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Refining the Sacrament

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 10, 2009

William A. Hyde, president of the Pocatello (Idaho) Stake, published a lengthy paper in 1911 on “The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.” He explored the history of the ordinance, examined the prayers, discussed the symbolism, all in a very thoughtful and devotional manner. (I make a point of saying that lest you think that he was concerned only with outward trivialities, as you might assume if the following extract were all he had written.) [UPDATE: Per reader request, the full text of the article can be found here.]

We’ve discussed before many of the points he makes here, but he makes those points again so colorfully and in such wonderful detail that I can’t resist another discussion, especially since – by decrying certain behaviors associated with the sacrament – he also shows us what Mormon life was once like in details so casual that they may never have been written down elsewhere.

The ones who officiate at the board should do so with humble dignity, acting with precision and unity of movement, so that, all eyes being centered upon them, they may proceed without manifest embarrassment to perform their duties. Certain rules generally observed in the passing of the sacrament have come to be law, and these are based upon the idea of uniformity, perhaps, more than upon any other inherent reason – such as, for instance, that the deacon, or other officer passing the cup, shall carry it in his right hand, and that the communicant shall receive it in like manner; and these and other rules, not necessary to mention, are for the good order of the congregation. In addition to these things, the Saints owe a duty to each other that they should studiously discharge – that is to be so clean and sweet that their presence at the Holy Supper shall not offend any.

We should bear in mind this fact: that there are persons who inherit, or who have acquired by refined living, very sensitive, and by some perhaps thought to be over-refined, dispositions, which is no reproach to them, and which we are in duty bound to consider. There are many persons who cannot, without the exercise of will, drink after another. It is, in my opinion, one of the strongest arguments in favor of the word of wisdom, that it is utterly repulsive to some that those who are known to be users of tobacco and liquors shall drink from the cup in advance of them. If those who offend in committing sins against others are debarred from the privilege of the sacrament, will it not follow logically that those whose very presence and participation, not some past act, offend, shall some day be forbidden? It seems to me that this may reasonably be anticipated, as the Church moves to that higher plane that we hope to see it occupy. This much, however, I think may be taken as correct and proper doctrine, without qualification: that no one who uses tobacco or liquor should be permitted to officiate at the table.

I would not advocate these ideas to the extent that we should become over delicate and sensitive. I read once of an ingenious man who had invented a cup for communion which had a mouthpiece containing a valve, which admitted one swallow of wine, so that each one partaking took all the wine that his lips had touched; and this was advertised as an inducement, I suppose, to the refined ladies of the church to attend this service, without the fear of being shocked in their sensitive feelings. I think that this extreme might be excused in congregations such as one might expect to see in the world, where the use of tobacco is not thought to be wrong; but I am happy to say that I see very few in the congregations of the Saints whom I would hesitate to drink after.

Another matter, rather more delicate, but which I think ought to be mentioned, concerns the mothers and the babies. I say, bless the babies, for they are the sweetest of all creation, and I love their dewey lips;, but, you know, all people do not feel that way. An infant does not know how to drink, and until it has learned properly, the cup ought to be withheld from it. As the water comes to you, do not hold it so that the baby will be tempted and reach out its hands for it, but drink and pass it on to your neighbor, if possible unobserved. If the baby is thirsty, give it a drink from the cup which the deacon has provided for that purpose. Due care should also be exercised with the children who have passed the period of babyhood. The careful mother will see that they h ave not been eating cake, just before the cup is passed, so that their lips may be free from particles. As soon as the child can to any extent understand the nature of the ordinance, it should know that this water is not to be considered as something to quench the thirst. At eight years of age, of course, the child should be baptized, at which period it will be able to comprehend all that it is required to know of the proper observance of this rite.

With these simple and reasonable rules observed, all ought to eat and drink readily and with pleasure, their minds upon the thought that for the occasion this is His flesh and blood symbolized to us. This idea, I think, should prevail to the extent that no person, child or adult, would presume to take a cup from the sacrament table to drink. I hold firmly to the idea of the sacred character of these emblems and of these vessels. … I am sure that the unforbidden handling of the vessels by those not authorized cheapens and lowers the ordinance. I think that bishops should have a pail or pitcher of water convenient, with a cup that is different form the sacrament goblets, that it may be distinguished and known by the children, so that those who need may drink; but if children are trained properly, they will not be asking for a drink unless they are ill and feverish.

I have seen the remainder of the sacrament distributed, at the close of the meeting on fast day, to hungry children; but this ought not to be, for the reason that I have mentioned. Neither ought it to be thrown out upon the ground, or fed to animals. The remainder of the bread, after the meeting is over, should be taken care of by one in charge, and taken home and there used, away from the surroundings that go to make its sacred character.



16 Comments »

  1. “…so that their lips may be free from particles…”

    That’s really funny.

    Comment by Clark — July 10, 2009 @ 10:06 am

  2. Awesome excerpt, and a very interesting read. Do you have the entire paper electronically you can post or send?

    Comment by Visorstuff — July 10, 2009 @ 10:21 am

  3. I almost used that excerpt as the title, Clark. Honest!

    Visorstuff, I don’t have it handy but it wouldn’t take much to get it ready in a day or two. I’ll send it to you, and also post it as a page here with a link from this post.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 10, 2009 @ 11:39 am

  4. I’m glad that we have individual cups instead of the communal cups of yesteryear. Can you imagine the posts that would occupy the Bloggernacle if we did not have the individual cups? ;-)

    I love reading posts like these.

    Comment by Brian Duffin — July 10, 2009 @ 11:49 am

  5. A fun read!

    My son recently turned 14 and now takes his turn bringing the bread to Church for the Sacrament. I’ve been appalled when I return to the car after meetings and see my children gobbling the slices of bread which remain in the package. Am I just being stodgy? I guess I need to provide a better breakfast, or something.

    Comment by Bored in Vernal — July 10, 2009 @ 1:00 pm

  6. BIV, I think of it as once the sacrament is over we shouldn’t let go anything to waste. Like pulling the ox out of the mire. Feeding your hungry children is one of those occasions! So don’t be too appalled!

    Great post! Those feverish and ill children! I think they should’ve stayed home!

    Comment by Kaylana — July 10, 2009 @ 1:29 pm

  7. Interesting read. I loved the description of the infants and “their dewey lips.” Ha! What an image. And add to the dewey lips, dewey noses, sometimes dewey eyes, etc.

    I was frankly surprised by the author’s use of what I consider to be a very Catholic idea: not letting the unordained touch any of the elements (or here, the vessels). He says,

    I am sure that the unforbidden handling of the vessels by those not authorized cheapens and lowers the ordinance.

    My understanding is that the sacrament elements are taken “in remembrance of” the blood and body of Christ, and not as a literal taking and eating of his flesh and blood. In that sense, while I can probably appreciate the author’s motivation behind this idea of not improperly handling the vessels (i.e., developing dignity and respect?), I have to think that this comment probably fits best in the “Just His Personal Opinion” file. As a matter of fact, like Kevin Barney, I rejoice in seeing my daughters pass the sacrament trays to those next to us in the pews.

    Does anyone see a doctrinal basis for his “hands off” recommendation?

    Comment by Hunter — July 10, 2009 @ 3:01 pm

  8. I found the quote this story reminded me of. It’s in Spencer W. Kimball’s Biography and must have occurred around 1908:

    “They passed the sacrament with a brand new $90 set of silver plates and goblets. Because the entire congregation drank from the common goblets, the more fastidious members would twist the cup so their lips touched the rim by one of the two handles. But this supposedly untouched spot quickly became the most used part of the cup’s rim, or so it seemed to the amused deacons…”

    Comment by Clark — July 10, 2009 @ 3:12 pm

  9. [broken record] Keepa’s commenters are the best in the bloggernacle — thoughtful and funny and appreciative. [/broken record] Well, it’s true, as this thread proves yet again.

    Hunter, your suggestion that his intent was “developing dignity and respect” is right on the mark. If the entire article were available, you’d see that his reference to “cheapening and lowering” contrasts with an earlier section about showing respect in taking extra care of the cleanliness of the sacramental table linen, trimming the darkest crusts off bread before breaking it, arranging the table neatly — in general, just being less casual and slap-happy about it all.

    In its full context, I’d say his reference to not touching vessels improperly doesn’t mean anything like “girls aren’t authorized” but rather “helping yourself to a swig from the sacrament goblet to quench your thirst during a long sermon is an improper handling of the vessels” that shows a lack of respect toward the sacrament itself. Note that he doesn’t object to taking the leftover bread home. He does object to handing leftover bread out to children in the chapel and swigging from the goblet while in church — doing either thing at the same time and in the same place and with the same tools used for the sacrament eliminates the symbolic nature of the bread and water. It becomes, in that case, mere bread and water, not the representational flesh and blood of Christ.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 10, 2009 @ 3:41 pm

  10. That makes sense, Ardis. As much as I don’t like the over-Catholicization idea as it relates to our Lord’s Supper remembrance, I don’t like the lazy “slap-happy” tendencies you pointed to, either. Thanks.

    Comment by Hunter — July 10, 2009 @ 3:58 pm

  11. The full text of the article is now posted here.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 11, 2009 @ 8:52 am

  12. Ardis:

    Have you considering writing a book on the evolution of some key LDS congregational practices through the early and mid-20th century (e.g., the Sacrament)? I remain fascinated by your postings on such subjects. You could think of it as another Mormonism in Transition, but on the ward level and focused on the 20th century. ..bruce..

    Comment by bfwebster — July 11, 2009 @ 10:20 am

  13. I hadn’t really thought of doing anything like that, bruce. If you sent me out researching that today, I wouldn’t know where to start — but the little bits keep accumulating, don’t they?

    It’s good to see you back and commenting, although I suppose that means your vacation is over and your nose is back to the grindstone.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 11, 2009 @ 10:24 am

  14. I love the way he puts things and how we might describe those things today.

    We should bear in mind this fact: that there are persons who inherit, or who have acquired by refined living, very sensitive, and by some perhaps thought to be over-refined, dispositions, which is no reproach to them, and which we are in duty bound to consider.–In other words, people who are anal.

    The careful mother will see that they h ave not been eating cake, just before the cup is passed, so that their lips may be free from particles.–In other words, don’t let your kid backwash!

    Great post.

    Comment by Steve C. — July 11, 2009 @ 4:52 pm

  15. Neither ought it to be thrown out upon the ground, or fed to animals. The remainder of the bread, after the meeting is over, should be taken care of by one in charge…

    Pres. McKay would have disagreed at least a little. There’s the story of the Deacon who spilled a few pieces of bread and Pres. McKay picked them up and put them in his pocket. After the meeting he set them atop some shrubs outside for the birds. See Prince, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, pg. 20.

    Comment by BHodges — July 13, 2009 @ 4:53 pm

  16. It’s good to see you back and commenting, although I suppose that means your vacation is over and your nose is back to the grindstone.

    Actually, it’s pretty much the opposite; my nose was to the grindstone out in California for two months, and now I’m back home and a bit less busy. ..bruce..

    Comment by bfwebster — July 14, 2009 @ 2:19 pm

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