Sacrament (LDS Church)
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In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church, commonly called Mormons), the Holy Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, most often simply referred to as the sacrament, is the sacrament in which participants partake of bread and drink water in remembrance of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. It is similar in some ways, but different in others to the Eucharist in the Catholic Church, or communion in the Protestant denominations. Normally in LDS congregations, the sacrament is provided every Sunday as part of the sacrament meeting.
In the LDS Church the word "ordinance" is used approximately as the word sacrament is generally used in many other denominations of Christianity. Thus, partaking of the sacrament is an ordinance in the LDS faith. To partake of the sacrament often is to be in obedience to the command of Jesus Christ and to allow members the opportunity to demonstrate their willingness to remember the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
The sacrament is offered on a weekly basis during sacrament meeting (with exceptions arising during general and stake conferences). As most males in the church age 16 years and older are able to perform the ordinance, it is common for church congregations to send men to the homes of sick or homebound members in order to administer the sacrament to them. Also, fathers of families occasionally perform the ordinance with their families during times of illness or travel, but this requires the approval of the local bishop or branch president and is not intended to replace the regular attendance of public sacrament meetings. In remote, sparsely populated areas lacking an organized church presence, the male head of household generally administers the sacrament to his family and possibly to others nearby who do not have a priesthood holder in the home.
The sacrament ceremony
Method of administering the sacrament to the congregation
In LDS Church sacrament meetings, the sacrament is passed to members of the congregation after being blessed by a priest from the Aaronic priesthood or a member of the higher Melchizedek priesthood. The sacrament table is prepared before the congregation enters by placing whole slices of bread on trays and filling individual water cups (thimble size) which are also held in trays. Both bread and water trays are then covered with white cloth, representing the burial cloth of Jesus Christ. After introductory prayers, congregational messages and announcements, the sacrament portion of the service begins. It is customary for the congregation to sing one of many possible sacramental hymns while the bread is uncovered and prepared. The congregation remains seated while the priesthood representatives stand and break the whole or sliced bread into bite sized pieces while the congregation sings. This has an obvious functional purpose for individual consumption, but also a symbolic purpose representing the broken body of Christ. A special prayer is given on the broken bread, while the priesthood representative kneels (he is the only person in the congregation that kneels during the prayer), after which he arises and the bread is passed to the congregation, usually by deacons. The prayer recited for the bread is found in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. In English it reads:
- "O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it; that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he has given them, that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen." (Book of Moroni 4:3, Doctrine and Covenants 20:77).
After the bread is passed to the congregation, the priesthood representatives who have blessed and passed the bread then have their chance to take the bread. The bread trays are then placed on the table and covered with the white cloth. The water trays are then uncovered and another special prayer is given on the water (again while the person offering the prayer kneels), which is then passed to the congregation. The English version of this prayer is as follows:
- "O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee, in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this [water] to the souls of all those who drink of it, that they may do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them; that they may witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they do always remember him, that they may have his Spirit to be with them. Amen." (Book of Moroni 5:2, Doctrine and Covenants 20:79).
Again, the priesthood representatives are then given the opportunity to take the water and the water trays are once again covered for the remainder of the service. Usually, those who have blessed and distributed the bread and water will have the responsibility of cleanup when the entire service has concluded. The bread and water are simply discarded, as Latter-day Saints only believe them to be symbols (even after being blessed). Therefore discarding them is not considered sacrilege.
The sacramental prayers are different from most other prayers in the LDS Church in that they must be recited verbatim (according to the prayer as found in an LDS-published translation of the D&C). If the person blessing the sacrament makes a mistake and does not correct himself, the presiding authority will usually signal that the prayer must be repeated until recited correctly.
The use of wine as a symbol of the blood of Christ
As originally practiced by the Latter Day Saint prophet Joseph Smith, Jr. and other early Latter Day Saints, the sacrament included the use of fermented wine, though the Church now uses water in each congregation's weekly sacrament meeting.
Commanded in an 1830 revelation (LDS D&C 27:2-4) not to purchase alcohol from enemies, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints focused on producing its own wine, eventually owning and operating vineyards and wineries in Utah and California (including Napa Valley) during the 19th century.
In 1833 Joseph Smith received the revelation known as the Word of Wisdom, part of which states that alcohol consumption is harmful to a person's health and well-being. Initially the Word of Wisdom was treated simply as counsel, and the early saints would still drink alcohol on occasion. During the late 19th century, church leaders slowly started to take the Word of Wisdom as a commandment. This increased respect for the Word of Wisdom, combined with the scripture in Doctrine and Covenants 27: "[I]t mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the Sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory," led congregations to begin substituting water for the Sacramental wine. (Water has also been used as a symbol of Christ and his mission at various times, including Jesus's 'living water' sermon.) The practice was officially adopted church-wide in 1912.
Occasionally circumstances permit various other food substitutes as well. Crackers and tortillas are sometimes used in outdoor, rugged settings, such as church sponsored Boy Scout camping trips. The Church's official policy, however, is that Boy Scout troops not camp or hike on Sundays. Stories abound of WWII impoverished European congregations using potato slices. In the above situations, however, the word "bread" (in English) is typically used in the prayers.
Changes in sacrament administration
- Weekly administration of the sacrament did not begin until sometime in the 1850s. There is no known revelation commanding the weekly practice to have been adopted, but rather the custom developed and spread throughout the church over time.
- Until the late 1890s or early 20th century, the entire congregation generally knelt during the sacramental prayers, consistent with D&C 20:76 and Moroni 4:2. More recent direction from church leaders only requires that the individual giving the prayer kneel.
- Deacons and teachers didn't originally take part in the preparing or passing of the sacrament, which seems to have been first encouraged in 1898 and was widely implemented between the 1920s or 1930s. Previous reluctance to involve them was probably due to the following verse from the LDS Doctrine and Covenants:
- But neither teachers nor deacons have authority to baptize, administer the sacrament, or lay on hands. (Doctrine and Covenants 20:58, LDS edition) The term administer has since been interpreted as reading the sacrament prayer, which deacons and teachers still do not have the authority to do.
- Individual water cups, instead of drinking from a common cup, were introduced in 1911.
- Passing the sacrament first to the presiding church authority was emphasized in 1946.
Meaning of the sacrament
The sacrament is viewed as a renewal of a member’s covenant made at baptism. According to the sacramental prayers, a person eats and drinks in remembrance of the body and blood of Jesus, and promises always to remember Him, take His name upon them, and keep His commandments. In return the prayer promises that the participant will always have the Spirit to be with them.
The sacrament is considered the most sacred and important element of the Sunday meetings and as such is approached by the Latter Day Saints with reverence and in a spirit of penitence. Consequently, all who partake of the sacrament are encouraged to examine their own consciences and prayerfully gauge their own worthiness to do so. If they feel unworthy, they are encouraged to refrain until they have properly confessed and repented of whatever sins or misdeeds they may have committed. Partaking of the sacrament by non-members is permissible, but has no significance.
The sacrament is considered to be a weekly renewal of a member's commitment to follow Jesus Christ.
Like most Restorationist sects of Christianity, and unlike the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and some Reformed churches, the LDS Church does not teach any kind of Real Presence. The Church teaches that the bread and wine or water are symbolic of the body and blood of Christ.
- See, e.g., Roberts, B. H. (1938). Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Deseret News Press. OCLC 0842503005.[page needed]
- Dallin H. Oaks, Conference Report, April 1985, 101-105
- in the Book of Mormon, the verse reads "which he hath given them".
- Francis M. Lyman, Proceedings of the first Sunday School convention, p. 75.
- David O. McKay, Conference Report, April 1946, p. 116.