The Bible and the Mass

WORTHY IS THE LAMB: THE BIBLICAL ROOTS OF THE MASS. By Thomas J. Nash (Ignatius Press, P.O. Box 1339, Ft. Collins, Colo. 80522, 2004), 248 pp. PB $15.95.

The post-conciliar liturgical reform introduced a new Lectionary with a three-year cycle of Sunday readings, so as to open up the riches of Sacred Scripture to the average Catholic. It also recommended that the homily at Sunday Mass should relate the readings to the sacred action in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, but somehow that went by the wayside. Now, almost two generations later, how many people in the pews could tell you why Abel, Abraham, and Melchizedek are commemorated in Eucharistic Prayer I?

To help remedy the catechetical disconnect between Sacrament and Scripture, Thomas J. Nash has written a book investigating “The Biblical Roots of the Mass.” The author is a Senior Information Specialist for Catholics United for the Faith with degrees in journalism and theology. Writing clearly, sometimes colloquially in the allusive style popularized by Prof. Scott Hahn, he demonstrates the importance of sacrifice in salvation history.

Part One, on the Book of Genesis, explains that the first fruits offered by Abel, Melchizedek’s oblation of bread and wine, and Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son in obedience to God, are all “types” or prefigurations of the Holy Eucharist. Extensive passages from the Bible are referenced at the beginning of each chapter. Occasional quotations from the Targums Jewish commentaries on the Hebrew Scriptures add fascinating insights.

Part Two, on Exodus, shows how the blood of the Passover Lamb was the sign of Israel’s deliverance. The yearly celebration of that sacrifice became a liturgical “memorial “, which not only recalled God’s saving work but made it present to the community. Other Old Testament books contain theological reflection on the meaning of the Exodus event, and prophets foretell the day when a perfect and universal sacrifice will be offered to God. Nash helpfully quotes some Protestant commentators on the Bible who draw Catholic conclusions.

Part Three looks at the connections between the Old and New Testaments from the Gospel side. Jesus fulfilled all the Old Testaments types and prophecies. He announced the Eucharist in his teaching and by his miracles (e.g., the multiplication of the loaves). When he instituted the Eucharist, Christ transformed the Passover liturgy; God supplied the Lamb in his Sacrifice on Calvary. Christ’s new and everlasting priesthood is proclaimed in the Letter to the Hebrews.

In discussing the Eucharist, Nash also draws upon definitions by the Council of Trent, the works of pre-Vatican II theologians and liturgists (Scheeben, Gihr), Conciliar documents, the Catechism, and the Holy Father’s Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003).

Worthy is the Lamb is rock-solid theologically, yet it is a popular work designed for adult catechesis. Each chapter ends with “Questions for Reflection and Discussion.” Apologetics is woven into the fabric of the book: Protestant readings of crucial Scripture passages are countered and their traditional Catholic interpretation is clarified in quotations from Sheed, Keating, and the CUF staff.

Nash’s book is chock-full of valuable material. Sometimes, amid multiple Scriptural cross-references, the reader can lose sight of the foreground argument. Nevertheless, the various parts of the Bible shed light on each other, and everything converges on Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. The author ends his book with a challenge to sola Scriptura Christians: If the Mass is not what the Catholic Church says it is, then how are the prophecies and prefigurations of Sacred Scripture fulfilled? Readers of this refresher course in biblical sacrifice will find their faith in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass strengthened.

Michael J. Miller
Glenside, Pennsylvania

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