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Sacrament Gems

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 10, 2008

For seventy years, “sacrament gems” were a familiar part of the Sabbath routine for Mormon children and adults. These (usually) short pieces of scripture, or sometimes verses from hymns, were part of Sunday School opening exercises, and often marked a child’s first address to the congregation. Sometimes parents drilled children at home through the preceding week so that the child could stand and recite the gem from memory and with clear diction; other times, a frightened or giggling child would stand at the microphone and stammer or bellow each phrase as it was whispered in his ear by a Sunday School worker.

The gems were usually assigned to a class for a month, with the teacher assigning one class member to give the gem each week. The one giving the gem would sit on the stand during Sunday School opening exercises; immediately after the sacrament hymn (yes, in the days before the consolidated meeting schedule, the sacrament was administered during Sunday School as well as during Sacrament Meeting), he or she would stand at the podium and recite the gem; then the congregation would repeat the gem in unison. Sometimes a few measures of music were played before and after the gem, as shown in this illustration from the Instructor for the July 1934 gem.

The same gem was repeated each week for a month, sometimes two months, so the verses chosen became some of the most familiar lines of scripture to many church members. Gems were uniform throughout the church, or at least the English-speaking church with access to church publications. They were selected by the Sunday School General Board and published one or two months beforehand in the [Juvenile] Instructor; after the consolidation of the magazines in 1971, gems were distributed through short-lived leaflet series with titles like Sunday School Bulletin, Sunday School Guidelines, and Calendar for Sunday School Worship Service. For many years, these articles from the Instructor were reprinted in the Millennial Star for use in the British missions.

The gems originated in 1910 with this explanation from the Juvenile Instructor:

Some time ago a resolution was passed by the General Board recommending to the schools that immediately prior to the administration of the sacrament the school recite in concert a short appropriate verse or text designed to concentrate the minds of the children upon the sacred ordinances to be administered; and further, that immediately after the administration of the sacrament, some adult person in the school be called upon by the presiding officer to express a brief sacrament thought which should also serve to impress upon the children the opportunities and blessings resulting from the sacred ordinance.

We hope that both of these exercises will be made brief and interesting, and in order to accomplish this result, we feel that it is necessary that careful preparation should be given to them. It will not be amiss to advise the person beforehand who is to be called upon to give a sacrament thought after the administration of the ordinance, in order that he or she may, under the Spirit of the Lord, give in a few words, an idea that will tend to bring about a keener appreciation of the sacrament. This exercise should never occupy to exceed three minutes.

Believing that the schools generally would appreciate more definite suggestions as to material to be chosen for sacrament gems and that general uniformity in this exercise might bring good results, we have thought it wise to adopt the plan of recommending through the columns of the Juvenile each month a sacrament gem to be used by all of the schools of the Church during that month, this gem to be learned thoroughly by the pupils and recited in concert immediately preceding the administration of the sacrament.

For the month of January we suggest the following verse from a well known hymn. The verse may have been used in some Sunday Schools, but probably no appropriate selection could be made from our standard works which has not been used by some of our people:

While of these emblems we partake,
In Jesus’ name and for His sake,
Let us remember and be sure
Our hearts and hands are clean and pure.

I do not know how long the post-Sacrament “thought” lasted; perhaps it was the origin of the “two-and-a-half-minute talks” that were a major feature of Sunday School from at least the 1940s onward.

This bit of Mormon culture went extinct with the inauguration of the three-hour consolidated meeting schedule – although Sunday School opening exercises continued for a number of years, administration of the Sacrament was discontinued in 1980.

Sacrament Gems from sample years:

1910

January:

While of these emblems we partake,
In Jesus’ name and for His sake,
Let us remember and be sure
Our hearts and hands are clean and pure.

February:

How great the wisdom and the love
That filled the Courts on high,
And sent the Savior from above,
To suffer, bleed and die!
His precious blood he freely spilt –
His life He freely gave:
A sinless sacrifice for guilt,
A dying world to save.

March:

O Lord of Hosts, we now invoke
Thy spirit most Divine,
To cleanse our hearts while we partake
The broken bread and wine.

April:

May we forever think of Thee
And of thy suffering sore,
Endured for us on Calvary,
And praise Thee evermore.

May:

We’ll sing all hail to Jesus’ name,
And praise and honor give
To Him who bled on Calv’ry’s hill,
And died that we might live.

June:

He passed the portals of the grave,
Salvation was His song,
He called upon the sin-bound soul
To join the heav’nly throng.

July:

The bread and water represent
His sacrifice for sin;
Ye Saints partake, and testify
Ye do remember Him.

August:

More holiness give me,
More strivings within,
More patience in suffering,
More sorrow for sin;
More faith in my Savior,
More sense of His care,
More joy in His service,
More purpose in prayer.

September:

Again we meet around the board
Of Jesus, our Redeemer Lord;
With faith in His atoning blood,
Our only access unto God.

October:

He left His Father’s courts on high,
With man to live, for man to die;
A world to purchase and to save,
And seal a triumph o’er the grave.

November:

Help us, O God, to realize
The great atoning sacrifice,
The gift of Thy beloved Son,
The Prince of Life, the Holy One.

December:

While of these emblems we partake,
In Jesus’ name and for His Sake,
Let us remember and be sure
Our hearts and hands are clean and pure.

1934

January and February:

“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Matt. 26:26-28)

March:

“And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day.” (D&C 59:9)

April:

“And he hath risen again from the dead, that he might bring all men unto him, on conditions of repentance.” (D&C 18:12)

May:

“… Remembering unto the Father my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins.” (D&C 27:2) (Note: It would be well to have the one leading the recitation read verse one and part of verse two of Section 27, the assembly following in concert recitation of that part of verse two printed above.)

June:

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20)

July:

“I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26)

August:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave His Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

September:

“Jesus Said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Matt. 22:37-40)

October:

“I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6)

November:

“Jesus Christ is the name which is given of the Father, and there is none other name given whereby man can be saved.” (D&C 18:23)

December:

(The Sacrament Gem must be prepared in advance of the meetings in which it is to be given, and should be practised by the students in their classes November 25th.)

(Luke 2:8-14) (Leader should read verses 8 and 10 from the Bible, the school responding with verses 10 and 11 as follows): “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” (Leader should then recite verses 12 and 13, the school, in concert, responding with): “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men.”

1973

January:

Senior Sunday School: “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart.” (Psalm 24:3,4)

Junior Sunday School: “Jesus said: I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)

February:

Senior: “What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8)

Junior: “Jesus said: I am the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)

March:

Senior: “And … all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments.” (Mosiah 2:22)

Junior: “Jesus said: I am the resurrection, and the life.” (John 14:6)

April:

Senior: “And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my spirit to be with you.” (3 Nephi 18:7)

Junior: “Jesus said: I am the resurrection, and the life.” (John 14:6)

May:

Senior: “Behold, I have come unto the world to bring redemption unto the world, to save the world from sin.” (3 Nephi 9:21)

Junior: “Jesus said, blessed are the peace-makers: for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matt. 5:9)

June:

Senior: “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.” (1 Cor. 11:28)

Junior: “Jesus said, blessed are the peace-makers: for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matt. 5:09)

July:

Senior: “For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:15

Junior: “Jesus said, thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart.” (Matt. 22:37)

August:

Senior: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.” (1 John 5:3)

Junior: “Jesus said, thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart.” (Matt. 22:37)

September:

Senior: “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst.” (John 4:14)

Junior: “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” (Matt. 5:8)

October:

Senior: “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.: (John 7:17)

Junior: “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” (Matt. 5:8)

November:

Senior: “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” (John 65:35)

Junior: “Jesus said: I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35)

December:

Senior: “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” (Isaiah 40:5)

Junior: “Jesus said: I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35)



15 Comments »

  1. How funny! My mom has this old book of gems, and I always thought it was just a cute title. So that’s what they really are. Here in Germany, it’s fascinating to see the little things that are done differently in the Church. (Thankfully, they are things that don’t matter much.) For example, the organist/pianist plays an interlude between the second and third/last verses, a member of the bishopric gives a spiritual thought at the start of each Sacrament meeting, and members all bring their own hymn books rather than having enough available for everyone. (I wonder if that last one came from the wards not having big enough budgets or from the people consistently bringing their own so there was no need.)

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — August 10, 2008 @ 11:59 am

  2. Ardis,

    Thank you for your history lesson. I brought back memories of Jr. Sunday School and doing the sacrament gems. It was educational for my wife who really doesn’t remember much about pre-consolidated church.

    RE: #1. I, too, appreciate the little variations. I remember as well the interludes between hymn verses while on my mission in Germany.

    Comment by Steve C. — August 10, 2008 @ 1:29 pm

  3. absolutely fascinating. Thank you Ardis.

    Comment by Matt W. — August 10, 2008 @ 2:03 pm

  4. This does bring back memories. I think a lot of kids thought it was a “sacrament gym” or “sacrament Jim.”

    I also remember “concert recitations.” As I remember, on fast Sundays, a Sunday School class would be assigned a scripture. One or two class members would give a talk about the scripture and then the entire class would stand and recite the scripture.

    Comment by Left Field — August 10, 2008 @ 3:01 pm

  5. Left Field, I had completely forgotten about concert recitations, and even with the reminder I can’t quite remember just how it all went. I’ll have to do some research to scratch this itch that is now tickling my memory. I had also forgotten how often it was pronounced “Jim/gym,” too, but now that you remind me I have no trouble remembering that.

    Michelle, Steve, Matt, I’m glad you enjoyed this, too. This one was fun for me to dig out because I remember it as a part of my childhood. In my personal papers I have a tiny square of brown construction paper with a sticker picture of Jesus on it, and a pair of pinholes at the top. My mother’s handwriting on the back identifies it as something pinned on my dress as an award/reward from the Junior Sunday School leaders for giving my very first Sacrament gem. I don’t remember the event at all, but Mom saved the picture for me, and had sense enough not to give it to me until I was old enough to value and preserve it.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 10, 2008 @ 6:04 pm

  6. Wonderful post, Ardis. I can’t remember this from my own upbringing, but I have a terrible memory for anything more than about 5 ago. OK; it’s more like 5 months ago, but . . .

    Comment by Ray — August 10, 2008 @ 6:14 pm

  7. Ardis, what I really like about your research is the breadth. The pioneer days are interesting but it’s remarkable how quickly our institutional memory fades and your entries about the recent past of the church are great.

    Michelle G. in both of the wards I lived in while growing up the organist played that same interlude between the next-to-the last and last verse.

    Comment by KLC — August 10, 2008 @ 10:10 pm

  8. I should have added that those wards were in Southern California in the 60s and early 70s.

    Comment by KLC — August 10, 2008 @ 10:11 pm

  9. Ah, the sacrament “gym!” I don’t know how old I was before I found out it was “gem.” You know, the parts of the old Sunday School I miss most are the gem and the practice hymn. I think our abilities as a singing church took a serious hit with the elimination of the practice hymn.

    Comment by Yet Another John — August 10, 2008 @ 10:22 pm

  10. thank you….I miss the Sacrament Gem. And ‘Worship through music’ which is what we called the practice hymn in Sunday School Opening Exercises..No idea if that was the correct name or not!

    Comment by Anne — August 11, 2008 @ 4:16 am

  11. Note the frequent addition of “Jesus said” before the Junior Sunday School gems in 1973. I remember being confused about whether that was supposed to precede every gem. It is entirely possible that I started gems with “Jesus said” even when the scripture was not quoting Jesus.

    Comment by Last Lemming — August 11, 2008 @ 8:15 am

  12. Wow. I wonder what the congregation would do if I played an interlude before the last verse.

    I’ve lobbied not to have to play a postlude to the sacrament while the deacons are walking to their seats, but the bishopric prefers it, so I keep doing it. It just seems so Protestant. Hmmm. Maybe I need to start some passive agressive behavior, like playing a jarring chord at the end of each postlude. (Just kidding.)

    I have found that more people sing and they sing louder when the hymns are played at the correct tempo. There’s nothing like “Hope of Israel” played at three-quarters speed to inculcate a dislike of church music.

    I don’t remember the Sacrament Gems. I vaguely remember the sacrament being served at Junior Sunday School.

    The kids have a monthly theme in Primary that includes a scripture fragment like this. I had to look it up since I’m not in the Primary:

    The Sharing Time theme for August is “My Faith in Jesus Christ grows when I listen to the Holy Ghost.” The scripture is Doctrine and Covenants 42:17: “For, behold, the Comforter knoweth all things, and beareth record of the Father and the Son.” The song for the month is “Listen, Listen” p 107 Children’s Songbook. (lds.families.com)

    Comment by Researcher — August 11, 2008 @ 8:41 am

  13. I remember the sacrament gem. As I recall, you would much prefer to be chosen to deliver the gem than the 2 1/2 minute talk! And practice hymns – - I agree that church music has suffered since we did away with that.

    Comment by fifthgen — August 12, 2008 @ 5:03 pm

  14. Reciting the Sacrament Gems was my foundation for public speaking. My father was the Sunday School Superintendent (now called President) for years. Any time the child who had been assigned to present the “gem” was absent, my father would summon me to the rostrum, hand me a copy of the Sacrament Gem and tell me to have it memorized by the time it was to be presented. If he learned by Satuday night that the child assigned for a 2 and 1/2 minute talk was going to be absent on Sunday, I received the substitute assignment. He would never allow me to “read” the talk. I must speak directly to the congregation. I could refer to notes, but never was to “read a talk” prepared by another person. Great training opportunities!

    Comment by James Maxwell — June 27, 2011 @ 1:54 pm

  15. Great post, Ardis. Here’s a 1945 update on how-to from the Instructor:

    http://archive.org/stream/instructor8012dese#page/n37/mode/2up

    Comment by BHodges — September 11, 2012 @ 5:38 am

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