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Biblical Roots of the Mass

8/23/2004 - 4:00 AM PST

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Thomas Nash on the Importance of the Scripture Behind Christ's Sacrifice

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio, AUG. 23, 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 that opportunity.

The senior information specialist at Catholics United for the Faith shared with Catholic Online 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 -- the biblical story of the Mass -- is 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 -- continues forever.

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 Temple sanctuary.

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. ...

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