...This mystery of salvation has a cosmic dimension: Christ is the Sun which, with its light, “transfigures and illuminates the universe in waiting.” The setting of the feast of Christmas is tied to the winter solstice, when the days in the northern hemisphere begin to get longer. And incidentally, perhaps not everyone realizes that St. Peter’s Square is also a meridian: the great Obelisk throws its shadow along a line that runs across the pavement up to the fountain under this window, and at this season the shadow is the longest of the year. This reminds us of the function of astronomy in indicating the times of prayer: the Angleus, for example, is recited in the mornings, at noon, and in the evening; and with a meridian, which in times past served to indicate the true moment of noon, you can regulate your clocks.

And because today, in fact, the 21st of December, at this very hour, is the occurrence of the winter solstice, I would like to take this opportunity to salute all those who are taking part in the various initiatives of the International Year of Astronomy, 2009, honoring the 400th anniversary of the first telescopic observations by Galileo Galilei. Among my predecessors of venerated memory were those who were highly proficient in this science, such as Sylvester II who taught it, Gregory XIII to whom we owe our calendar, and Saint Pius X, who used to enjoy making sundials. If the heavens, which according to the beautiful words of the psalmist, “declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19, v. 2); so likewise the laws of nature, which over the years so many men and women of science have come to know ever better, are a great stimulus for a grateful contemplation of the works of The Lord.

Sylvester? Who were these guys?Collapse )



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