Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Sacrament Handedness: A Poll

Sacrament Handedness: A Poll

By: Ardis E. Parshall - September 02, 2012

The most recent installment of Elder Willard Larsen Jones’s 1901 missionary diary records his attendance at a Campbellite service where church members partook of the sacrament. Elder Jones found fault with the service, particularly in this detail:

Some would take with left hand and some with right. No system.

That gave rise to discussion in the comments about the apparently obsolete practice in our own Church regarding taking the sacrament with the right hand only — Julia, who is in her mid-30s, did not recall ever having been taught that using the right hand to take the sacrament was obligatory; I, in my mid-50s, remember this being taught (and enforced!) in my childhood. I use my right hand as much out of habit and general preference as anything, but in thinking about it this evening I realize that I do use only my right hand when I pass the tray down the row. I also resist what I frequently observe others doing: holding the tray in the left hand while taking the water with the right.

So — were you ever taught that it was important to use the right hand ONLY when taking or passing the sacrament? Or had that tradition faded by the time you were learning your basic habits as a Latter-day Saint? Where and when were you a child or young teen (or adult convert) when you would have been most likely to have been taught this habit, if in fact you were so taught?

And of course, your comments about past and present understandings of this question are welcome.







  1. I recall my mother mentioning once that it was customary to take the sacrament with one’s right hand (in Maryland in the 90s– my mother is from northern California). Other than that, I don’t remember the subject ever being explicitly addressed, and I don’t observe the convention myself. I do notice that most of my fellow religionists do, so it must be being taught somehow.

    Comment by E. Wallace — September 2, 2012 @ 8:55 pm

  2. My mother instructed me to use my right hand during Sacrament Meeting. When I tried to pass this instruction along to classmates in Sunday School (yes, I’m that old) they snorted and told me it didn’t matter. I would never advise anyone but my right-handed children in this matter today.

    Comment by Mrs. B — September 2, 2012 @ 9:07 pm

  3. Left or right – it beat the use of the common cup.

    I also remember the (enforce!) so well, Ardis, that I would have thought the whole ordinance null and void had I slipped up.

    One bishop I had taught that the right hand was the “covenant hand” and therefore . . .

    Comment by reed russell — September 2, 2012 @ 9:45 pm

  4. I’m in my mid-thirties, raised outside of Utah, and I don’t ever remember being instructed to take the sacrament with my right hand, but I did get the general idea that it was the preferred hand. If your right hand was occupied (cradling a baby, in a cast, etc) it was OK to use your left. I don’t know if my parents ever said anything, or if we kids just picked it up by watching them take & pass with their right hand. It was never enforced, that I remember – and I know they were watching, because once when I skipped taking the sacrament (because I was mad at my sister) my Dad asked me why, after the meeting.
    On my mission, I observed that the same people who insisted on right-handed Sacrament taking also thought it was inappropriate to ever sing Sacrament hymns outside of Sacrament meeting, which was a new idea to me.
    A few years ago I sat in on a Primary Sharing Time focused on the Sacrament, and although they said several times that there was no real rule to take the Sacrament with your right hand only, it’s the hand we put over our heart when we say the pledge of allegiance/raise to the square to sustain callings/etc. And then they passed out a basket of chocolate so the kids could practice taking only one piece, with their right hand.
    Just today, I heard the father in the pew behind me whispering to his child to be sure to take the Sacrament with her right hand, so the idea isn’t totally dead.
    It’s almost like we admit it’s a not a rule, but we kind of think it ought to be.

    Comment by soleil — September 2, 2012 @ 9:51 pm

  5. As a child growing up in Utah in the 1950s, I was taught that it was important that you take the sacrament with your right hand. Until tonight, after reading these comments, I did not know that there was no rule. I had an accident when I was 16 years old and my right hand was bandaged, my mother told me that it would be alright to take it with my left hand in that case.

    Comment by Jeff Johnson — September 2, 2012 @ 10:29 pm

  6. I was a pre-teen and early teenager in the 70’s in Virginia (DC area). My parents were both raised in Utah. I was taught (not sure who first introduced the idea) that we use our right hand as much as possible to pass the tray and only take it with our right hand. I learned that this is because the right hand is our covenant hand.

    Just like we shake right hands to make an agreement, or when we are baptized the priesthood brother holds io his right hand, we use our right hand because we are renewing our covenant made at baptism. I have taught my children this.

    I am the Primary President & we teach this to our children in Sharing Time as well. One of the counselors was the one who brought it up at a Presidency Mtg. (they were both raised in Utah)

    Comment by Beth StatenLeon — September 3, 2012 @ 5:07 am

  7. I see errors in my comments. Sorry, I’m not on a computer right now.

    I was trying to say (2nd paraghaph) “the priesthood brother holds up his right hand”.


    Comment by Beth StatenLeon — September 3, 2012 @ 5:11 am

  8. Some people in my ward growing up (in Arizona) taught that it was necessary but there were just as many people who taught that it was “nice” but not “necessary”. It was never that much of a debate.

    The biggest debate about the sacrament that I ever heard was on my mission (in Argentina, 2001-2003) where the members we worried about the rows of chairs in the chapel being too close together which prevented the priesthood members from walking down the rows to give the sacrament to each member (they did not pass the tray down the row from member to member as is the custom in the US). They did this because they thought that women should not hold the sacrament tray because they do not have the priesthood. In some cases the suggestions got a little extreme and some members were suggesting that women should not even be allowed to pick up the sacrament themselves (as in the priesthood holder would have to place the bread and pour the water into their mouth).

    Some Argentine missionaries participated in this debate, and were mostly of the opinion that women should not hold the tray (even to pass it down the row!) but all the American missionaries were quite surprised at this and recognized the Catholic origins of this practice and idea. As such we strongly discouraged it and tried to teach the members that it didn’t matter if a woman held the tray as it was passed down the row (most American missionaries also said that it didn’t even matter which hand was used, though some did). So in a heavily Catholic country the questions regarding the sacrament were slightly different and the debate sounded like people who were unsure of what was Church “policy” and what was “common” (Catholic) tradition.

    Having dealt with this has made me wonder if the righthandedness thing is a Protestant/general European Christian hold over by tradition. This would make sense since we are strongly Protestant in our worship traditions.

    Comment by quantumleap42 — September 3, 2012 @ 5:40 am

  9. My memory is of Junior Sunday School, about 1969 or 1970, in the Stop 11 Road building in south Indianapolis. Brother Davis — a transplant from Utah — who was a counselor in the Bishopric, held up a sheet of construction paper on which was drawn an outline of a hand. We were to hold up the hand that matched that outline. He told us that was the covenant hand, and we should use that hand only to take the sacrament. To this day I think of that paper hand as I bite my tongue when my daughter persistently takes it with her left!

    Comment by Coffinberry — September 3, 2012 @ 5:42 am

  10. I am in my mid thirties, grew up in the southeastern US and was taught this in a strong manner by my parents and the ward. It was not until adulthood i learned there was no requirement. Now i take it with whatever hand is available.

    Comment by Dustin — September 3, 2012 @ 6:13 am

  11. I know I started this kerfuffle, but when I asked about it, I really thought I was enquiring about some arcane practice that was a holdover from practices of the early saints. After the responses to the other post, I put the link on our family website to see if my other siblings, and their spouses, had just been paying more attention than I was.

    Here is a short synopsis of our conversation.

    None of my biological, step-siblings, or adopted sister had heard of this practice before graduating from high school. Eight of us (a mixture of kids and spouses) still had never heard of it until today.

    The only one who had experienced an actual lesson or talk about this subject was the BIL who grew up with a dad in the foreign service. They spent a number of years in Germany, and his observation was that East German saints, who had lived behind the iron curtain and who did not have “correlated” church materials available to them for a number of years, where almost militant about right handed sacrament taking, to the point that he remembered a mother slapping her child, in sacrament meeting, for using his left hand.

    Most of the siblings who went to BYU had heard about this from at least one roommate or classmate, except for my brother who went to BYU-I, and was in a family ward for his entire time there.

    All but four of us have served in Primary at least once, and had never heard it discussed in the lesson manual when sacrament was addressed, or had a sharing time presentation about it. The three of us who have served as Primary Presidency members have never had a Stake in service that addressed this topic, or any leader tell us we should be teaching it to our teachers or the Primary children.

    Several suggestions were offered for why this might have become a Mormon folklore.
    1) Masons have a number of rituals that are ONLY allowed to have the right hand used. Since many early church members had been Masons, this tradition might have snuck in.
    2) Parents who could not teach their children about temple ordinances, but who wanted them to understand the doing those ordinances in the correct way, transferred this over to the ordinance of taking the sacrament.
    3) In early times, childhood obedience was valued much more than it was today, so setting the example, and then teaching children that obedience was the most important part of honoring covenants was appropriate to the historical views on raising children.

    Obviously we were not very well indoctrinated into this tradition. 😉


    Comment by Julia — September 3, 2012 @ 7:04 am

  12. The “covenant hand” idea was taught to me as a child, but at some point the question came up that if you had lost your right hand in an accident, perhaps, then it was okay to take it with your left hand. However, as time went on, and I became an adult, I realized that it was a tradition rather than a requirement. Out of habit, I still take the sacrament with my right hand, but will pass the tray down the row with whichever hand is freest at the time. I can also tell that it is not being stressed in our ward as I often see the deacons juggling more than one tray at a time as they pass the sacrament.

    Comment by kevinf — September 3, 2012 @ 8:32 am

  13. I was taught by a few Sunday School teachers that it’s a custom to use your right hand. One also told a story about a father slapping a three-year-old daughter for using her left hand. The message was that teaching in that manner was wasn’t right.

    I also had a Sunday School teacher when I was about 12 who was teaching the duties of Aaronic Priesthood holders, and pointed out that passing the sacrament was not on the list in the scriptures. Blessing and preparing are listed specifically, but deacons only pass the sacrament because it seems like a good idea. She pointed out that women pass it when it comes down the row. And, on my mission there was an elder who said that in his very remote and very small home branch, that sisters helped pass it because the only priesthood holder was blessing it.

    I’ve always wondered about having someone else hold the tray for you while you partake. I’ve always seen the deacons and priests hold it for each other instead of take from their own tray. Is there some meaning in that? You can’t give yourself a blessing or hold the tray for yourself?

    Comment by Carol — September 3, 2012 @ 8:37 am

  14. Carol,

    I have always wondered why it is okay for us to hold a tray and take our bread or water, but not the priests or deacons. In a previous ward they had a VERY complicated way of having each deacon offer it to another deacon, NOT the one who had given it to them. It ended up looking more like a choreographed routine to call attention to themselves, rather than a simple, and sacred, ordinance.


    Comment by Julia — September 3, 2012 @ 8:46 am

  15. We had the same issue in Brazil as they did in Argentina; some wards & branches would not allow women to touch the sacrament trays at all. When there are only 3 Aaronic priesthood holders at sacrament meeting, this can result in quite a bit of the meeting being taken up by the passing of the sacrament!

    As an American sister, I saw this as a cultural holdover from Catholicism, so I did my best to help the areas where I served let go of the idea. Usually by taking the tray (forcefully, if necessary) from the hand of an unsuspecting deacon & passing it down the row. They got used to it eventually. The stake president who wouldn’t let women bless the food because they couldn’t do it by the power of the Melchizedek priesthood was a different matter. He wouldn’t even listen to the mission president.

    As far as taking/passing the sacrament with the right hand, I remember my parents suggesting it to us as a possible symbol of making a covenant, but it was not required. This was in the early-mid 1980s in New England. But since I was right handed, it was my natural instinct to do so. Now that my husband is in the bishopric & I have to sit by myself with 4 kids, I use whatever hand is available at the time.

    Comment by bekah — September 3, 2012 @ 9:05 am

  16. I would guess that the use of the right hand for religious ritual predates Freemasonry by thousands of years.

    (Yes, I realize that the origin of Freemasonry is a topic of some debate, but why get into that here.)

    In a college class I took on Judaism and Islam, the professor mentioned that in Islam, the right hand is used for eating and for religious rituals, and the left hand is used for personal hygiene.

    Here is a search of all of the instances of “right hand” in the scriptures: (see link).

    In the scriptures, the right hand is a symbol of power, authority, and salvation, for example:

    * And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head. (Genesis 48:18)

    * Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power (Exodus 15:6)

    * And the priest shall put of the oil that is in his hand upon the tip of the right ear of him that is to be cleansed, and upon the thumb of his right hand… (Leviticus 14:28)

    * I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. (Psalms 16:8)

    * That thy beloved may be delivered; save with thy right hand, and hear me. (Psalms 60:5)

    * And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. (Matthew 25:33)

    * And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne. (Revelation 5:7)

    Like Coffinberry and others, I learned to use my right hand to take the sacrament as a child, but haven’t enforced the practice with my children. I don’t know a reason for the change. (Is any of it due to the fact that three of my five children are left-handed? Probably not, since it seems to be an institutional change, rather than personal.)

    Comment by Amy T — September 3, 2012 @ 9:09 am

  17. Julia

    For obvious reasons, women aren’t permitted to see the special “Sacrament Addendum” to the Manual of Arms.

    Young men practice that at Mutual when they’re not playing basketball.

    Comment by Mark B. — September 3, 2012 @ 9:18 am

  18. I always miss all the fun. Sundays should really have more time for rest (and blog reading) than they seem to have.

    This is a very fun topic and I have dug into it. Like all church rituals there was no handbook or instructions at all. So ritual forms developed and it wasn’t until the 20th century that any rules, customs and traditions were written down. With the Lord’s supper there are a number of interesting things, but the right hand is actually one that was codified for a time. In the mid 20th century the General Handbook of Instruction indicated that the right hand was to be used, though JFS had taught as much as the church president. It was removed in later editions, but folks teaching has a long memory.

    RE: Deacons. This is a particularly interesting case because of the history. Deacons don’t pass the sacrament as a priesthood responsibility (the D&C states explicitly that only priests are to administer the sacrament, and President Grant made it clear that deacons weren’t administering by passing). They pass because church leaders wanted to give them something to do. Women pass the sacrament (down the rows) with equal authority to the deacons.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 3, 2012 @ 9:23 am

  19. Amy – I wasn’t at all saying that any of our guesses were right. Since none of us had much background about the whole thing it was almost like trying to guess why something is done a certain way in another religion. I included them because I didn’t think any of them were right. With 3 PhDs, 3 Masters Degrees, 8 Bachelor’s Degrees, and 1 Associates Degree, that was the best we could come up with for guesses. Obviously none of us have degrees in church history.

    I wouldn’t have a problem with this if it were doctrine. I just honestly was perplexed. I usually ask questions here at Keepa when I have no idea what something means or refers to.

    Mark B – I will have a peak through the outside windows on Wednesday nights and see if I can catch them in the act!

    J. Stapley – Was there an announcement or explanation given when it was taken out of the handbook?

    Comment by Julia — September 3, 2012 @ 9:40 am

  20. I’ve heard older German ward members state that “at home” members didn’t touch the trays, that the deacons leaned over rows to pass the emblems without ever letting go of the trays, because only priesthood was allowed to touch them. There is also at least one report of ward members refusing to let a black member take hold of the tray to pass it down a row, but instead making an elaborate stretch to reach around him.

    If I had to guess, I’d suppose that those customs, as well as the dress of deacons and the pose of the bent left arm held stiffly against the back (both of which we’ve discussed before on Keepa) all arose from a desire to give an orderly dignity to what is really a very simple ordinance. It’s so simple, in fact, that in the early days of the church when music and even speakers carried on during the passing of the sacrament, some visitors did not even seem to realize that Communion was going on. For example, a journalist visiting an English Mormon conference in 1857, mentioned in his account: “Several lads in their shirt-sleeves were occupied during the service … in circulating large white jugs, apparently containing water, among the auditory, which were handed about, each taking a hearty pull, and then returned to the juvenile saints in the shirt-sleeves to be replenished and circulated again.”

    There is a much longer, much more deeply ingrained cultural tradition of using the right hand for matters of importance, but there does not seem to be any requirement for it in modern revelation. It is not taught by the Church, although obviously in many cases our cultural memory leads some to pass that tradition on, unnecessarily.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 3, 2012 @ 9:46 am

  21. Julia, I very much appreciate your asking that question. There was certainly nothing embarrassing or ignorant about it! It’s led to some fun, and a lively discussion. Please don’t take any “yes, that’s true” or “no, that’s wrong” commentary personally — I’m very certain everybody is just referring to their own experiences, and not correcting anybody else. If anything, you deserve a minor medal for suggesting a topic that everybody can contribute to, and that has drawn lurkers to join in. Thanks!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 3, 2012 @ 9:49 am

  22. Just quizzed my 18-y-o son. He says none of the answers are adequate. He was taught as a deacon to hold the sacrament tray with his right, and as a priest to hand them to the teachers/deacons with the right, but was never taught anything about partaking with the right. 2000s, Colorado.

    Comment by Coffinberry — September 3, 2012 @ 9:49 am

  23. Julia, typically when such changes have been made, there is no announcement or explanation. And this was a typical case. The handbooks are consequently one of the few places to nail down shifts, and people frequently don’t record changes in their diaries or correspondence. And people tend to do what they learn, so there is often decades long latency in application (e.g., the poll in this post, it has been almost 60 years!).

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 3, 2012 @ 10:24 am

  24. I caught the tail end of pre correlated mid week primary growing up in American Fork, Utah. I remember wearing a skirt over my pants or shorts under my shirt on Wednesdays to school so I could still hang upside down on the monkey bars but then roll up my pants so they were not viewable under my skirt as I walked up the hill from elementary school to primary. I remember having the sacrament administered at that midweek primary meeting I don’t know if this went on just a few times or regularly. Correlated schedules soon replaced the middle week primary. During the mid week primary I also remember being instructed to sit on our left hands so that we would not accidentally take the sacrament with our left hands or grasp and pass the tray with our left hands. Now thinking back it seems a little strange but at the time it seemed normal.

    Comment by Dovie — September 3, 2012 @ 10:29 am

  25. My father (who is in his early 70’s now) got in a warm discussion with another man at church who insisted that the tray always be handled with “the covenant hand”, or the right hand. My dad insisted that this was not a part of the Sacrament at all and in no way should be required of the young men passing OR those partaking.

    Incidentally, there was a young man in my ward who was physically incapable of passing the tray to congregants without using his left hand and passing it behind his back. MS or something similar.

    Comment by ErinAnn — September 3, 2012 @ 10:35 am

  26. *Shorts under skirt not shirt. Also I remember a lot of wacky things from childhood in that particular ward. We moved right after I graduated from primary.

    Comment by Dovie — September 3, 2012 @ 10:36 am

  27. Ardis – Another question: What is an at home member?
    (A slight deviation, but I went through the coloring book posts and left a trail of questions.)

    J Stapley – I have heard this before about other things. I think that it causes confusion, and wrong practices, in the church.


    Comment by Julia — September 3, 2012 @ 10:38 am

  28. I meant German members speaking of home (meaning Germany): “At home we did it this way.”

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 3, 2012 @ 10:42 am

  29. Thanks. 🙂


    Comment by Julia — September 3, 2012 @ 10:59 am

  30. This is a fun and fascinating post that I wish I’d had time to read when it was posted yesterday. I grew up in Dallas, TX in the 1990s and was taught to always partake of the emblems with my right hand. I eventually came to understand that this is a silly sort of unwritten rule, but still use my right hand to both take and pass the sacrament each week and subconsciously think that something is wrong when I see fellow congregants using their left hands.

    Comment by Christopher — September 3, 2012 @ 11:11 am

  31. I also remember when I was a bit older a very disciplined formal passing of the sacrament in Sunday sacrament meetings. The deacons all held their left arms bent just so behind their backs. When the congregation had all partaken there was a very formal way that the deacons passed the sacrament to each other in the back of the chapel and filed up to the priests at the sacrament table. In my ward now there is some formality but nothing like I remember. There was also a strict dress code. I remember a backdoor back door neighbor confiding to my mom her frustration, both single mothers with tight budgets, that the four pairs of corduroy dress pants she had recently purchased for her son for Sunday wear were not acceptable. I guess there was a no corduroy rule for deacons and priests in our ward, also I seem to remember no sweater vests allowed. I make no judgement right or wrong about this just interesting and different than I experience now.

    Comment by Dovie — September 3, 2012 @ 11:16 am

  32. I do remember being taught in youth classes as a new convert that I should take the sacrament with the right hand, and have a vague recollection of somebody teaching it was because it was the “covenant hand” (possibly the stake president). I still see mothers encouraging their children to use the right hand because that was how they were raised, but I think there is a latent understanding that it is only a custom, and not a doctrinal requirement.

    On the matter of passing the tray, however, I have never been taught anything, and have adopted something I once saw a sister do which, because I am so clumsy, I often do when passing the water tray along to someone else: I hold the base of it with both my hands to allow the next person to take the water, as well the handle when they’re done. This will sometimes throw the person I’m passing it to, and they will momentarily be unable to figure out what’s happened 🙂

    Comment by Alison — September 3, 2012 @ 11:35 am

  33. I was always taught that it was proper to use my right hand and usually continue to use that hand, partially I think because I am right handed. But I pass the tray on with either hand based on convenience. I’m sure that I confuse the poor deacons now. Even though my shoulder replacement surgery was three months ago, my right hand is not too stable. So, I find myself taking the bread with my right hand and the water with my left.

    Comment by Maurine Ward — September 3, 2012 @ 1:56 pm

  34. I was taught (Southern CA, mid 90’s) that you had to hold the Sacrament tray in the right hand at a 90 degree angle by the first three fingets while keeping the left hand firmly tucked into the small of your back. We always served ourselves after the congregation and then to serve the Priests.

    Fast Sundays, a portion of quorum time was dedicated to reviewing form, coaching performance from the prior month, and breaking down the passing routes football style, with a Q&A on what to do for corner situations.

    In my current ward, I silently flip out each week as the Priests are served right after the Bishopric.

    Comment by The Brother of Jared — September 3, 2012 @ 5:03 pm

  35. What an interesting discussion. Kinda remember it being mentioned that the right hand is the covenant hand, but I also remember my mom talking about how it was cultural. I have too many children and am too practical to make that big of a deal about passing or taking with my right hand. if i’m still sitting there at sacrament time …WIN.

    Underneath all of the this ward does this stuff lies the stuff that doesn’t change….bread water and the prayers. I Figure
    the rest doesn’t matter much

    Comment by Britt — September 3, 2012 @ 5:49 pm

  36. One thing that has changed in the current handbook is that it specifies that those passing the sacrament can be walking to their places while the sacrament is being passed to the presiding authority. I remember we did this routinely when I was a deacon in the early ’70s. But sometime in the next decade or so, I noticed a common practice in many wards of having the remaining deacons wait at the sacrament table until the bishop had taken the sacrament. I imagine this was instituted because sometimes a deacon might go to his place and forget to wait for the bishop. This practice seemed to become even more ingrained than the right hand thing. In fact, for decades, I don’t remember ever seeing an exception to it.

    I always thought it drew unnecessary attention to the bishop receiving the sacrament first. The handbook said the presiding officer should receive the sacrament first; it did not say that we were required to make a big deal of it. My ward has followed the new instructions, and the deacons wait, if necessary, at their place in the chapel instead of at the table.

    Comment by Left Field — September 3, 2012 @ 7:30 pm

  37. There’s one really good reason for the priests at the sacrament table to be served the sacrament right after the bishopric–so the priest who says the blessing on the water can chew and swallow the bread before having to start speaking. That seems such common sense that I suppose others follow a different pattern simply because they’ve never thought about it.

    Of course, there are all sorts of common practices in the church that we never think about.

    Comment by Mark B. — September 3, 2012 @ 9:34 pm

  38. My bishop told us over the pulpit once that some members asked him to correct the congregation about the right-handed Sacrament retrieval–it being our “covenant hand”. I was shocked that this was the first notice I’d received in 40 yrs lifetime membership (basically SLC, Utah/southern Idaho 52 Sundays/yr), 2080 Sundays. Add Family Home Evenings and weekday Mutual/Primary-the-old-way, and that number triples to 6,240 of formal opportunities to have learned this doctrine. In fact, until reading this fb post I didn’t know to also hold the tray with our right hand. (I thought my moving-things-along was a compassionate angle toward the Deacons and team of the congregation.) I feel a little embarrassed at not knowing. I guess this shows we’re ever learning~ and why we need to repeatedly read the Book of Mormon & attend church, etc.

    Comment by Cindy — September 4, 2012 @ 7:27 am

  39. I should clarify something that may not be obvious because the relevant links are in the comments of another post (the one linked in the first line of this post):

    Requiring the use of the right hand is NOT taught in the Church today. It is NOT necessary, and there is nothing to be embarrassed by not knowing, or ashamed of in doing something else.

    This right-hand-only thing was taught in earlier generations but is a matter of culture or habit or tradition, NOT doctrine. It hasn’t been taught by General Authorities, apparently, for some 30 years, and is no longer mentioned in the Handbook.

    This is NOT an idea that should be taught as a doctrine — it shouldn’t be imposed by bishops or Primary teachers or busybody ward members. There is no justification for that. It was brought up here on Keepa not to teach doctrine, but to understand the cultural practice or folk tradition, especially because it was mentioned in a 1901 diary.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 4, 2012 @ 7:33 am

  40. I’m late to the conversation. I have vague memories of being told to use my right hand when taking the sacrament, but I don’t remember instruction when passing it. (I was right-handed, so I probably never thought to use my left hand.)

    I’ve read the JFS statements (thanks for making reference to those) recently since my son, when he returned to our home ward as a deacon (after we lived overseas “far from Salt Lake” where our bishop didn’t worry too much about a lot of this stuff) and he was told his first Sunday in a not-so-hushed whisper at the sacrament table that he should hold that tray in his right hand (he’s a leftie). He was a bit embarrassed. But he survived. Still, even though the handbook may be silent, the JFS quotes live on…

    I do remember on my mission in Germany having a brother in priesthood comment that it would be clear “to anyone who’s been to the temple” why we use the right hand for the sacrament (I’d been and it wasn’t to me at the time, though now I think I know what he means).

    Of course, I still hear people being asked to raise their right hand to sustain someone, even though our stake has correctly taught for years that the right hand is not necessary.

    Comment by Paul — September 4, 2012 @ 7:42 am

  41. I can sustain with my left hand? That’s new to me.

    Comment by Carol — September 4, 2012 @ 8:22 am

  42. As a deacon in the 50’s, we were part of the “enforcer” crew when we passed the sacrament in (some of you may remember it) Junior Sunday School.

    Decades later as a deacons’ quorum adviser I noticed some left hand usage, mentioned it to one of the other YM presidency members and was told in no uncertain terms that there was no longer such a rule.

    Now in my dotage, I applaud the reduction in rules for rules sake in the church and elsewhere.

    Comment by Hugh — September 4, 2012 @ 10:33 am

  43. As a latecomer to this discussion, let me just add an observation that the Community of Christ (former RLDS) take seriously the idea that the sacrament is passed by the priesthood. There’s no passing down the rows; the rows are wide enough that a priesthood holder can walk along it to present the sacrament.

    (I don’t have current evidence on this, so I may be passing on information that is out of date. So much has changed among our semi-co-religionists.)

    Comment by Hugh — September 4, 2012 @ 10:48 am

  44. The last time I can remember anybody actually mentioning this at a church-wide level is Russell M. Nelson in the Ensign in 1983.

    Several people in my “mission field” ward growing up taught the “right hand as covenant hand” explanation that Russell M. Nelson gives there.

    Comment by A. Nonny Mouse — September 4, 2012 @ 3:21 pm

  45. It’s odd, though, that he doesn’t actually answer the question, isn’t it, A. Nonny? It’s a “yes” or “no” question, but he never says yes or no. I think this “answer” was published at a time when the practice was in flux — the Church was no longer insisting on the right hand, but Bro. Nelson (not yet then an apostle) didn’t want to contradict the entrenched tradition, but instead gave some reasoning that could support the tradition without actually endorsing it.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 4, 2012 @ 3:25 pm

  46. Idaho, 1970’s and 80’s. I answered that “I’ve heard older ward members fuss about it, but I don’t recall it being taught to me.” (I always assumed it had an older history related to the notion about the left hand being the “sinister” hand, not the right hand being the “covenant” hand.)

    Anyhow, as a left-hander myself, and being somewhat contary in nature, I take the sacrament with my left hand at every possible opportunity!

    Comment by David Y. — September 4, 2012 @ 3:47 pm

  47. My mother who grew up in Salt Lake City (and I mean, in the city) in the 1950s/1960s was very strong about right hand only. She never slapped our left hand or anything like that.

    In Italy on my mission, sacrament trays were not passed, except in the military units.

    Comment by John Taber — September 7, 2012 @ 1:44 pm

  48. Unless there’s a different JFS quote, or if that’s JFielding instead of Joseph F, I’ve always read him differently. He says we take it with the right hand, but then also calls it a practice, and critiques slavish adherence to such things.

    Right Hand or Left?

    Alvin F. wrote to ask if there were a rule about pouring the oil with the right hand when administering to the sick. Answering the question, Joseph F. took occasion to warn his son against excessive attention to details that tend to obscure the true meaning of the ordinances.
    December 16, 1905

    >The question you ask about anointing seems very simple to me. I think it is the general practice to pour the oil with the right hand. I suppose because most people are right-handed. But there is no law or rule against anointing . . . with the left. We shake with the right hand. In the endowments the signs and tokens are made and given with the right hand. When we lay but one hand on the sick it should be the right. We take the Sacrament with the right hand. The practice makes the rule. But always remember that it is not the rule, or practice, which gives life or force, but the true spirit. There is no good in splitting hairs nor in tickey-technical rules. “The letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.”<

    – Joseph F. Smith, From Prophet to Son: Advice of Joseph F. Smith to His Missionary Sons, compiled by Hyrum M. Smith III and Scott G. Kenney [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1981], 93.

    Comment by Ben S — September 8, 2012 @ 5:34 am

  49. Earlier references to “JFS” have meant Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr. This quotation from JFS, Sr. is another example in the pattern of this son being more dogmatic than the father. I like his finding value in a practice while at the same time distinguishing between practice and the essential.


    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 8, 2012 @ 7:54 am

  50. Ardis,

    I realize I am joining the conversation rather late. I was taught this by my parents and my Jr. Sunday School teachers in the 70’s. I remember being taught this in the 80’s as well in Provo Utah.

    BUT it was also taught to me as an adult in the 90’s In the Mid 90’s I was taking classes at UVSC in Orem, Utah. One of my Institute teachers, who was a big McConkie and Joseph Fielding Smith fan, spent a lot of time on this. He used this statement on an overhead (yeah, we were still using those back then) from “Answers to Gospel Questions” that was also in “Doctrines of Salvation” (all of Joseph Fielding Smith’s books have such serious, life and death titles):

    “In one case we are informed that some brethren were advocating the partaking of the sacrament with either hand. … Therefore, it is expedient that something be said about the use of the right hand in performing ordinations and partaking of the sacrament.

    The performing of ordinances with the right hand in preference to the left is a well-established custom universally and is not confined to the Church. In various governments where oaths are administered, the candidate for office is asked to raise his right hand. There are occasions when he is sworn to give truthful testimony by placing his right hand on a copy of the Bible. This custom has come down from the beginning, and from many scriptural passages we gather that it has always received divine sanction. (He then quotes several passages of scripture)

    The showing favor to the right hand or side is not something invented by man but was revealed from the heavens in the beginning. (He then quotes Isaiah and Psalms and Matthew)

    A Symbol of Righteousness

    There are numerous passages in the scriptures referring to the right hand, indicating that it is a symbol of righteousness and was used in the making of covenants. (Quotes Matthew again)

    (And this part always amused me the most, does he think “Lefties” are less righteous?)

    The right hand or side is called the dexter and the left the sinister. Dexter connotes something favorable; sinister, something unfavorable or unfortunate. It is a well-established practice in the Church to partake of the sacrament with the right hand and also to anoint with the right hand, according to the custom which the scriptures indicate is, and always was, approved by divine injunction. –Answers to GQ V. 5 p. 158

    I AGREE with you 100% Ardis, this is all utter nonsense, but it is nonsense that many have taught. I did a quick check and I found this passage quoted in Daniel H. Ludlow, “A Companion to Your Study of the New Testament”, Daniel H. Ludlow, “A Companion to Your Study of the Old Testament”, Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet, “Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon”, Joseph Fielding McConkie and Donald W. Parry, “A Guide to Scriptural Symbols”, and Bruce A. Van Orden and Brent L. Top, eds., “The Lord of the Gospels: The 1990 Sperry Symposium on the New Testament”.

    I did a quick check on and they still sell quite a few of these volumes so I am sure that there are a lot of “old timers” and JFS/McConkie dogma type fans out there that still push this line of thinking.

    Comment by andrew h — September 12, 2012 @ 9:09 am

  51. One exception to your thorough discussion, andrew h (thanks for making the quotations so easily available):

    While I find the insistence on use of the right hand to be non-doctrinal, I don’t want to call it “utter nonsense.” I believe there can be value to order and tradition — the organization and routine taught to deacons passing the sacrament ensures its passing to everyone in the chapel (and foyer, perhaps) without fuss and distraction, which allows members of the congregation an undistacted few minutes of reflection; without that order, confusion and fuss and distracting hand signals or voices would interrupt reflection. I think minimal standards of dress for deacons adds to that, and I don’t see any harm at all in helping deacons think about the effect their dress has on a congregation by discussing the symbolism of white clothing. The problem only comes when attention to dress changes from dignity to rigid uniform, or when violation of traditional patterns leads to people condemning “rule breakers” for sinfulness or sacrilege.

    Likewise, if an individual considering his own behavior, or parents teaching their children, find value in associating the right hand with covenant making, thereby causing them to better understand what they’re doing when they take the sacrament, I think that’s fine. I think, though, that we should recognize that that’s a layer of tradition and culture *added on* to the ordinance, and that suppression of — even awareness of — others’ “violation” of those traditions causes more harm than following the tradition causes good.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 12, 2012 @ 9:38 am

  52. Good points Ardis. “Utter nonsense” was way too strong. I take it back. I suppose its a bit hypocritical for me to dogmaticly complain about how Joseph Fielding Smith could be dogmatic

    Comment by andrew h — September 12, 2012 @ 11:22 am