|Thomas Nash on the Importance of the Scripture Behind Christ's
STEUBENVILLE, Ohio, 20 AUG. 2004 (ZENIT)
John Paul II's declaration of
the Year of the Eucharist provides an opportunity for Catholics to refocus
their attention on the sacrifice of the Mass.
And Thomas Nash, author of "Worthy is the Lamb: The Biblical Roots of the
Mass" (Ignatius), hopes that clergy and laity alike take full advantage of
The senior information specialist at Catholics United for the Faith shared
with ZENIT how Catholics can delve into the depths of the Mass and fortify
their faith by understanding its biblical roots and the power of Christ's
sacrifice in the Eucharist.
Q: Why is it important for Catholics to know and understand the biblical
roots of the Mass?
Nash: We need to remember first that the Bible is the written Word of God,
and as such has great power in and of itself. As it says in Hebrews 4:12,
God's word is living and active; 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 Mass' roots 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
biblical story of the Mass
central to that story of salvation history. Why? 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 other Catholics,
Protestant Christians, our Jewish friends and other non-Christians.
A biblical understanding of the Mass is particularly crucial in
interacting with Protestants and also with our Jewish friends, given that
the great Jewish sacrifices, such as the Passover and Day of Atonement
offerings, prefigure and are fulfilled in Christ's sacrifice of Calvary.
Q: How does Bible study help Catholics awaken to the fullness and beauty
of the Mass?
Nash: The more we study Scripture, the more we're going to know how much
our Lord has loved us and our spiritual ancestors, and how much he loves
us now in letting us participate in the wondrous 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 conviction,
better prepared and more willing to serve the Lord.
Q: What makes your book different from others on the Mass?
Nash: The title indicates its distinctiveness. It provides a comprehensive
overview of the biblical roots of the Mass in a popular yet scholarly way.
I didn't see any book that really filled this niche, and other authors and
scholars confirmed my judgment.
Also, it "navigates" this overview through the paradigm of biblical
sacrifice: the lamb. Early on in my research and writing I came up with
the main title of my book: "Worthy is the Lamb."
Then, in an unrelated matter, my friend, Dr. Scott Hahn, came out with
"The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth," which focuses on the
Book of Revelation. His endorsement has thankfully helped clarify that my
book is significantly different from his.
A significant part of my book uses the Day of Atonement sacrifices to show
that, while Christ's suffering ended on the cross, his sacrifice
that is, his self-gift to the Father on our behalf
In the Old Covenant, a goat and bull were first slaughtered in the Temple
courtyard; then, the high priest would offer their blood to God in the
Similarly, there are two phases to Christ's sacrifice, which fulfills the
Day of Atonement Sacrifices, as Hebrews 9:11-12 conveys. He suffers, dies
and rises in the earthly phase of his sacrifice, and then he ascends into
the heavenly sanctuary, where his sacrifice culminates in everlasting
glory, as Hebrews 9:24-25 implies.
Scripture affirms that Jesus continues to serve in the heavenly sanctuary
as a priest and that a priest's prime function is to offer sacrifices, as
conveyed in Hebrews 8:1-3.
Because Hebrews 7:27 and 9:27-28 proclaim that Jesus' sacrifice is
once-for-all, and because Jesus continues to serve as a high priest in
heaven, Our Lord must somehow continue offering His one and only sacrifice
in the heavenly sanctuary. In the Mass, of course, what is celebrated in
heaven becomes present on earth.
I think readers will also particularly enjoy my explication of the
priesthood of Melchizedek and its fulfillment in Jesus, as well as my
response to Protestant objections about Eucharistic Prayer I and how
Christ's body allegedly cannot be in more than one place
that is, heaven
given its limited human nature.
Subject, Scripture and Catechism
questions at the end of each chapter make the book user-friendly for a
variety of contexts.
I have also been very blessed because, right after my book was published,
Pope John Paul II announced a Year of the Eucharist from October 2004 to
October 2005. That announcement has definitely piqued people's interest.
Q: How does an understanding of the Mass affect Catholics' adherence to
Nash: When a Catholic really understands and appreciates the truly awesome
significance of the Mass, he will not be vulnerable to leaving the Church
and he'll be much less likely to dissent from Church teaching.
Q: What has contributed to modern Catholics' lack of appreciation for the
Nash: The general societal decline we've experienced in the last four
decades or so has undermined many people's appreciation of that which is
truly sacred and moral. In the process, we've seen a slide in catechesis
the home, at Catholics schools and CCD programs, and in homilies
although I definitely think things have improved in the last two decades.
In general, Catholics are not as well formed as they could be to
appreciate and participate in the Mass. Some blame Vatican II and the Mass
rite promulgated by Pope Paul VI, but it's been misrepresentations of both
that have actually done damage.
In addition, had we never had a Vatican II or a new Mass rite, the Church
would still have had some serious challenges, given the general societal
decline, particularly in the West.
As good as things were for the Church in the 1940s to the early 1960s,
it's evident that Church leaders and rank-and-file Catholics were not, in
general, well-prepared to withstand the cultural broadside that began to
really kick in during the 1960s.
The failure to stem the decline of Catholic colleges and Catholic
education in general beginning in the late 1960s, as well as the
widespread rejection of "Humanae Vitae," are just two examples.
Praise God, we've been seeing improvements on these and other fronts in
Q: What can priests and catechists do to combat that trend?
Nash: Sunday Mass should be the fundamental place where Catholics learn
about and grow in love with God and his Church.
As Vatican II affirms, the Mass is "the source and summit of the Christian
life." It is the "source" because without Christ's sacrifice, we would
have no redemption, and thus no Church and sacraments. The "summit"
because we will one day participate in the heavenly liturgy, offering and
"partaking" of the sacrificial Lamb in a fulfilled manner, that is,
offering and having communion with Our Lord without sacramental veils.
The Sunday homily is an excellent place to talk about the Eucharist,
because it concludes the Liturgy of the Word and prepares for the ensuing
Liturgy of the Eucharist.
In becoming better informed about the Mass, Catholics will be more likely
to become more convicted in living the faith. As a result, I think they
will be much more likely to participate in other non-Mass parish
activities for further catechesis and invite others to do the same.
The Church can help further by assisting the faithful to encounter Jesus
more fruitfully, both through general catechesis at various age levels and
through the reception of the sacraments, and also by encouraging and
empowering parents to start the catechetical process early in the home.
The person of Jesus
and, thus, his Eucharistic sacrifice
fundamental to Catholic catechesis, and it is in the Eucharist that Our
Lord provides us eternal life in a unique self-gift of himself, as John
Q: What do you think a widespread renewal of understanding regarding the
Mass could mean for the Church worldwide?
Nash: Because the Mass is the source and summit of the Christian life, we
would see the renewal and transformation of Catholic families, priests and
religious, parishes and dioceses. As a result, we would see a radical
renewal of the Church's mission to make disciples of all nations, as
Christ commissions us in Matthew 28:18-20.
The prospects for such a renewal have been heightened by the announcement
and imminent arrival of the Year of the Eucharist. May the Lord bless us