Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Keep the Mass in Christmas

I notice the occasional post on Facebook where someone puts up same variation of a "Keep the 'Christ' in Christmas" meme. It is a response against the term "X-mas," feared to be a black mark redacting the title of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ from one of His most august feasts--the verbal equivalent of a brown paper bag covering a bottle of booze or a dirty magazine. And people protest against such an affront, and say that we ought not separate Christ from Christmas.

Except that "X-mas" doesn't take Christ out of Christmas, it just abbreviates it.

"X" in this case is not a crossing-out of something. It's the Greek letter chi, which is the first letter in the Greek word Christos [Χριστός], and you don't have to be a scholar of ancient languages to figure out that Christos means "Christ," "anointed one." Perhaps you've seem this symbol in church:

That's the chi-rho, the first two letters of Christos, which the Emperor Constantine famously had his soldiers place on their shields before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 313 AD after he had a vision in which God said to him: "In hoc signo vinces," or "In this sign you will be victorious." Constantine won the battle over his rival, and within a dozen years established Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. All of which is to say: this has a long history as an explicitly Christian symbol.

I've read that "X-mas" came about because advertisers wanted a way to save precious space in their ads, so they began abbreviating it with the well-known Greek letter. It doesn't take Christ out of Christmas; it just shortens it.

Now, I can very well see the argument that says, "Nick, how many people are going to make that connection? Who knows Greek? If the link were so obvious, people wouldn't make this mistake! Besides which, technically it does take the word 'Christ' out of Christmas--that word ain't there no more."

Fair point. I'd prefer to use "Christmas" over "X-mas" any day. My point is to say it wasn't intended or invented as some plot to excise the Jesus from his own nativity.

I propose stressing a different point, though: how about keeping the "mas" in Christmas?

"Christmas" is short for "Christ's Mass." Yes, my non-Catholic friends, when you celebrate Christmas, you are at least nominally honoring the Catholic Mass. Thanks! This usage was more widely used in previous times. Maybe you've heard the term "Candlemas" for the feast of the Presentation, on which traditionally liturgical candles for the year are blessed?

So, whaddya say we keep the Mass in Christmas, and remember that, in the midst of the buying and the feasting and all the secular hub-bub and hoopla that fills this time of year, we are celebrating a religious holiday, a holy-day, in which we commemorate the day God Himself came forth from a virgin's womb and entered our world to save it. Let's keep the Mass in Christmas!

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