This is the Solstice day, for the Northern Hemisphere the day which provides us with the least daylight of the year. From this point onward in the globe’s majestic arc about the sun, we of the north, benefit from increasing warmth and illumination.
It is as if God in His Wisdom, provided within the framework of the cosmos object lessons by which we might come to grasp something of His good plan for our salvation.
The main door of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and the main altar within are exactly aligned with the rising of the sun on the Vernal Equinox. On the Winter Solstice, the Egyptian obelisk relocated to the center of St. Peter’s Square lines up with the obelisk and the rising Sun on the Winter Solstice. It lines up with the obelisk at Piazza del Popolo on the Summer Solstice. Popes such as Sixtus V placed these obelisks precisely according to a urban renovation plan. The obelisk at St. Peter’s serves as the spina of an enormous sundial.
The great churches of Christendom served also as accurate clocks and sometimes you see on the interior pavement an analemma where a shaft of sunlight darts to the floor. There is a great example of this in Rome at Santa Maria degli Angeli.
Since the very earliest times, Christians observed the turning of the seasons and the changing direction of the sun’s apparent risings and settings. For example, we make much of St. Lucy’s Day in December (Latin for light is lux), and we have in the traditional calendar the Ember Days – and today is Ember Saturday – which tie us in the Northern Hemisphere closer to the seasons, we celebrate St. John the Baptist in the summer at the solstice.
LATIN: O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol iustitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris et umbra mortis.
ENGLISH: O dawn of the east, brightness of light eternal, and sun of justice: come, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
Luke 1:78, 79
Relevant verse of Veni, Veni Emmanuel:
O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer,
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
We are all desperately in need of a Savior, a Redeemer who is capable of ransoming from the darkness of our sins and from the blinding and numbing wound of ignorance from which we all suffer. In their terrible Fall, our First Parents inflicted grave wounds in the souls of every person who would live after them, except of course – by an act of singular grace – the Mother of God. Our wills are damaged. Our intellect is clouded. In Christ we have the Truth, the sure foundation of what is lasting. All else, apart from Him fails and fades into dark obscurity. He brings clarity and light back to our souls when we are baptized or when we return to Him through the sacrament of penance.
At Holy Mass of the ancient Church, Christians would face “East”, at least symbolically, so that they could greet the Coming of the Savior, both in the consecration of the bread and wine and in the expectation of the glorious return of the King of Glory. They turned to the rising sun who is Justice Itself, whose light will lay bare the truth of our every word, thought and deed in the Final Day.
Let us turn to the LIGHT, repent our evil ways and habits, and grasp onto Christ in His Holy Church, for as we read in Scripture:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.”