Pope on the International Year of Astronomy 2009 - The Official Speech

1 January 2009



St Peter's Square
Fourth Sunday of Advent, 21 December 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Gospel of this Fourth Sunday of Advent proposes to us the account of
the Annunciation (Lk 1: 26-38), the mystery to which we return every day
in reciting the Angelus. This prayer makes us relive the decisive moment
at which God knocked at Mary's heart and, having received her "yes",
began to take flesh, in her and from her. The Collect of today's Mass is
the same as the one we recite at the end of the Angelus that in Italian,
says: "Infondi nel nostro spirito la tua grazia, O Padre. Tu che
all'annunzio dell'Angelo ci hai rivelato l'incarnazione del tuo Figlio,
per la sua passione e la sua croce guidaci alla gloria della
risurrezione" [Fill our hearts with your love, and as you revealed to us
by an angel the coming of your Son as man, so lead us through his
suffering and death to the glory of his Resurrection]. With only a few
days until the Feast of Christmas, we are invited to fix our gaze on the
ineffable mystery that Mary treasured for nine months in her virginal
womb: the mystery of God who is made man. This is the first foundation
of the redemption. The second is the death and Resurrection of Jesus and
these two inseparable aspects express a single divine plan: to save
humanity and its history, assuming them fully by taking on the entire
burden of all the evil that oppresses it.

Beyond its historical dimension, this mystery of salvation also has a
cosmic dimension: Christ is the sun of grace who, with his life,
"transfigures and enflames the expectant universe" (cf. Liturgy). The
Christmas festivity is placed within and linked to the winter solstice
when, in the northern hemisphere, the days begin once again to lengthen.
In this regard perhaps not everyone knows that in St Peter's Square
there is also a meridian; in fact, the great obelisk casts its shadow in
a line that runs along the paving stones toward the fountain beneath
this window and in these days, the shadow is at its longest of the year.
This reminds us of the role of astronomy in setting the times of prayer.
The Angelus, for example, is recited in the morning, at noon and in the
evening, and clocks were regulated by the meridian which in ancient
times made it possible to know the "exact midday".

The fact that the winter solstice occurs exactly today, 21 December, and
at this very time, offers me the opportunity to greet all those who will
be taking part in various capacities in the initiatives for the World
Year of Astronomy, 2009, established on the fourth centenary of Galileo
Galilei's first observations by telescope. Among my Predecessors of
venerable memory there were some who studied this science, such as
Sylvester II who taught it, Gregory XIII to whom we owe our calendar,
and St Pius X who knew how to build sundials. If the heavens, according
to the Psalmist's beautiful words, "are telling the glory of God" (Ps
19[18]: 1), the laws of nature which over the course of centuries many
men and women of science have enabled us to understand better are a
great incentive to contemplate the works of the Lord with gratitude.

Let us now turn our gaze again to Mary and Joseph who were awaiting the
birth of Jesus and learn from them the secret of reflection in order to
taste the joy of Christmas. Let us prepare ourselves to welcome with
faith the Redeemer who comes to be with us, the Word of God's love for
humanity of every epoch.



Organisational Associates:

The International Year of Astronomy 2009 is endorsed by the United Nations and the International Council of Science.