Thomas J. Nashs book, Worthy
Is The Lamb: The Biblical Roots of the Mass, is both profoundly
insightful and highly readable. In it he refutes, in a resoundingly biblical
fashion, the common charge that the Mass is "unbiblical".
From the Garden of Eden to Christs Ascension, Nash illustrates how
roots of the Mass go much deeper than the Last Supper and Christs
Passion. Old Testament sacrifices like Abels, Abrahams and
the Passover all prefigure and are fulfilled by Christs Sacrifice.
Indeed, Nash shows how Christs Sacrifice has two distinct, yet inseparable
phases: What began on the Cross culminated in everlasting glory when Jesus
entered once for all into the heavenly holy of holies.
In other words, at Mass the Church does not become present at the foot
of the Cross in sorrow but rather to a never-ending, heavenly drama in
joyful celebration, offering and partaking of Christs Sacrifice
according to the priestly order of Melchizedek! As the renowned apologist
Frank Sheed concisely observed, "The essence of the Mass is that
Christ is making an offering to the Father of Himself, Who was stain for
upon Calvary The Mass is Calvary, as Christ now offers it to His Father."
In a time when the Catholic Church is under attack from within and without,
Worthy Is the Lamb reminds the faithful why they believe and where
they are heading, that the Mass is, as Vatican II affirms, "the source
and summit of the whole Christian life". This book will transform
your understanding of and participation in the Mass.
Dr. Scott Hahn, noted theologian and co-author
Sweet Home, states: "Its high time Catholics discovered
the Old Testament roots of our Churchs worship and priesthood. The
New Covenant did not abolish the Old, but fulfilled and transformed it.
Our Lord wants us to experience the reality of the Mass in all its fullness,
and thats what Tom Nash wants you to know."
And Steve Ray, author of Upon
This Rock and St.
writes, "A sprout emerges from the seed, then a tree from the sprout.
In the same way the Church and the sacraments emerge from the Jewish Scripturesthe
Old Testament. To understand the Passover Lamb and ceremonies of ancient
Israel is to fully appreciate Our Lord Jesus, the Mass, and the Catholic
Church, Nash has done us all a great service by pulling back the curtain
and blowing away the mist, giving us a glimpse back in time and forward
through eternity, enabling us to clearly see and appreciate Our Lord in
the Eucharist in all his rich glory-prefigured in the Old Testament and
revealed in the New.
IgnatiusInsight.com: What prompted you to write your book?
Thomas J. Nash: I had long thought of doing an apologetics book
on the biblical basis of the Catholic Church for Emmaus Road Publishing,
which is the publishing house of my employer, Catholics United for the
Faith (CUF). But I learned that someone else had been signed up for a
similar book, and, amidst my disappointment, I prayed about which direction
to proceed. I came to the conclusion that a book on the biblical story
or roots of the Mass would be a good one, because there wasnt really
one that filled this niche in the Catholic marketplace on the popular/scholarly
When I say the biblical roots of the Mass, I refer to the heart of the
Massthe Sacrifice of the Mass-and how that Sacrifice was prefigured
in Old Testament offerings and fulfilled in Christs one Sacrifice
in the New Testament. While many apologetics books made worthwhile, New
Testament-based arguments for the Eucharist in the midst of covering other
doctrinal topics, I didnt see any book that cultivated a biblical
overview of the Sacrifice of the Mass. Different authors affirmed my conclusion.
Because it makes present Christs one Sacrifice of Calvary, the Mass
is the both the source and summit of the Catholic life, as Vatican II
reminds us. The Mass is fundamental in showing us where weve come
from and where were going in salvation history, and it is also provides
us the strength-Jesus Himselffor us to get there and help others
do the same. The Mass is also misunderstood both by many Catholics and
Protestants, with Catholics often vulnerable to biblical arguments against
Given these various reasons, I thought a good biblical exposition of the
Mass was much needed. My goal was to write a book that would be accessible
and engaging to the average layman, yet, in doing so, lead the reader
to better appreciate the profound theological realities that are wrapped
up in the Sacrifice of the Mass. For example, how can Jesus have died
once on Calvary, yet have his Sacrifice re-presented 2,000 years later
by the Church? I had written significantly on the biblical basis of the
Mass as a graduate student and thatand others writingsprovided
a good basis on how to proceed.
IgnatiusInsight.com: What are the biggest misconceptions about the
Mass that Protestants have? That Catholics have?
Nash: There are many Protestant denominations, so you cant
over generalize, but it is fair to say that there are major trends among
Many Protestants have a limited view of what a sacrifice
is. They think that if a victim is involved, then slaughtering the victim
must always take place to have a true sacrifice. Thus, if a victim has
already been slaughtered, the victim cannot be offered anymore, even if
the effects of that offering may continue. Consequently, many Protestant
have a peculiar belief of the "once-for-all" nature of Jesus
(cf. Heb. 7:26-28, 9:28), namely, that His Offering began and ended on
Calvary (cf. Jn. 19:30). They mistakenly believe that Catholics are attempting
to crucify Christ again and again at every Mass, thereby undermining the
biblical belief that His Sacrifice is "once for all." Luther
considered the Mass a "blasphemy," because he believed it called
into question the efficacy of Christs one Sacrifice.
The Catholic view is actually much more profound and biblically based
than its critics contend, as I demonstrate in great detail in my book.
In short, Christs Sacrifice follows and fulfills the "two-phase"
model of the Day of Atonement sacrifices (cf. Lev. 16). On this Day, among
other sacrifices, a bull and a goat were slaughtered. But the sacrifices
of these animals didnt end there. To complete these offerings, the
high priest would take the blood of these animals into the holy of holiesthe
innermost chamber of the Templeand sprinkle it before and on the
Almightys mercy seat, which was perched atop the Ark of the Covenant.
Similarly, Christs Sacrifice did not begin and end with His Sacrifice,
in which Christ suffered, died, and rose from the dead (the earthly phase).
As unique priest and victim, Christ had to ascend to complete His Sacrifice,
presenting His Self-Offering to the Father in the heavenly sanctuary (Heb.
9:3-24). Thus, the image of the lamb standing in heaven in triumph, even
though he bears the marks of being slain (cf. Rev. 5:6). Because heaven
is timeless, Christ Sacrifice culminates in everlasting glory at His Ascension.
The Catholic view makes sense of the biblical assertion that Christ continues
to serve as a priest in heaven and therefore must have something to offer
in heaven (Heb. 8:1-3, cf. 7:23-25). In other words, if Jesus offered
only one Sacrifice, and He continues to offer a sacrifice in heaven, then
"once for all" must also mean that is His Sacrifice is everlasting.
It is this "completed," glorified Sacrifice, culminated in everlasting
glory that Catholics become present to and participate in offering at
every Mass. My book elaborates much more on these profound themes.
Beyond that, Protestants simply do not believe that the Mass is the perfection
and perpetuation of the Jewish Passover sacrifice, one in which Christians
both offer and partake of the Lamb. Many of them labor under the misconception
that the Eucharist, if it were true, would constitute cannibalism. Cannibalism
is the eating of a dead persons body in a way that diminishes that
persons body. Through the miracle of the Eucharist, we partake of
the eternally lifegiving Body, Body, Soul and Divinity of the very
much alive Jesus Christ. As I explain in detail in my book, while Jesus
human nature is by nature limited, it can miraculously partake of his
I think Catholics suffer today not so much from misconceptions as poor
catechesis and lack of reverence. Some dont believe in the Real
Presence, but most do. Yet, those who believe often dont take their
belief to its logical, reverential conclusion: not partaking of the Lamb
of God in a state of serious sin because to do so would grave implications
(cf. 1 Cor. 11:27-30).
I would say the major misconception among Catholics
is that many see the Mass as mainly or exclusively a meal, underemphasizing
or missing its sacrificial aspect. If Catholics en masse realized that
they join the heavenly host in offering the Son to the Father at Mass,
and if they realized the serious implications of partaking of Our Lord
in the Eucharist, I think we would see the beginning of a Catholic revival.
After all, as Vatican II reminds us, the Mass is the source and summit
of the Catholic life, the place from which we get our power and purpose
on earth and also our ultimate, heavenly destination.
However, so long as notorious public figures can receive the Eucharist,
e.g., pro-abortion politicians, I think the solemnity of the Sacrifice
of the Mass and gravity of the receiving Holy Communion will thereby be
catechetically undermined. A general reform in catechesis at all age levels
is also needed, and there is no better place to start than in the homily.
IgnatiusInsight.com: Many Christians arent familiar with typology
and the important role it plays in a Catholic reading of Scripture. How
does an understanding of typology help in appreciating the Old Testament
roots of Catholic theology and liturgy?
Nash: Typology is not a Catholic imposition on Scripture. Its
a legitimate, exegetical exercise, i.e., an authentic, biblically based
way to draw out the full meaning of Scripture, of Gods salvific
plan for us.
Typology helps illustrate the unity of salvation history, showing how
what began in the Garden of Eden culminated in Christs Sacrifice
of Calvary. Typology shows how various Old Testament sacrifices prefigured
and are fulfilled by Christs Sacrifice, including Abels, Abrahams,
Melchizedeks, the Passover and the Day of Atonement offerings. In
other words, typology serves as a biblical thread to help us better understand
and explain Scripture. The dominant type or image regarding the biblical
roots or story of the Mass is the lamb, thus the title of my book: Worthy
is the Lamb. The lamb is not simply a paradigm of biblical sacrifice,
but also a paradigm of Christian discipleship.
IgnatiusInsight.com: Many Catholics, in this country at least, do
not study scripture. Is it possible for a Catholic to fully understand
the liturgy of the Mass without a scriptural background?
Nash: A Catholic can participate in Mass without studying Scripture,
but hell never fully understand the Mass without studying Scripture,
and thus his participation will be stunted to one extent or another. On
the one hand, weve had in history Catholics who were not very educated,
but who had a basic, biblical understanding of the Mass and an accompanying
profound belief in the Eucharistic Lord they loved. Their love and fervent
faith are models for us today, because knowledge of the Masss biblical
roots without genuine love and faith effectively amounts to nothing (cf.
1 Cor. 13:2).
On the other hand, the problem today is that many Catholics are well-educated,
yet studying their faith is not a primary focus of their leisure time
activity. A bishop once told me, "You cant love what you dont
know." Applied to this scenario, Catholics need to know the Lord
better through scriptural study and prayer if they are to love and serve
Him better, and, in turn, have the power to love and serve others better.
The more we study Scripture, the more were going to know how much
our Lord has loved us and our spiritual ancestors through salvation history,
and how profoundly mysterious is the Sacrifice of the Mass, at which we
become present to, offer and partake of our loving Lord. The result of
such study will be Catholics with much greater convictions, better prepared
and more willing to serve the Lord in carrying out His Churchs mission
to the world (cf. Mt. 28:18-20).
Read Part Two of this interview.