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 the biblical 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 of Rome 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. John's Gospel, 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 level.
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 the Mass.
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 Protestant belief.
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 divine nature.
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.
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