Merry Christ Mass!!
Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Sunday, December 19, 2010
Merry Christ Mass. Or if you prefer… Merry Christmas!
However, an examination of the origin and derivation of the word – its etymology – reveals something entirely fascinating.
First, it should be understood that there are numerous valid accounts of when Christ could have been born – many of which are nowhere near the month we now know as December. And yet, there is no conclusive evidence setting a day or date upon which most could agree. For example, according to the accounts given in the Gospels – which contain contradictory accounts – a census was occurring, and given the modes of transportation – foot, drawn carts or wagons – an entire population could not have been set in motion. Yet, were it in winter, travel would have been treacherous, and therfore highly improbable. However, supporting the notion that it occurred in winter is the idea that field labor was suspended. But the Roman government was never known for kindness or generosity, so Roman authorities very well could have ordered a census in winter. Yet again, would shepherds kept flocks exposed during the evening hours during a rainy season? These questions from the Gospel accounts contribute ambiguity and sufficiently plague the accurate determination of a date or season for Christ’s birth.
Add to that evidence that supports feasts and celebrations originating circa A.D. 200 (182-202 C.E.) and noted by Clement of Alexandria in his trilogy work entitled “Stromata” in book 1.21 that certain Egyptian theologians assign the day, date and year of Christ’s birth:
“From the birth of Christ, therefore, to the death of Commodus are, in all, 194 years, 1 month, 13 days. And there are those who have determined not only the year of our Savior’s genesis, but even the day, which they say took place in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus on the 25th of Pachon… And treating of his passion, with very great accuracy, some say that it took place in the sixteenth year of Tiberius, on the 25th of Phamenoth, but others the 25th of Pharmuthi and others say that on the 19th of Pharmuthi the Savior suffered. Indeed, others say that he came to be on the 24th or 25th of Pharmuthi.”” (~Stromata 1.21.145-146)
Nevertheless… returning to the idea of Christ Mass, popularly known as “Christmas.”
The word for Christmas in late Old English is Cristes Maesse, the Mass of Christ, first found in 1038, and Cristes-messe, in 1131. In Dutch it is Kerstmis, in Latin Dies Natalis, whence comes the French Noël, and Italian Il natale; in German Weihnachtsfest, from the preceding sacred vigil.
It is called “Mass” (from the Latin missa) because of the “mission” or “sending” with which the liturgical celebration concludes.
The ancients understood that the Mass was a sending-forth. That last line is not so much a dismissal as a commissioning. We have united ourselves to Christ’s sacrifice. We leave Mass now in order to live the mystery, the sacrifice, we have just celebrated, through the splendor of ordinary life in the home and in the world.