Saturday, January 01, 2011

Lowest Common Denominators

I teach mathematics. Do you remember the lowest common denominator? The least but common multiple for a set of denominators.

There is s trend in society, in communities and, yes, in churches for the theory of lowest common denominator to apply. Standards and tastes and habits drop to the lowest standard acceptable to most, to the most common amount of people.

You know , we humans can have a bit of a tendency to be lazy or to take the easy way out , to want to be entertained. Sometimes we want a challenge and sometimes we just want to go with the flow. Whatever!

Which is why society at large and the church in particular provides guidelines, laws, practices, to help is do that which is right. To help us rise out of ourselves and be our better selves . To think . To be more altruistic. To live the life of free men, in a democratic society , to not give in to carnal desires.

But, of course, there is also that tendency for the lowest common denominator to come to the fore .Pleasing the majority of people by giving them what they appear to want, what is easiest , to keep them happy.

The trouble with the use of the lowest common denominator theory , applied in this way and outside mathematics , is that it becomes self fulfilling. In other words, once we give people the lowest common denominator in, say, entertainment for example, because it's easier and cheaper to produce a reality TV show, to provide teasing sex scenes, well providing this lowest common denominator in entertainment , means that the appetite for this type of entertainment is fed. We want more, we come to expect this, we can no longer , generally, be bothered to make an effort for a TV show or a book that requires mental effort, that makes us think .

The same happens in our churches when it comes to liturgy. If we feed people jokes during mass, if we see the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as a vehicle for the show man priest to air his talents, if we make people laugh and chat and never question themselves ...well, here too, we find that the lowest common denominator means that people forget the real purpose in coming to mass, in adoring God. They come instead to be entertained ..." I wait for the joke at the end of mass." And so the faithful miss the opportunity to really hear the word of God, to really hear Church teaching , to adore Our Lord and really be with him upon receiving Him in the Eucharist .

Just as tastes in TV can sink to that lowest common denominator, so that people say they don't understand Shakespeare and don't want to make an effort to do so, so tastes in liturgy can be formed, for the good or for other , by the priest's respect for the liturgy and it's rubrics . If the faithful are given that lowest common denominator, that pandering to self and jokes and not worship , then they do not want to make an effort to pray and pay attention in reverent masses. Where is the joke? That was boring!

The lowest common denominator in liturgy is, in fact, a disservice to the faithful ... They miss out on the opportunity to enjoy Our Lord, to be comforted, to be challenged, to be given hope, to be given a chance to step out of the everydayness of life.

And it does a disservice to the Church and society as a whole.

And to the next parish priest , faithful to Church teaching on liturgy , who tries to encourage the faithful to worship , to pray, to believe as the Church wishes. The lower appetites have been fed and it is hard to exhort the faithful then to make an effort , to active participation .

But not impossible. Deo Gratias.


Fr. Benedict said...

Sursum corda!! You're so right Leonie. Give people crumbs and they'll get used to it. Try to give them real nourishment and they won't be able to stomach it... Pun intended!!! We have such a responsibility as Priests to not dumb down our faith, our liturgy, our love for God!!! Great post as always.

Leonie said...

Thank you, Father! I've been lucky to have had some great teachers when it comes to liturgy Ie priests who have a respect for liturgy, for rubrics , for Church teaching . You are one if these priests , it goes without saying.

molly said...

this is so excellent, I wish I could post it in our local Catholic paper.

Ruth said...


Amy said...

...tastes in liturgy can be formed, for the good or for other, by the priest's respect for the liturgy and its rubrics...

Leonie, this is so true. I have learned the best things about being a Catholic from a priest who quietly went about following the rubrics. He never told jokes. He preached the truth. He was, and is, not a showman.

Leonie said...

Lol Molly! And Amy, how beautiful re your priest !

Amy Caroline said...