Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper

The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 11, 2009

(William A. Hyde, “The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper,” Improvement Era, May, 1911.)

The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
by William A. Hyde
President of the Pocatello Stake of Zion.

[It is due to the author to say that his paper was in the hands of the editors prior to the experiments that are now being made in the Eighteenth ward of Salt Lake City, with individual glasses in the administration of the sacrament. This method insures the strictest sanitation and, of course, eliminates all qualms on the part of the sensitive. It is a good thing to accomplish, and his article tends to show the necessity of some reform in this direction, but whether or not by the means now being tried, is a question that will perhaps be solved by the results. However, the author would doubtless have treated that part of his subject a little differently had the article not antedated the present experiment. – EDITORS.]

The atonement is the central truth of the Christian religion; all other doctrines and ideas begin in this – the great fundamental idea – the axis of all principles and theories; for, “if Christ is not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is vain also.”

As the key to all the doctrines, how necessary that it should be understood and remembered. It ever remained the predominant thought in the minds of the apostles and disciples of the Savior; it is the grand, harmonious chord that is to be found in all their writings and exhortations. “That I may stir you up to remembrance” of this truth seems to have been the burden of their preaching. And yet, with all their preaching and exhortation, as time elapsed and the great event became a matter of history and tradition merely, and not a burning knowledge derived from the freshness of personal observation, or nearby view, they and their followers in the ministry must have failed, without some commemorative observance, in perpetuating the spirit and full significance of the atonement.

The sacrament was instituted that we might remember – “This do in remembrance of me,” is the primary injunction of the Savior, no doubt based upon the Divine knowledge of the weakness of humanity.

How soon we forget! Our joys are soon effaced by a passing sorrow; and, happy thought, our tears are soon wiped away by the experiences of pleasure. It is as if our minds were a sandy beach, the marks upon which may all be alike obliterated by the ripple of a summer zephyr or the angry storm of winter. The sacrament is based upon a need of the human soul, and therein shows the solicitous Fatherhood of God. With it the Merciful One would seek to tie us to him, that the billows of the storm might not sweep us into forgetfulness and doubt.

It was essential in the gospel plan that Christ should die for us, and it is essential for the beneficiary to remember that death, that its purpose may be sensed, and its optional benefits be received by us.

Not only those who lived subsequent to it, but those who lived before the great consummating event of the plan of salvation, were given a charge to think of, and remember it; and, prefigured in sacrifice and altar then, and in the Lord’s supper now, it has stood, and will stand, the predominant fact in all the facts of the gospel.

The sacrament, like all the institutions of our Father, is essentially simple, and it is that simplicity which gives it that farreaching opportunity for good. He chose symbols to represent his body and blood offered for us, and for this purpose he selected elements common to the lives of all, – bread, the staff of physical life, to represent the body; wine, a common beverage among the Hebrews, and used freely in their feasts and religious observances, to represent his blood; and these he gave freely to those present with the injunction, “This is my flesh,” “This is my blood,” “This do in remembrance of me.” In this day he has given us permission to use water under certain conditions, with these words:

“For behold, I say unto you that it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink, when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye so do it with an eye single to my glory, remembering unto the Father my body, which was laid down for you, and blood, which was shed for the remission your sins.”

The character of the pattern which he set in his last supper with his disciples, the love and fellowship of the occasion, together with the simplicity of the emblems chosen, without any other reason, would be sufficient to establish the intention of the Lord that the direct benefits of this ordinance should be extended to all the worthy of his fold. Never has he been exclusive in his methods and teachings; the only bar recognized by him in any of his words is the bar of unworthiness, and that was, no doubt, his plain intention now in the providing of this commemorative ordinance, that all who were worthy might receive of its benefits and blessings.

It appears to have been so observed among the Saints in the years following; but it is unfortunate for Christianity that the form of blessing that he used at the time, and the detailed instructions that it is reasonable to suppose that he would give on such an important subject, were not retained and perpetuated. It is unreasonable to think that the form of an ordinance so grave should have been left to the forgetfulness of men to mutilate or efface; for, in the changes of language, or if left to the memory of men, who could expect that its essentials could be retained? It is rather to be believed that it was lost unintentionally, or suppressed by the wickedness of men. But in view of this great loss to the Christian world in general, how comforting it should be to the Latter-day Saints to know that the message which the Savior gave to his Saints on this continent has come to us renewed by his instructions to us in our day.

Here are the words of the ancient prophet, clear and plain and easy to be understood. “The manner of their elders and priests administering the flesh and blood of Christ unto the Church. And they administered it according to the commandment of Christ; wherefore we know the manner to be true; and the elder or priest did minister it.

“And they did kneel down with the Church, and pray to the Father in the name of Christ, saying,” and here follow those beautiful words by us so well understood.

This impressive ceremony, as given by the Lord himself, excludes all ideas of mysticism; there is no great, unknowable thing at the root of this solemn rite. Let us endeavor carefully to analyze it:

“O God, the Eternal Father,” – an address to the Father of that Son who died for us – “we ask thee, in the name of thy Son Jesus Christ,” – who has purchased, by the laying down of his body for us the right to be thus invoked – “to bless and sanctify this bread” – make holy and pure this emblem for this sacred purpose – “to the souls of all those who partake of it,” – that its spiritual effect may be received individually in the soul, that the spirit and the mind and the body, as parts of the soul, shall have benefit – “that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son,” – here lies the central thought, keeping in mind the Savior and his atonement – “and witness unto thee, O God the Eternal Father,” – here follows the covenant that all make in partaking of this emblem – “that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son,” – to bear that name bravely under all conditions and circumstances – “and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he has given them,” – following logically; for who, keeping him in mind faithfully, can fail to strive with all earnestness to do his will; and then comes the promise of the great gift – “that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.”

The blessing on the wine differs slightly, for it appears that there is a meaning in the dual character of the emblems. The bread is used more particularly to represent the body laid down for us, the wine or water to represent the spiritual phase of the redemption, both containing a petition, a covenant, a promise – a compact between gracious Majesty on the one hand, and humble, appreciative dependence on the other. What great results to proceed from this agreement, carried out in its spirit and meaning! It seems to me that this is the final essence of the gospel – all things converge here.

By this act we signify our acceptance of his work in our behalf – we apply it to our souls, and we become partakers of the divine gift. Individually we accept his merciful offices as our advocate before the Father, and to us by the Spirit will come the strength to live noble and sacrificing lives, and, as a further result, the gifts and graces of the gospel. In view of the tendency to forget, and the value of the blessings to be received in participating in this ordinance, how important the injunction of the Lord that we should meet together often for this purpose! But what of those who, having tasted of the heavenly gifts, turn away to sin and consequent denial of Christ? “They crucify the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.”

Among the crowd that thronged around the cross in the hour of the Savior’s death agony, there were different opinions as to the significance of the tragedy being enacted before their eyes. To the Roman it meant the conviction and punishment of the arch traitor; to the priest it meant the shame and humiliation of the arch blasphemer and heretic; to his weeping followers – if in their sorrow and temporary despair they could see clearly – it meant the consummation of his glory and Kingship; and, as we throng around the cross today, by our denial of the purpose of his death we personally shame him and crucify him again, or by our acceptance of his offering for us we honor and glorify him, and receive unto ourselves the full benefits of the redemption.

And O the great results that are to come to us in this participation! At every sacrament meeting of the Saints, we again accept him; we renew once more in our souls the efficiency of the great act. We confess him, he is Christ indeed, and there comes to us the Spirit which seals this testimony upon our hearts as a living truth, a continual witness of him through the coming days. Whatever is needed in our lives this will assuredly bring, for the Spirit of God is the source of all gifts, graces, blessings and powers.

And since to partake of food together is a token of fellowship, so here we signify our oneness with the Church, and around this table we sit as brothers and sisters. And here the erring one, who comes with repentance and confession and hunger of soul, if he has not committed the greater sins, may renew his fellowship with the Church and Christ.

One result, and perhaps one of the greatest, and which is indeed the bud of the fruit of righteousness to follow, is that we may feel indeed a love in our hearts for God. What is it to love a father, a mother, a wife, a husband, a sweetheart? Does not the heart burn and the pulse quicken? Is not the eye soft and bright? Does not the object of our affections, for the time, occupy the stage of the whole being, and all other persons and things become mere accessories?

If that love be pure and wholesome, is it not the offering of the soul itself to the loved one, so that if reciprocated, husband and wife, parent and child, lover and sweetheart are one? Poets express it better, but that is my idea of love; and all this and more should we show forth to our Father in heaven. Endeared to us by numberless mercies, he has placed us also under the bonds of a debt that we, perhaps, can never have the time and opportunity to repay, and tears of gratitude may come as an added evidence of the heart’s deep appreciation. Then might it not indeed be that we would be one with Christ in God, in that most blessed of all unions, the bond of the Spirit. Should we not say in our hearts, “Father, help me to know thee, that knowing thee more fully, I may love thee more truly?”

“But let not any partake unworthily, lest they eat and drink damnation to their souls.”

The Church is warned to have great care and caution, that no unworthy one shall partake of these emblems. The known evildoer may be prevented from participating, but the secret transgressor who disregards the warning must suffer the penalty. “For this cause many are sickly among you and many sleep.” May not this conclusion of the apostle apply to some of us? Whether to be applied in a literal or a figurative sense, the penalty is equally to be dreaded. May it not be that the power that the Saints otherwise might have, to overcome and resist disease, is withheld because they have lost the Spirit which giveth faith? But this other conclusion is inevitable – that the one who sits at this supper is a hypocrite; whose professions, by the very act he performs, are lies; who petitions the Father brazenly, being utterly unworthy; who covenants to remember, but does not; who looks upon these holy symbols lightly, “not discerning the Lord’s body” – that such as these shall receive the reverse of the promise, that little which they may have had shall be taken away, and the soul shall languish and sleep, in the most to be dreaded of all sicknesses. These shall sleep indeed as to the meaning and intent of God’s grace toward them. Then shall they be dead to the beauties of the gospel of the Redeemer.

Would it not be well we could, without going to extremes, have a graver, more solemn perception of what the sacrament means? Not that we should, as some, elevate it into a meaningless rite – compelling worship, yet preventing free communion of the worthy. Not that we should believe that this is his flesh and blood indeed, only so far as we for the moment consider these symbols – not as bread and water merely, not as common food, to be partaken of to assuage the hunger and thirst of the body – but that they are sanctified and holy representatives of that which was offered for us; so with solemnity and gravity of soul, though with joy and happiness, ought we to partake. This ought to be the dominant thought and motive of the Sabbath. I believe that it would not be too much to suggest that the minds of all should be directed toward it at the family worship in the morning. It seems to me that a few words of prayer will direct and assist the soul in the contemplation of this paramount duty of the day, and that the minds of the little ones, especially, may be quickened into thought by it.

It was an inspired thought that suggested the silent drill in our Sabbath schools, and I am pleased to see that it is having its influence upon our sacrament meetings. Next to sacred music, there is nothing so beautiful as sacred silence; and in the moments used in the preparation of the emblems, is the opportunity for each heart to prepare for the solemn consummation of the blessed act that we soon are to perform. Almost as one who faces the beyond, should our eyes be turned inward, and in the repentance that follows – for all may find weaknesses – may there come a personal prayer for forgiveness and grace, that we may partake worthily indeed. With this desire for ourselves will attend a yearning and love for others; and now, as brethren and sisters in very deed, – repentant, forgiving, “discerning the Lord’s body,” recognizing these emblems for all they mean – may we enter upon the observance of this holy rite. And it is no unwarranted presumption that the Lord, by his Spirit, will sit at the board with us.

As the sacrament is the essence and refinement of principle, so ought it to be in its administration the essence of refinement in delicacy of method. There should be a harmonious adaptation of form to the spirit and meaning. Those officiating should not mar, by any coarse, inelegant act, the beauty of the ceremony. Without desiring in the least to imitate the ostentation and show of some of the Christian churches, it is a matter of regret that we cannot, like them, show a deeper reverence for the symbols, and our thought should be – while careful to preserve the right of all worthy members to look upon this as essentially their spiritual repast, common and unrestricted – to cultivate and preserve those means that, as far as simple form and observance may, will stamp it as sacred.

These thoughts will suggest rules for the care of it, and a simple system of etiquette, easy to observe by all, yet refined and pleasing to the participant and observer.

The rule of the Church, foreshadowed in the Book of Mormon by the words of the Savior, “Behold, there should be one ordained among you, and to him will I give power that he shall break bread and bless it, and give it to the people of my Church, unto all those who shall believe and be baptized in my name,” is carried out in our day by the appointment of the bishop to hold this authority in the wards, in the congregations of the Saints. And who could there be better qualified to assume this responsible position? This is one of the chief duties of the bishop’s office, and his watchful eye should be ever ready to perceive the least deviation from the order of the Church in the administration of this ordinance. Herein is the foundation for unity of purpose and design in this observance.

There should be a careful and painstaking attention to details, to bring the results that are to be desired.

As the careful housewife has pride in the snowy whiteness of her table linen, as much or more ought we to have in our preparations for the table of the Lord. No spot nor stain should appear on the linen; well ironed, and in graceful folds, it should attract and please the most critical. The deacons, or others whose charge it is to keep the service, should have thought and love in their labor, and the silver or glasses should reflect in their shining surface the diligent, careful hand. Water should be the purest obtainable, and in those country districts, where of necessity the supply must be obtained from streams, care should be taken that no foreign substances are present, to offend the sensitive. There would not, in my opinion, be too much care expended if the water were filtered, or at least left to settle, and then poured off before being brought to the table, that it may be reasonably pure. Who, in our country districts, has not been obliged to drink water that was offensive to sight and taste, the mind thereby being distracted from the object of the symbol taken? The bread should be sweet and white, and while reasonable allowance should be made for lack of success in baking, it seems to me that good, wholesome bread could nearly always be obtained. Dark crusts should be removed, so that the pieces when broken shall be uniform in color and size.

I may be thought by some to be over particular in this matter, but you will agree with me, will you not, that there may be a great deal of difference in the look of your own table as to the preparation of the food? And when you have company, in particular, your nicest linens and tableware are brought out, and you spend a little more time in the slicing of the bread, and in the arrangement of the accessories on the table. And is it not commendable in you, showing a degree of pride and self-respect that cannot but assist in bringing the respect of others? Then, if that be true of your own table, ought it not also to be true of this sacred table?

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 have 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 think more of their purpose and of what they really represent, than of what they really are. I do not eat and drink now, as I eat and drink the food for my body. Instinctively, almost, I think of the vessels of the temples of old, and of the penalty that came to those who presumed to use them sacreligiously; and however much or little significance this may have, 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 from 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.

We love to see the deacons in the performance of this duty of passing these sacred emblems to the Saints. It is a great privilege that you enjoy, and one that you should delight in and honor. You ought to be grave and thoughtful, not light-minded and frivolous in this duty, and you should be good boys, so that you will be worthy to officiate.

And you elders and priests who sit in charge of this board, and who break this bread and pour this water, you should be men of wisdom and discretion, and have inspiration in your duty, for it is not a mere mechanical form. You occupy this position on the call of the bishop, and you represent him here. You should be able to direct the deacons in the technical points of their duties, that their work may be harmonious and in order. Under the direction of the bishop it may, if the occasion demand, be necessary for you to execute the right of the Church to withhold the sacrament from non-members and those unworthy; this to be done in all kindness and charity, that none shall feel that they are not welcome to be with us, even if they are denied this high privilege of the Church of Christ. You should be men whom the congregation will look upon with confidence, as to your integrity and good desires, even if you do have some of the minor weaknesses of the flesh. Upon you, perhaps with more force than upon any other, falls this sacred injunction, “Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord.”

I feel that we should sense these things more deeply than we do. We should study them and reflect upon them, so that, by a knowledge of their benefits, we may have spiritual growth.

I believe that if, as a congregation, we sat at this table entirely and fully worthy – I don’t mean perfect, but right in heart and condition of mind, so that if the Lord were present he could not say, “There is one here who shall betray me,” or one here who is unrepentant, or unforgiving, or one here who is unclean – that we would be in a position to drink deeper of the spiritual fountains. Our souls would be quickened by the divine fire, and the gifts and graces of the gospel would be ours to enjoy.

Pocatello, Idaho.



  1. For discussion of a posted segment of this article, see here.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 11, 2009 @ 8:58 am

  2. Oh, this description of what it means to take the sacrament worthily is just so wonderful:

    I believe that if . . . we sat at this table entirely and fully worthy – I don’t mean perfect, but right in heart and condition of mind, so that if the Lord were present he could not say, “There is one here who shall betray me,” . . .

    I’ve never heard that description of “worthy” before. It’s absolutely superb, I think.

    Comment by Hunter — July 11, 2009 @ 1:34 pm