It doesn’t take a language scholar to recognize what the word Christmas came from. It’s clearly a compound word meaning “Christ-mass”. This is one of the common arguments against celebrating Christmas. We know that the word “Christ” refers to Jesus and His position as Messiah or “Anointed One.” Those opposed to the celebration of Christmas teach that the word references the Roman Catholic Church’s celebration of the Mass, which they claim means “sacrifice.” Thus, every time we speak the word “Christmas” we are speaking of the bloody crucifixion of the Messiah, that opponents to Christmas claim is reenacted at every Mass . Some even describe the horror they feel when an unknowing person wishes them a “Merry Christmas.” How can anyone think of the sacrifice of the Christ as a “merry” thing?
There’s a problem with this logic: the word “mass” doesn’t mean “sacrifice.” If you Google the etymology of the word, it is easily found. “Mass” comes from the Latin word “missa” which means “dismissal.” The Roman Catholic service has come to be known as the “Mass” because in the Latin version of the service, at the close, the priest says, “Ite, missa est,” meaning “Go: it is the dismissal.”
Really? Why the controversy?
Even if you accept the position that the word took on additional meaning over time, it is important to note what the Roman Catholic Church defines as that additional meaning. In Christian meaning, the word has come to imply “mission”. So Christmas, in traditional Catholic usage, would simply mean “Christ’s mission.” This isn’t exactly the horrifying word that the opponents to Christmas describe. In reality, it seems a very appropriate word for recognizing the Birth of the Messiah. It immediately brings to mind the mission (again, think of the Christian understanding of the Latin word “missa”) of Christ described by the Apostle Paul in Philippians 2:5-11:
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
I see Christmas – Christ’s mission – written all over that passage. Still, there are sincere, Jesus loving Christians who refuse to even use the word “Christmas” because they have been taught that it means something evil and pagan. If you search the internet for the pagan origin of the word “Christmas,” you will find countless references to this word meaning “Christ’s sacrifice.” But if you try to source these claims, you will spend hours digging through site after site without finding a single scholarly source that backs it up. It is, unfortunately, a testament to the power of rumor. Once a statement is made that backs up a point, the statement takes on a life of its own. How many millions have heard this lie – just like I did – and have become horrified by what they believe is a pagan origin of the word?
This leads to an important point that must be made: there is so much information on the Internet that we must be willing to look beyond the quantity of an argument, and look for the quality of that argument. Just because one can find hundreds of documents, books, sermons and websites that reference a point, if the point being referenced is invalid, the argument is invalid. A perfect example of this is seen in the fraud The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This document is easily found in thousands of books and on countless websites, and is referenced in hundreds of thousands more. It claims that a vast conspiracy of wealthy Jews is attempting to take over the world. Its lies were commonly used by Adolf Hitler and other anti-Semites. But the document has been proven an invalid forgery numerous times. The facts are wrong, no matter how many people refer to them. This is also seen in the controversy over the word “Christmas.”
In its more liberal interpretation, the word “Christmas” means “Christ’s mission.” I don’t have a problem with that word, or with anyone celebrating the inauguration of that event at Messiah’s birth.