Stephen Hawking’s funeral will be on Holy Saturday at Great St Mary’s, the University Church in Cambridge, not far from Gonville and Caius College, where Professor Hawking was a fellow for more than 50 years.
The choice of site emphasises rather more the “University” than the “Church”, as Professor Hawking was emphatically a member of the former community, if not the latter.
The service will be both “inclusive and traditional” according to the family. While I am inclined to argue that tradition – especially liturgical tradition – is inclusive, I concede that heretofore it has not generally included burial rites for atheists. But this is the sort of thing for which the Church of England seems to have particular expertise, and no doubt the clergy present will adapt with grace and pretend not to notice that the deceased considered their rites nonsense – pious nonsense for which he had some respect, but nonsense nonetheless.
I doubt Professor Hawking’s family considered a Catholic church for the funeral, but if they had, Holy Saturday would not have been possible. Funerals are not permitted on that day, when Christ himself is “liturgically” dead. The Church keeps silence, as it were, in the darkness of the tomb, until the first lights of the great vigil of Easter are kindled.
The choice of Holy Saturday was probably a practical one. Great St Mary’s doesn’t have any Holy Week services on Saturday, unlike on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
Nevertheless, it strikes me as suggestive that Professor Hawking’s funeral will take place on Holy Saturday. Hawking’s most famous work dealt with black holes, which had been thought of as akin to pits where all that was sucked into them disappeared. Without getting into physics that is far beyond me, Hawking argued instead that black holes emitted a certain radiation, that not all that was thought lost was indeed gone.
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