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Part Two of an interview with Thomas J. Nash, author of Worthy Is The Lamb: The Biblical Roots of the Mass | Read Part One

IgnatiusInsight.com: In your opinion, what needs to be emphasized more in homilies and catechesis about the Mass?

Nash: In short, to summarize themes of preceding answers, to emphasize the biblical roots of the Mass: to show that the Mass is profoundly rooted in the Bible; to show how the Mass is truly the source and summit of the Catholic life; to show how profoundly and wondrously Jesus loves us through the Sacrifice of the Mass.

IgnatiusInsight.com: How do you think the Protestant idea of liturgy corresponds to Biblical accounts of liturgical celebrations?

Nash: It’s kind of like comparing a model airplane to an actual airplane. It’s not the real thing. Again, there are variations in Protestant belief, with some having an imperfect view of the Real Presence (Lutherans) and some espousing the Real Presence basically the same way as Catholics (traditional Episcopalians). However, even with Episcopalians there is not a valid Eucharist because they do not have validly ordained priest. In general, with Protestant liturgy you can have Christians who are sincerely gathered together to worship the Lord, but you don’t have the re-presentation and partaking of our Lord’s one Sacrifice.

As I note in my book, the common Protestant view of the Lord’s Supper sees only the consumption of mere bread and wine and sees the same done by our Lord and His apostles at the Last Supper. Consequently, the prominent view of the Protestant Lord’s Supper has no impact on our salvation and thereby becomes an anticlimactic fulfillment of the Jewish Passover communion sacrifice.

IgnatiusInsight.com: When did Catholic liturgy begin, and how has it changed over the years?

Nash: The liturgy began at the Last Supper. The Last Supper is the first Mass, in which Christ pre-presented and anticipated His Sacrifice of Calvary. Mass after Christ lived out His Sacrifice re-present His Sacrifice (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], no 1366). In speaking to Protestants and other non-Catholics, Catholics need to know how to explain these profound realities, and I think my book will help them greatly in that cause.

From the earliest days of the Church, we have the basic liturgical template of the Mass: the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the Eucharist (cf. CCC, nos. 1346-47). Afterward, the Mass changed over time in terms of the language in which it has been prayed and the prayers added and developed to help deepen our participation. Yet, while arguments rage today regarding the Tridentine Mass rite versus the Mass rite of Pope Paul VI, and whether and how to reform the rite of Paul VI, Catholics should remember that that the heart of the Mass—the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the Eucharist— remains and will always remain. And if we have that basic template, we have what’s most important: our Lord in Word and Sacrament.

Of course, the liturgical laws of the Church should be faithfully followed to promote the reverent celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass and, as part of that effort, to avoid needless distractions for the faithful.

IgnatiusInsight.com: How can Catholics be "welcomed forward" for better instruction on the Eucharist, as well as a host of other catechetical matters?

Nash: The Sunday homily is crucial in this process, because Sunday Mass is the weekly celebration of the source and summit of the Christian life, as noted above. The Sunday homily is an excellent place to talk about the Eucharist because the Liturgy of the Word immediately precedes the Liturgy of the Eucharist in the celebration of the Mass.

Once the faithful are better informed and formed regarding the Eucharist at Mass, they will be much more likely to participate in other non-Mass parish activities for further catechesis and invite others to do the same. In addition, they will be more likely to live the faith outside Mass in their homes and work lives, because they will have more intimately and fruitfully encountered the Incarnate Word of God. Jesus teaches us that He is "the way, the truth, and the life" (Jn. 14:6), and the Eucharist provides us with a blessedly unique opportunity to receive the life of Jesus so that we can follow His way. The Person of Jesus—and thus the Eucharist—is fundamental to Catholic catechesis.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Why is it crucial that Catholics be aware of the Biblical roots of the Mass?

Nash: First of all, we need to remember that the Bible is the written Word of God, and as such has power in and of itself. It is living and active (Heb. 4:12) and therefore simply reading the Bible and proclaiming it can bring us and others closer to God.

In addition, in reading God’s Word, Catholics will come to appreciate better how true the Mass is, how the roots of the Mass are deeply planted in the Old Testament and fulfilled in Christ’s Sacrifice of Calvary. The Bible tells the story of how God came to save us, and the biblical roots of the Mass-the biblical story of the Mass-is central to that story of salvation history, because the Mass sacramentally re-presents Christ’s one Sacrifice whereby man was redeemed and salvation made possible.

If Catholics want to understand God’s great love for us, if they want to better grasp the truly awe-inspiring nature of the Mass, they need to know the biblical roots of the Mass. Further, when Catholics understand better the biblical roots of the Mass, they will be able to give a more compelling witness to both other Catholics and also Protestant Christians. A biblical understanding of the Mass is crucial in interacting with Protestants.

In summary, in learning better the biblical roots of the Mass, Catholics will be drawn into closer communion with Jesus, their Eucharistic Lord. Consequently, they will be much better equipped to give witness to Jesus and His Catholic Church in both their words and their daily example.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Talk about the idea of Catholics—and others as well—giving their "first fruits" to God and others, what it means and why it’s necessary.

"First fruits" are not required because God actually needs them or that we are trying to assuage His "ego." Rather, requiring first fruits is God’s loving way of reminding us that everything we have and are is ultimately from Him, and that we need to keep focused on Him if we want to be truly fulfilled, both here on earth and in heaven. Jesus illustrates this principle in the Gospel of Matthew: "[S]eek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well" (Mt. 6:33).

A significant way we give God our first fruits is through donations to the Church. Giving God ten percent of our gross income (a tithe), or whatever we can afford, helps us become less detached regarding material goods and more disposed toward relying on God and keeping Him centrally focused as we plan our lives and individual days.

In addition, the concept of first fruits applies not simply to our treasure (donations), but our time and talent as well. That is, do we honor God in the use of our time? Do we fulfill our daily responsibilities according to our vocation, e.g., that of a husband and father? In short, do we give our best—our first fruits—to God in all circumstance so that we can become increasingly conformed to and united with Him? We are reminded that in giving to God we receive, and receive abundantly (cf. Jn. 10:10), for who can out give God? Not giving God our first fruits, putting ourselves first, will only lead to our unhappiness, both here on earth and potentially, God forbid, in the hereafter. As Jesus teaches us, "For what will it profit a man, if he gains the world and forfeits his life" (Mt. 26:16; cf. 7:13-14).

IgnatiusInsight.com: In your opinion, what is the overriding need of Catholics today and what can the Church do to help?

Nash: To encounter Jesus personally within His Catholic Church, the family of God. If they can come to know better how real Jesus is, how much He loves them personally, guides them through the teachings of the Church and is ready to nourish them through prayer and the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession.

Regarding the latter sacrament, Catholics need to be reminded how they should not approach the Eucharist unworthily, but rather first seek reconciliation with God in Confession (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1385). At the same time, they need to realize God’s great merciful love for them, how much he desires them to be in right relationship with Him so that they can fruitfully partake of the Eucharist. The Cross speaks most eloquently in this regard.

If Catholics realize and experience God’s merciful love, they will be well on their way to becoming joyful, zealous disciples of Christ in the manner of St. Francis, who said, "Always preach the Gospel, and when necessary use words." Apologetics are important, but encountering the risen Lord, experiencing His grace, is primary and indispensable to genuine and vibrant discipleship.

The Church can help by assisting the faithful to encounter Jesus more fruitfully, both through general catechesis at whatever age level and through the reception of the sacraments. Indeed, we most intimately encounter Jesus in the Eucharist, for it is in the Blessed Sacrament that Our Lord provides us eternal life in a unique Self-Gift of Himself to us (cf. Jn. 6:58). Given, as noted above, that the Mass is the source and summit of the whole Christian life, Sunday Mass should be the fundamental place that Catholics learn about and grow in love with God and His Church.

IgnatiusInsight.com: What do you hope Worthy Is The Lamb will accomplish?

I hope, with God’s grace, that many, many faithful Catholics will be brought even closer to our Eucharistic Lord and His Church, whether through personal reading, parish Bible study, college or seminary courses, etc. I really hope a lot of priests and seminarians read it as well as husbands and wives.

As a result, I hope that they will in turn be more energized to share the biblical story of the Mass, with the fruit including stronger Catholic families; stronger parishes and dioceses; many disaffected Catholics being reconciled to the Church, many Protestants coming into full communion with the Church, and many non-Christians coming to know our Eucharistic Lord as members of His Catholic Church. With God’s help, I hope I can directly impact some Protestants and non-Christians who providentially come across my book. When it comes to promoting the mission of the Church, I can’t help but think big. After all, with God all things are possible (Mt. 19:26).

This interview was originally published on Ignatius Insight in August 2004.

Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles, Interviews, and Book Excerpts:

The Spirit of the Liturgy page
For "Many" or For "All"? | From God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Foreword to U.M. Lang's Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Music and Liturgy | From The Spirit of the Liturgy | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
The Altar and the Direction of Liturgical Prayer | From The Spirit of the Liturgy | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
The Mass of Vatican II | Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.
Reform or Return? | An Interview with Rev. Thomas M. Kocik
Does Christianity Need A Liturgy? | From The Heresy of Formlessness: The Roman Liturgy and Its Enemy | Martin Mosebach
Walking To Heaven Backward | Interview with Father Jonathan Robinson of the Oratory
Rite and Liturgy | Denis Crouan, STD
The Liturgy Lived: The Divinization of Man | Jean Corbon, OP
Worshipping at the Feet of the Lord: Pope Benedict XVI and the Liturgy | Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D.
The Latin Mass: Old Rites and New Rites in Today's World | Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D.

Thomas J. Nash, a former Senior Information Specialist at Catholics United for the Faith (CUF), now works for Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). He is co-author of Catholic for a Reason III: Scripture and the Mystery of the Mass (Emmaus Road, 2004), and his work has appeared in such publications as Catholic World Report, This Rock, the National Catholic Register and Lay Witness. He has worked in both the secular media (print and broadcast) and the Catholic media, winning/sharing in several national Catholic journalism awards. A native of Detroit, Nash holds degrees from the University of Michigan (B.A. in communication), the University of Missouri (M.A. in journalism) and Franciscan University of Steubenville (M.A. in theology).


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