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Administering the Sacrament

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 05, 2008

The administration of the sacrament is so standardized now that it is easy to forget that we used to do it quite differently. At various times it was standard to pass the water in large goblets, each one taking a sip from the common cup (or taking a deep thirst-quenching quaff, which drew condemnation from the pulpit); or to bless both bread and water at once and to pass them together; to pass the sacrament while speakers were preaching or while music was playing; to pass the sacrament in Sunday School as well as Sacrament Meeting, preceded by a “Sacrament Gem” recited in unison; and other practices that would be unfamiliar today.

In 1923, Bishop Joseph H. Lake of the Salt Lake 16th Ward wrote out his ward’s standard procedure, for the advice of his brother bishops. As familiar as the procedure seems in most aspects, there are still a few small surprises here:

1. We have one faithful sister to provide the bread for every sacrament service. She never fails in her duty; she is clean, makes the bread with her own hands, and bakes it in her own oven, so that we know that the sacred emblem which it later becomes is pure in every respect.

2. The bread is put upon the sacrament table in slices, no crusts, and is ready for breaking by those officiating, before the meeting commences.

3. The water is prepared for use by the janitor of the house immediately before meeting time, so that it will be as cold as possible when used. In order to save time he has been instructed to have it in all readiness, except for the blessing upon it. It is placed upon the table in the individual glasses with a good supply in larger cups, in case of an extra large attendance.

4. The bread is broken during the opening exercises of the meeting, and is put upon eight trays ready for passing.

5. The water in the individual glasses is carried in trays, in our ward eight in number, 36 glasses to a tray.

6. Eight individuals thus pass the sacrament, but we have two others who pass empty trays to gather the glasses so as to save time.

7. The trays and glasses are sterilized after each meeting, or immediately before the one following.

8. The table used for holding the trays is a long one. It is placed just in front of the stand or pulpit where it and those officiating may be seen by everybody. A clean, white cloth is used to cover it before the service; it is removed by those officiating.

9. A place to wash hands, with towel and soap, has been provided for those who officiate and administer the sacrament.

10. The Priests only officiate in the administration of the sacrament, unless, of course, the required number (3) are not present. They have been assigned the work, and have assumed the responsibility with a great deal of satisfaction, not only to us, but to themselves. We have about 12 active priests in the ward and nearly all have had the privilege more than once to do this service. They are all young men between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one.

11. Only deacons aid the Priests in the administration of the sacrament. Like the Priests, they have done remarkably well. Ten are required for each service, and very rarely have we had occasion to call upon teachers or priests.

12. Three chairs are provided for the officiating priests in front of the sacrament table. They take their places before meeting begins. During the second song all three arise at once. The center one who presides, directs his assistants to break a certain number of trays of bread. This is completed by the close of the song and the three priests sit down together. At the proper time the center priest directs either the one on the right or the left to bless the bread; the other one is instructed at the proper time to bless the water. A card with the words printed on its sides is provided in case the wording is not known. Of course, the priests are encouraged to learn by heart the blessings. Again the three priests arise and each passes a number of trays to the deacons, who assist them in serving, first, of course, the bread and then the water. After the congregation has been served two of the priests serve the deacons, then the presiding priest serves his two assistants, then himself.

13. The deacons occupy the first bench. It is reserved for them. They are convenient to the sacrament table and also to the bishopric. The deacons all arise at the same time. Each has a definite section of the house to pass to. They wait in the aisle until all have completed the serving, then in line and in step they march to their places where the trays are taken by the priests and put in order upon the table and where they are served with the sacrament; then they all sit down together. The order and method of the whole process is striking, because it causes less confusion and more reverence than if it were done in a more informal way. There is a certain precision about the matter which we believe is desirable.

(“Method of Administering the Sacrament,” The Improvement Era, August 1923, 938-939)



39 Comments »

  1. Ardis, this is just wonderful on so many levels! Thank you for sharing it. Lots of fun stuff going on here. My grandfather left a autobiographical sketch in which he describes passing the sacrament in goblets/glasses. I love the sister who prepares the bread – my mom made the sacrament bread for many years. The lack of teachers participating is consistent with the period. And I love the emphasis on sanitation. This really is a treasure.

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 5, 2008 @ 7:36 am

  2. This is wonderful, Ardis. The personal touches are particularly striking.

    Comment by Ray — August 5, 2008 @ 7:46 am

  3. I presume that the “glasses” are small–else how fit 36 on a tray. By the way, I think that the standard sacrament trays used today still have 36 cups–check it out next Sunday.

    Comment by Mark B. — August 5, 2008 @ 8:10 am

  4. Ok, I must beg, please explain the Sacrament Gem to me…

    Comment by Matt W. — August 5, 2008 @ 8:12 am

  5. I can still remember a time when the sacrament was administered during primary opening exercises.

    Comment by Brian Duffin — August 5, 2008 @ 8:31 am

  6. I really enjoyed reading this entry. It brought back memories of the “old Church” and how we used to do things. I remember doing a Sacrament Gem in Junior Sunday School right before the sacrament, but I don’t remember too many details about it. If I recall correctly, one person was assigned to do the Sacrament Gem. That person would read a short poem or spiritual thought. I don’t remember if the rest of the Jr. Sunday School would repeat it or not. I would be interested in what others remember about the Sacrament Gem.

    So much has changed in the way we do things in the Church. I find it quite refreshing to recall the way things used to be.

    Comment by Steve C. — August 5, 2008 @ 8:41 am

  7. If you are feeling nostalgic, you can pick up a circa 1920’s glass sacrament cup on ebay for reasonable (the earlier metal ones are more expensive). As Mark notes, they aren’t very big.

    My grandpa still used the large goblets in the 1920’s, so there must have been a diversity in vessels.

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 5, 2008 @ 8:43 am

  8. No Brian, you don’t remember that. What you remember is the sacrament being administered during the opening exercises of Junior Sunday School. When Primary moved to Sunday, with the introduction of the three-hour block of meetings, the administration of the sacrament in meetings other than sacrament meeting ended.

    The Sacrament Gem was a scripture, usually recited by a nervous child, just before the administration of the sacrament in Sunday School opening exercises. I don’t remember if it was before or after the hymn. Also, I don’t remember the whole congregation saying it aloud, but the practice may have been different in different wards. Were there Sacrament Gems that weren’t scripture? Again, I can’t remember.

    This was one of those things that kept the Sunday School General Board busy.

    Comment by Mark B. — August 5, 2008 @ 8:48 am

  9. A true gem, Ardis.

    I love how the bread always had the crust removed.

    Comment by Ben — August 5, 2008 @ 8:54 am

  10. Internet connection problems, or I’d have been back before now —

    The Sacrament Gems were usually scriptures, but occasionally were lines from hymns, or brief sayings from, say, Joseph Smith. These go way back to the original Sunday Schools of the 19th century, which heavily emphasized memorization of scripture and poetry. In my memory, in the ’60s, the same Gem would be used every week for a month, and yes, the congregation repeated it after the nervous speaker recited it. (This was done both in Junior and Senior Sunday School.) At least for the last few decades of their use, Sacrament Gems were church-wide, published in the Instructor a month or two ahead of their use. I’ll pull out some illustrations and post them sometime in the next week or two, since they’re now antique enough to be interesting again.

    Thanks for the ebay links, too. Even though sellers like to hype them as “RARE!!!” it’s a rare week when there aren’t at least two of the glass ones available at $10.

    Older chapels, at least in Utah, that have built-in glass display cases in the foyers (the ones that used to be used for b-ball trophies) sometimes have displays these days of old sacrament paraphernalia that they’ve found in some closet or storeroom. I really like seeing them.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — August 5, 2008 @ 9:09 am

  11. By the way, the dread experience of any Sunday School class in my childhood was the periodic appearance in your class by one of the Sunday School Superintendency. They were there to assign your class both the Sacrament Gems (not too bad) but also both two-and-a-half-minute talks for the each week of the coming month (terrifying!). Still, that early practice — or rather the lack of it, now — I think is very telling in the ever diminishing quality of Sacrament meeting talks.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — August 5, 2008 @ 9:12 am

  12. A good reminder. Thank you!

    Comment by Rick — August 5, 2008 @ 9:22 am

  13. Thanks Ardis for the details on the Sacrament Gem. I also recall the two-and-a-half-minute talks and believe you’re right about the correlation between the lack thereof and diminished quality of Sacrament talks, although the Primary program still has children give talks (in a small unite like mine, my children are always giving a primary talk). How many of you used the “Talks for Tots” book for your Jr. Sunday School talks? When I was growing up we wore out our copy!

    Comment by Steve C. — August 5, 2008 @ 9:33 am

  14. #3-36 is still the number of cups in the tray. When I was in a branch, I had to make the judgement call on Sunday if I thought 72 (2 trays)would be enough.

    Comment by David Richey — August 5, 2008 @ 9:56 am

  15. I have heard that “interesting” Sacrament practices have emerged in places where contact with the local members had been cut off from Church HQ for a prolonged period due to disruptions such as war. I have heard, second hand, of interesting rituals the developed among the small group of members in Japan during WWII. Does anyone have some information on this?

    Comment by JKT — August 5, 2008 @ 10:12 am

  16. I noticed the “second song” has now come to be called the sacrament hymn. You can see how this service has elements of what the sacrament service has evolved into.

    Comment by BruceC — August 5, 2008 @ 11:16 am

  17. Older chapels, at least in Utah, that have built-in glass display cases in the foyers (the ones that used to be used for b-ball trophies) sometimes have displays these days of old sacrament paraphernalia that they’ve found in some closet or storeroom. I really like seeing them.

    Can you specify any of these chapels, Ardis? I think that sounds like a wonderful Sunday afternoon activity.

    Comment by Christopher — August 5, 2008 @ 11:52 am

  18. I noticed several on the MHA tour a year ago, but I can’t tell you now which chapels they were; sorry. Except that I know one was the old Farmington chapel.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 5, 2008 @ 12:40 pm

  19. RE: #15. JKT askes about changes to the sacrament rituals in places where Mormons have been cut off from Church HQ for extended periods of time. I don’t know much about the Japanese Saints during World War II (to be sure, there were very few LDS in Japan at the time), but I can comment about the German Saints. In 1938, a year before World War II began, the American missionaries were evacuated due to the Czechoslovakian crisis. From the middle of September until the middle of October, the German Mormons were cut off (only a month). When the American mission presidents and missionaries returned they found a number of irregularities had cropped up. Acting branch presidents had begun taking tithing donations as “payment” for services rendered. Also, in some branches, women administered and passed the sacrament.

    After the return of American leadership to Germany, mission authorities spent the next ten months putting together instructions for the Germans in the event there would be another evacuation (which there was in August 1939). Interestingly enough, during the war, there were relatively few irregularities that crept into LDS services in Germany.

    There has been a great Ph.D. dissertation written on the LDS in the Third Reich. I wish the fellow who wrote it would get off his duff and publish it as a book!

    Comment by Steve C. — August 5, 2008 @ 12:48 pm

  20. I wish the fellow who wrote it would get off his duff and publish it as a book!

    Me, too, Steve C. Funny thing, but I can’t quite think of his name … wait … it’ll come to me … I have the funny feeling that I have read, even typed, that name very, very recently …

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 5, 2008 @ 1:05 pm

  21. Interestingly, efforts at standardization continue today, even on the Wasatch Front. A letter from the area presidency for Utah was recently circulated, admonishing against certain irregularities that had cropped up in sacrament meetings in general, and in the administration of the sacrament in particular. With respect to the latter, disapproved practices included singing hymns during the administration of the sacrament and holding the sacrament ordinance until the end of sacrament meeting.

    Comment by Martin Willey — August 5, 2008 @ 4:31 pm

  22. Fantastic, thanks, Ardis. One of these days I’m going to do something on Mormon worship and liturgy.

    Comment by matt b — August 5, 2008 @ 5:08 pm

  23. RE: #22. Matt B. please do something on Mormon worship and liturgy. I would find that very interesting.

    Comment by Steve C. — August 5, 2008 @ 9:43 pm

  24. I recall my mother-n-law telling me about the globets of water that were passed during the sacrament. She said that if someone on their aisle was sick, they would want to take a sip before they did. And they used to turn the cup around so they wouldn’t touch where the previous sipper did. I used to think “But, how about the people on the row before? Were they sick?”

    Comment by Gramma — August 6, 2008 @ 8:10 am

  25. I’m also old enough to remember morning Sunday School services with sacrament gems, 2 1/2 minute talks, and practice hymns. I’ve never been in a ward where the old glass cups were used, but I have seen (sitting in cupboards in older LDS chapels) some of the round sacrament trays that I believe were used with them.

    Here’s a question: did the use of wine in LDS sacrament services persist long enough anywhere to overlap with the use of the small glass cups? ..bruce..

    Comment by bfwebster — August 6, 2008 @ 10:34 am

  26. […] is a great post over at keepapitchinin.com has a Bishops guide to administering the Sacrament in his ward back in 1923. It is very similar to […]

    Pingback by Administration of Sacrament Traditions « LDS Young Men — August 7, 2008 @ 9:07 am

  27. Great post, (I linked to it on my blog about LDS Young Men’s program http://www.lds-ym.com.)

    At an old Chapel in Union, Oregon they have a display of a vintage Sacrament set in their lobby. It was very cool.

    Comment by JGoldenKimball — August 7, 2008 @ 9:35 am

  28. bfwebster:

    I recall seeing some of the round trays used in some wards I attended in my childhood. We used the same old paper cups with them. (Sorry to disappoint you!)

    The earliest sacrament trays I remember (from the Provo 8th Ward, late 50s or early 60s) did not have a “basket” for the used paper cups. So the cups were piled up in the corner holes, and the deacons would press them down to keep the stack of cups from becoming unstable and falling over. I used to look forward to that part of passing the sacrament, but, alas, those trays had been replaced (and we no longer lived in that ward) by the time I became a deacon.

    Comment by Mark B. — August 7, 2008 @ 10:25 am

  29. Follow the link in #27 to get a view of what those old sacrament trays looked like.

    Comment by Mark B. — August 7, 2008 @ 10:27 am

  30. My grandmother told me that when she was young, those priests offering the sacrament prayer stood with one arm or both arms to the square as they did so. She told me this in the 1960s sometime, when she was in her late 70s. Additionally, I’ve read of this practice in some very old journals.

    Comment by Anthony E. Larson — August 10, 2008 @ 8:19 am

  31. I joined the Church in the 70’s and remember a lot of these practices that disappeared with the consolidated meeting schedule. The Sacrament Gems, practice hymns and 2 1/2 minute talks were all only in Sunday School. I have heard that in the past the entire congregation used to kneel with the priest. Anyone know more about that?

    Comment by PeaJay — August 14, 2008 @ 11:48 pm

  32. PeaJay, that was never a standard LDS practice, although alot of variations were tried briefly in the earliest days of the church.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 15, 2008 @ 7:14 am

  33. Does anyone recall a comment by, I believe it was Gordon B. Hinckley, which admonished us to not thank the deacons for the sacrament. That it was because it was their duty. Maybe I was just dreaming. I thought that it was directed to the bishoprics since they always say “we’d like to thank the deacons for the reverent way in which they passed the sacrament.” I’ve researched this but can’t come up with anything. any help would be greatly appreciated. A. Zenyam

    Comment by Alex Maynez — November 12, 2008 @ 9:25 pm

  34. I don’t recall ever hearing anything like that, Alex. Anybody?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 12, 2008 @ 9:39 pm

  35. I remember hearing Truman Madsen suggest once that we read Moroni 4:2 carefully and note that it says that the priest “did kneel down with the church” when blessing the sacrament. But I’ve never seen it happen.

    Comment by Mark B. — November 12, 2008 @ 9:55 pm

  36. Alex, I don’t recall a specific statement by any particular prophet or apostle, but I have had multiple Bishops who have taken that stance for that exact reason – and I personally agree with it, not that my opinion matters at all.

    Comment by Ray — November 13, 2008 @ 8:22 am

  37. Oh, and those Bishops all mentioned that the directive came from the Brethren – written or unwritten order, I’m not sure.

    Justin, you around to wave your magic wand and give us the authoritative answer?

    Comment by Ray — November 13, 2008 @ 8:24 am

  38. I remember the 2 1/2 minute talks and the Sacrament Gems when I was little. Also the round water trays, we used one in our small branch in Illinois with paper cups, later plastic. In regards to practices that creep in sometimes, I remember one branch pianist that had recently joined the church. She thought we needed music while the sacrament was passed. I thought the branch president was going to break a leg getting up to tell her to stop. :-)

    Comment by Cameron — June 14, 2009 @ 4:32 pm

  39. Ha! I don’t suppose the Plan of Salvation would collapse if just one time somebody who didn’t know better did something as scandalous as playing a hymn at the wrong time! :)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 14, 2009 @ 5:50 pm

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