Questions Answered – September 2023

What American Education Lost

Question: What is the bottom line in the almost universal rejection of objective truth in American education today?

Answer: This problem is twofold. One is the destruction of Western Civilization. The other result of this is the quasi-universal rejection of objective truth as the basis for education. The first problem is related to the second.

The destruction of Western Civilization is now very advanced in Europe and America. The foundation of this civilization was the triumph of Christianity which began to corrode in the nineteenth century and continued to have less influence on any concept of truth after World War I. The trend in this direction began already with René Descartes (1586–1650) in the seventeenth century. Descartes was fascinated by optics. Practical abilities to grind lenses exactly warred with the uncertainty of the authorities of his day. In the realm of reason Aristotle had been overthrown by modern science; the Church in faith by the Protestant reformation.

In sincerely seeking truth Descartes distrusted sense knowledge, so he sought certainty in knowledge by a turn to the subject and reducing thought to one principle. If he doubted he must think, and so he must exist. This was the foundation of truth and education and not sense knowledge. In education this meant that students began with methodical doubt about everything. Neither the teacher nor the senses brought the student to certainty but only their own conviction. The eighteenth century witnessed a great growth in scientific discovery but in the end was led to distrust reason and go not with faith but with emotion as the source for truth, especially any metaphysical truth, including the existence of God. In Rousseau, the teacher should only seem to teach the student who was a philosopher in his own right. This would be echoed in modern ideas about educational psychology in Piaget, Maslow and others. This was also true in those who heavily influenced Catholic education, especially Lawrence Kohlberg.

Western education today is based on the universal rejection of an objective truth. This is primarily the heritage of Emmanuel Kant (1724–1804). Kant has two principal works: The Critique of Pure Reason (about metaphysics) and the Critique of Practical Reason (about ethics). When to comes to the existence of God, he places and metaphysical arguments in Pure Reason and denies their validity. Yet he was a pious Lutheran and found a place for God in practical reason. Without faith, for example, Society would dissolve into anarchy and there would be no basis even for Physics. In fact, physical things have nothing objectively truthful about them. The source for all truth, religious or natural became our need for it. Since God and truths of the sort could not be discovered in pure reason, Kant looked to Practical Reason. We determined reality and since it was based in human need, our need created God who had no objective nature. If man’s need creates God, then there is no objective deity, only a projection of what our need for good demands for fulfillment.

The result was that the source of all truth became human beings and not God. Bishop Sheen explained the difference between Western ideas about truth, such as those of Aquinas, and the Enlightenment in this way: for Aquinas, God measured the truth of things; these measured the human mind; and the human mind measured nothing natural. For the Enlightenment, the human mind, or better emotional need, measured things; things measured God, who measured nothing. Faith was reduced to personal expressions of emotional need, so God had no objective nature but He is merely what fulfills each human need and so is completely subjective. Eventually Nietzsche came to the conclusion that since the individual creates God, the individual is God.

The truth has no objectivity. Eventually this idea permeated all Western education. Benedict XVI spoke of the dictatorship of relativism when he became Pope, and in the secular sphere a prescient book came out expressing the fact that the object of American education is not truth but power or PC or Woke ideas. This led to the complete denial of educational freedom. It was The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom. (1987)

The ideas expressed in this book are still valid today, even in most Catholic schools. Bloom thinks that the American mind, especially higher education in the 1980s, no longer sought the truth in itself. Instead it sought to know what worked and did not in society. Though no one can with any certainty explain what it means, institutes of higher learning now learn and teach what is politically correct, the ultimate subjectivism. This situation can only be cured by the return to objectivity practiced by people like Aristotle and Aquinas: the perennial philosophy. Until there is a return to philosophia perennis and interest in objective truth, there can be no reform of education.

Can Mass Be Celebrated in Solitude?

Question: Since the intention of the “breaking of the bread” in the Eucharist is sharing with others, it seems unfitting to celebrate Mass in isolation, without a member of the faithful or server present.

Answer: You are correct that Mass is a communal experience. Normally it ought to be celebrated with a congregation. In fact, however, Church law has allowed Masses without even a server for many centuries. As one canonist explained: “Chapter Four of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) delineates different forms of celebrating Mass. The first two sections of the chapter discuss the most common ways Mass is celebrated: ‘Mass with the People’ and ‘Concelebrated Mass,’ both of which presume the presence of a community and a variety of ministers exercising their proper roles. The third section of the chapter, however, discusses the celebration of Mass when there is no congregation. Titled ‘Mass at Which Only One Minister Participates,’ the section also makes reference to another form of celebrating Mass, namely, the celebration of Mass by a solitary priest, without the presence of a congregation or even a server. Whether celebrated with only one minister or by a solitary priest, both forms are sometimes colloquially referred to as ‘private Masses’ (although that term is sometimes applied also to a Mass celebrated with a small group of the faithful.” (Father Edward McNamara)

This may seem like a contradiction, but one must remember that the Mass, in fact, has two aspects which must not be separated: the meal and the sacrifice. The meal aspect emphasizes the communal aspect, whereas the sacrificial aspect may be interpreted as solitary. Dr. Scott Hahn has analyzed both aspects well regarding the Last Supper in his book The Fourth Cup. In this book he maintains that only three cups and blessing occurred during the Last Supper, with the fourth omitted that would have concluded the Passover supper. This was drunk by Our Lord on the Cross where he states: “It is finished.” The meal is finished with the sacrificial death of Our Lord because that is what it was instituted to commemorate.

Still, there is really no such thing as a private Mass since the Mass ritual makes clear that all the saints and angels attend every Mass. The Mass is after all the heavenly worship of the Lamb made present on earth. The transubstantiated body and blood of Our Lord exist now in heaven but become present in substance on earth wherever a Mass is celebrated. This is why we say: “And so with all the angels and saints we say ‘Holy, Holy Holy, Lord God of hosts.’” It is why we say we act “in union with the Apostles and Martyrs” and many other things at Mass. To demonstrate this in a practical way, there was a celebrated controversy in the Middle Ages as to whether the priest should say “Dominus tecum” or “Dominus vobiscum if only a server was present since tecum is singular and vobiscum is plural. It was decided that the latter form should be used because the whole heavenly Church was present at each Mass.

For these reasons you are right, the “breaking of bread” is a communal act. But the community at the Eucharist is not limited to those whom one can physically sense and so so-called “private Masses” are permitted.

Fr. Brian Mullady, OP About Fr. Brian Mullady, OP

Fr. Brian T. Mullady, OP, entered the Dominican Order in 1966 and was ordained in 1972. He has been a parish priest, high school teacher, retreat master, mission preacher, and university professor. He has had seven series on EWTN and is the author of two books and numerous articles, including his regular column in HPR, “Questions Answered.”

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Fr. Brian T. Mullady, O.P.
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Portland, OR 97232
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  1. Avatar Tom Showerman says:

    Dear Father,

    Again, thank you for all you have done with Christ and for His people.


    Tom Showerman
    Fowlerville, MI