Priest: The church has ‘lost’ Christmas, must ‘abandon the word completely.’ But there’s more to it.

Priest: The church has ‘lost’ Christmas, must ‘abandon the word completely.’ But there’s more to it.
A Catholic priest in Ireland said the church across all denominations has "lost" Christmas and "should abandon the word completely." He said that believers should replace the word "Christmas" with "Nativity." (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

A Catholic priest in Ireland said the church across all denominations has “lost” Christmas and “should abandon the word completely.”

“We need to let it go,” Father Desmond O’Donnell of Dublin told the Belfast Telegraph. “It’s already been hijacked, and we just need to recognize and accept that.”

Is O’Donnell against celebrating the birth of Christ?

  • No. Far from it. But he is bothered by the commercialization of the holy day and told the Irish Times the word “Christmas” itself “has lost all meaning for believers.”
  • “The word ‘Christmas’ no longer conveys the significance of the God who joined the human caravan and walked in our shoes,” O’Donnell told the Times. “Christmas has a different connotation now.”
  • He added to the Telegraph that he’s “not seeking to take anything away from anyone. I am simply asking that space be preserved for believers for whom Christmas has nothing to do with Santa and reindeer.”
HarperCollins is planning to release a Christmas children's book this year, depicting Santa Claus as a gay black man in an interracial relationship. The book is slated to go on sale Oct. 10. (Getty Images)
Getty Images
  • “For many people God is just a word representing someone to blame in their calamity or a crutch to lean on in a time of distress,” he added to the Telegraph, “and the reality is that ‘Christmas’ no longer means Christmas.”

What is the priest’s suggestion?

  • O’Donnell — who’s also a biblical scholar and psychologist — told the Times he’s “just trying to rescue the reality of Christmas for believers by giving up ‘Christmas’ and replacing it with another word.”
  • He told the Times that believers should replace the word “Christmas” with “Nativity.”
Traditional Christian Christmas Nativity Scene of baby Jesus in the manger with Mary and Joseph in silhouette surrounded by the animals and wise men in the distance with the city of Bethlehem. (Image source: Getty Creative)
Image source: Getty Creative
  • “In a few weeks, as a priest, I should invite people to celebrate the great feast of the Nativity,” O’Donnell told the Times, noting also that instead of an invitation to celebrate “Easter” he might invite others to celebrate the feast of the Resurrection.

Wouldn’t snuffing out such iconic words be a loss?

  • “It’s not a tragedy,” he told the Times. “Let them go. Even the word ‘God.’ Your father had a different understanding of ‘God’ to what you have.”

What did the priest say about the future of the church?

  • If the church doesn’t change, O’Donnell warned that consequences will result.
  • “It will mean that secularization and modern life will continue to launder the church,” he added to the Telegraph. “It will start to institutionally break down. I’ve already seen it happening around the world in Malta, Poland and Uruguay — and it’s starting to happen in Ireland. It’s like watching the same movie over and over again — the Protestant churches are battling, too.”

This writer’s perspective

While O’Donnell’s suggestion won’t come to pass anytime soon — and he noted as much — it appears his heart is right on target. Perhaps amid O’Donnell’s extreme declaration, some in the church will be reminded, again, of what days like Christmas and Easter are really about. And hopefully, the core of what he’s saying won’t be completely missed.

Check out a sermon O’Donnell gave last year with a similar theme, in which he said “the world is becoming religiously a desert” and is embracing “some sort of paganism.”

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