Benedict XVI. And Professor Hawking's Two Worlds Have a Lot in common
The Holy Saturday is the church's "black hole" before the Easter Glory
Stephen Hawking is being buried at Holy Mary's Church on Cambridge at the great St. Mary's University, Cambridge not far from Gonville and Caius College, where Professor Hawking was a member for more than 50 years.
The choice of place emphasizes the "university" rather than the "church," as Professor Hawking has emphatically emphasized as a member of the former church, if not the latter.
The service will be "inclusive and traditional," depending on the family. While I'm inclined to argue that tradition, especially the liturgical tradition, is inclusive, I admit that it has not included atheist burial rites. But that is the sort of thing for which the Church of England seems to have particular expertise, and no doubt the clergy present will gracefully adapt and pretend not to notice that the deceased thought their rites nonsense ̵
The election of Holy Saturday was probably a practical one. In contrast to Good Friday and Easter Sunday there are no Holy Week services on Saturday in the Great St. Mary's Church.
Nevertheless, it seems as if the funeral of Professor Hawking will take place on Holy Saturday. Hawking's most famous work was about black holes that had been considered pits that contained everything that was sucked into them. Without going into the physics that goes far beyond me, Hawking argued instead that black holes emit a certain amount of radiation that not everything that was believed lost has actually disappeared.
It is something of Holy Saturday in this: the day of great silence where everything seems lost. The hope itself seems to die behind the stone that was rolled over the grave. And yet something is beginning to shine behind the stone. Scientists studying the Shroud of Turin do not know how the picture was made, but one theory is that it was created by an energy ray – radiation from the body around which the cloth was wrapped.
The Liturgy of Lent and the Holy The week approaches the void and moves towards the "black hole" of the Holy Saturday. First, the "Hallelujah" and then the organ and the flowers on the altar, and then the pictures are covered during the Passion time. Finally, the altar is removed on Maundy Thursday, and even the Mass is not celebrated on Good Friday. On Holy Saturday, the light itself has been lost. Everything is gone. But it is not. The radiation is still coming out and the restoration – the resurrection – is done.
Despite today's confusion about the philosophy of science – which Professor Hawking was not immune to – theology and physics are destined for each other. The liturgy – from the rising of the sun to its fall may be praised the name of the Lord – is situated in the world of physics. Has Pope Benedict XVI. At World Youth Day in Cologne, the Eucharist is not called "nuclear fission at the core of being"?
I can not compete with Professor, Benedikt in theology or Hawking in physics. But the two have more to do with each other than the world could think.
Professor Hawkins remains are laid to rest alongside Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin at Westminster Abbey. I do not think he ever thought about it, considering that there is no life after death, but now all who honor Hawking's grave will enter a church built to sing the praises of God , For a few, physics touches the creative power of God. Music, for so many more, allows the creative love of God to be encountered.
It is not likely that Holy Saturday, as opposed to Easter in general, will play a major role in the burial of Professor Hawking. Perhaps the congregation will not speak of God on the day of God's silence.
But God speaks. Even before the liturgy He speaks in His creation. Stephen Hawking understood what was said there better than most, though he did not understand what that meant.
Holy Saturday, the day of the tomb. We all know what the tomb means. Until it does not mean anymore
A blessed Easter for all!
Father Raymond J de Souza is priest of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Ontario, and editor-in-chief of convivium.ca
This article first appeared in the March 30, 2018 issue of the Catholic Herald. To read the magazine in full length from anywhere in the world, go here
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