The Eucharist of the Latter-day Saints:
The Sacrament in the Broader Christian Context

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Abstract: This paper views the sacrament prayers and rituals of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the broader context of Christian eucharistic worship, focusing on how the Latter-day Saint observances both resemble and differ from those of other Christian communities. It argues that, contrary to what is often supposed, the Church has a relatively “high” eucharistic theology.

The aim of this article is to examine the sacrament ritual of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the broader context of Christian worship: more specifically, in the context of what Nicene Christian churches often refer to as the “eucharist.” An attempt will be made to identify both differences and similarities between the Latter-day Saint sacrament and the eucharistic rituals of other Christian communities.

This article is written by a scholar of the history of religions rather than by a practicing Latter-day Saint. Its emphasis is on comparing faith traditions, rather than on determining what is or is not theologically “correct.” It is recognized at the outset that Latter-day Saints believe that their practices come from revelation, and the intention is not to question (either explicitly or implicitly) the veracity of those beliefs. Rather, the intention is to increase understanding by making comparisons that often tend to go overlooked.

[Page 272]The Eucharist and its Origin

What is the eucharist? The term is not normally used in the Church of Jesus Christ, so some explanation may be in order. The word eucharist literally means thanksgiving in Greek: it comes from εὐχαριστέω (eucharisteó), “thank.” In the vocabulary of Christian practice, the eucharist may be defined as a ritual in which the participants consume food and drink in emulation of an episode in which Jesus Christ fed his disciples with bread and wine, associating those elements with his body and blood. The episode in question is recounted several times in the New Testament, and it appears to have taken place in Jerusalem, at a Passover meal or seder (known to Christians as the “Last Supper”), just before Jesus was crucified. The earliest New Testament account appears in Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. In the King James Version, it reads as follows:

For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. (1 Corinthians 11:23–25)1

The next-earliest account appears in the Gospel of Mark:

And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body. And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it. And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many. (Mark 14:22–24)

This account from Mark may arguably be traced back to a reconstructible original text written in Jesus’s own language, Aramaic.2

Within the context of the Bible as a whole, the eucharist forms part of a web of symbolism that includes the narratives of the Old Testament. Latter-day Saint scholars have noted that it

[Page 273]invites one to remember the unleavened bread of the Passover, the manna from heaven, and, most pointedly, the life and atonement of Jesus Christ, the “Lamb of God” and the “true bread from heaven.”3

This symbolism includes, notably, practices observed in the temple at Jerusalem:

On the table of the shewbread or “bread of the presence [of the Lord],” twelve loaves of unleavened bread and utensils for libations of wine and offerings of frankincense were continually set out within the Holy Place of the temple. A meal of this sacred bread and wine, anticipating a future feast that will take place in the full glory of the “presence” of God, was consumed each Sabbath by the temple priests.4

The eucharist was part of Christian observance from the earliest days of the church onwards. For Christians, celebrating the eucharist amounts to a commandment of Jesus Christ; but that commandment has been obeyed in different settings and in different ways at different times.5 The Greco-Roman world in which the church emerged had an established culture of dinner-banquets, which might be held as social occasions or to celebrate (for example) the birth of a child. It appears that the first Christians, meeting together in their house-churches, turned these into sacred events and employed them as the setting for the eucharist.6 The term eucharist itself seems to have been in use by [Page 274]roughly the early second century AD: it is first attested in this sense in a contemporary text known as the Didache from Egypt or Syria. The theme of thanksgiving comes through plainly from the prayers that are recorded in the text:

As regards the eucharist [εὐχαριστίας], give thanks in this way. First, as to the cup: We give thanks to you, our Father, for the holy vine of David, your servant; to you be glory for ever. And as to the breaking [of the bread]: We give thanks to you, our Father, for the life and knowledge which you have made known to us through Jesus your servant; to you be glory for ever.7

Latter-day Saints have celebrated the eucharist since the restored Church was first organized on April 6, 1830. Interestingly, it appears that between 1830 and 1844 the eucharist was sometimes taken in the context of a full meal, as in the ancient church.8 This custom survived in some form at least until the 1893 dedication of the temple in Salt Lake City.9 The pioneers in early Utah adopted differing practices in relation to the eucharist. In the early years, “the sacrament was sometimes administered only once a month” but “after the 1850s, weekly sacrament services characterized most settlements.” At the same time “a general valley-wide sacrament meeting was held Sunday afternoons at the tabernacle from 1849 until 1894,” yet celebration of the rite ceased altogether in 1856–58, first for penitential reasons in the wake of the Reformation and then because of the Utah War.10 Therefore, there appears to be some latitude for the Church to vary its eucharistic practices within the overall parameters of the Restored Gospel. The modern form of the Latter-day Saint sacrament [Page 275]is celebrated each Sunday by local congregations in their meeting houses.11

The Latter-day Saint Eucharistic/Sacramental Prayers

The directions for the celebration of the sacrament are contained in Latter-day Saint scripture, in two locations—Moroni 4 and 5 and Doctrine and Covenants 20:75–79. They include, in particular, two consecration formulas that are said respectively over the two eucharistic elements of bread and water.

The first text of Church instructions in which these eucharistic formulas appeared was the “Articles of the Church of Christ,” written by Oliver Cowdery in June 1829.12 This document contained material intended to guide the functioning of the newly restored Church; most of it consists of quotations or paraphrases from the Book of Mormon. It is thought that Cowdery wrote it in response to a revelation from God, which is currently contained in Doctrine and Covenants 18. Cowdery believed that the “Articles” themselves were a revelation from God, but they were never canonized as such by the Church. Instead, they were superseded before long by a broader document, the “Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ” (ca. April 1830), for which Joseph Smith is believed to have been primarily responsible.13 The “Articles and Covenants” were the first revelation to be canonized by the young Church, being approved at its first general conference in June 1830. The document was accordingly incorporated into Latter-day Saint scripture, initially in chapter 24 of the Book of Commandments, and subsequently in Doctrine and Covenants 20. Although it is sometimes said that the 1829 “Articles” were a kind of first draft of the 1830 “Articles and Covenants,” a better view is that the latter are “a richer, more comprehensive doctrinal and procedural document that in fact bears little or no resemblance to the earlier Cowdery Articles.”14

[Page 276]The eucharistic (sacrament) formulas in Doctrine and Covenants 20, as carried over from the 1829 “Articles” and the 1830 “Articles and Covenants,” are taken from the Book of Mormon. They correspond word-for-word with texts found in the book of Moroni, save that the archaic “hath” has been modernized to “has.” In the context of the Book of Mormon, the book of Moroni might appear to be something of an afterthought—a text that Moroni finds himself writing down unexpectedly after he has finished his abridgement of the Jaredite record—but the present writer has found in the course of writing this article that Latter-day Saints read it as a theologically rich treatise on the Holy Ghost, good and evil.15 In any event, the eucharistic (sacrament) prayers are found in Moroni 4 to 5 in a section that occurs after material about confirmation (Moroni 2) and ordination (Moroni 3). The eucharistic content is followed by a chapter that covers baptism, repentance, and Church meetings (Moroni 6). In essence, this part of the Book of Mormon deals with the functioning of the Nephite church.

We may quote the eucharistic formulas in the book of Moroni in their entirety:

The manner of their elders and priests administering the flesh and blood of Christ unto the church; and they administered it according to the commandments 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:

O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it; that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he hath given them, that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen. (Moroni 4:1–3)

[Page 277]The manner of administering the wine—Behold, they took the cup, and said:

O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee, in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this wine to the souls of all those who drink of it, that they may do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them; that they may witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they do always remember him, that they may have his Spirit to be with them. Amen. (Moroni 5:1–2)

As intimated above, water is universally employed for the Latter-day Saint eucharist rather than wine, although wine was used in the early period of the Restoration. The exact wording for the wine (or water) is different from that for the bread. This has been explained on the basis that “between the prayer on the bread and the prayer on the wine/water, we symbolically put the body of Christ within us,” so that “what we were willing to do during the pronouncement of the prayer on the bread, we are now able to do as the prayer on the water is uttered.”16 The substitution of “water” for “wine” is the only change that has ever been made to the eucharistic formulas (other than the inconsequential “hath”/“has”). According to a revelation received by Joseph Smith, it does not matter, in principle, what food and drink are used for the sacrament (Doctrine and Covenants 27:2). For example, it appears that Latter-day Saint chaplains in wartime are permitted to use whatever foods and liquids the exigencies of the situation may require, just as worshippers may dress in military clothing, the sacrament hymn may be dispensed with, and the sacrament may be celebrated on days other than Sunday.17 It appears that water came to be substituted for wine during the nineteenth century, and the replacement was completed in the 1890s and 1900s.18 By at least 1906, we find that the change had reached the level of the First Presidency.19 Reasons for the shift included fears that wine purchased from outside the Church may have been poisoned by the enemies of the Latter-day Saints (Doctrine and Covenants 27:3); and an increased emphasis on adherence [Page 278]to the Word of Wisdom.20 Interestingly, there is evidence that the early Christians used water, at least sometimes, in the eucharist.21

From a Latter-day Saint perspective, the eucharistic formulas come from the Nephite church and were recorded in the scriptural text under divine inspiration. For those of other religious affiliations or none, the assumption must be that they were composed by Joseph Smith in the United States in the early decades of the nineteenth century. If that assumption is accepted, a question naturally arises: what did the sacramental rituals draw from the religious environment of the day? It is noteworthy that it is surprisingly difficult to identify such influences.

In an essay published in 1993, Mark D. Thomas argued that the formulas in the book of Moroni contain “a post-Reformation, British or American liturgical form for the Lord’s Supper.”22 He argued, more specifically, that the phrases “bless and sanctify” and “in remembrance” came from the Episcopalian tradition.23 But this is doubtful. The Episcopalian liturgy was otherwise quite dissimilar from the Moroni formulas, and the specific phrases that Thomas cited were hardly distinctive. As Richard Lloyd Anderson was quick to point out, they were “minimal and in common use at the translation time.”24 The parallel is particularly unimpressive for “in remembrance,” which is a New Testament phrase.

Thomas also argued that the Moroni formulas derived from the traditions of spontaneous prayer of low-church Protestants, who worshiped outside of a liturgical tradition. But this claim is impossible to prove because—for obvious reasons—there is a lack of surviving evidence for what low-church Americans in Joseph Smith’s lifetime were saying in their spontaneous eucharistic prayers.

The Latter-day Saint eucharistic formulas, then, cannot be [Page 279]attributed in any simple manner to influences from the young Joseph Smith’s environment in the early nineteenth century.

The Latter-day Saint Eucharist/Sacrament and Nicene Christian Traditions

How do the Latter-day Saint sacrament formulas fit into the wider world of Christian eucharistic liturgy?25

One might expect to see major differences in this regard, given that the Latter-day Saint project is one of restoration and the historic Nicene Christian churches are regarded as having departed from the true path. Elder L. Tom Perry went so far as to say that “through dark periods of the Apostasy, [the sacrament] had suffered many perversions.”26 The very term “eucharist” might be thought to be inappropriate. The entry for the word in Bruce McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine begins with the words “See APOSTASY.”27 (It should perhaps be noted that this book was an unofficial work, and that the later Encyclopedia of Mormonism, in its entry for “Sacrament,” seems to be comfortable with the term.)

On the most basic formal level, the Latter-day Saint formulas are consonant with Nicene Christian eucharistic prayers insofar as they are prayers addressed to Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus Christ, which seek to consecrate the eucharistic elements and conclude with “Amen.” But there are major differences between Latter-day Saint and Nicene Christian eucharistic formulas. Nicene Christian churches almost invariably use eucharistic prayers that are based on the words of Jesus Christ at the Last Supper. They contain “words of institution” drawn from the New Testament accounts: “This is my body, this is my blood,” referencing Christ’s coming sacrifice for his people; this wording is typically coupled with a reference to Christ’s command to celebrate the eucharist in memory of him and the identification of the wine-cup with the “[new] covenant.” In Nicene Christian churches, the words of institution were traditionally considered to be essential to the rite, to the extent that there is only one major liturgy that omits them [Page 280](the Anaphora of Addai and Mari, which is used in some of the Eastern Churches28). Here is the version in the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer (1662):

[Christ], in the same night that he was betrayed, took Bread; and, when he had given thanks, he brake it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, Take, eat; this is my Body which is given for you: Do this in remembrance of me. Likewise after supper he took the Cup; and, when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of this; for this is my Blood of the New Testament [i.e. the New Covenant], which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins: Do this, as oft as ye shall drink it, in remembrance of me.29

The striking fact is that the words of institution and the other elements mentioned above do not appear in the Latter-day Saint formulas—with the possible exception of the covenant, which Richard Lloyd Anderson argued is implicitly present in the theme of obedience to commandments.30 Indeed, words of institution do not appear anywhere in the Book of Mormon, including the eucharistic narrative in 3 Nephi 18.31

Conservative Nicene Christians would no doubt argue that this [Page 281]absence renders the Latter-day Saint formulas deficient or inauthentic. But that is a dubious proposition. Before the great historic liturgies developed, it appears that Christian eucharists did not necessarily contain words of institution. The Didache, which we met earlier, is the oldest testimony to the eucharist outside the Bible, and it has no trace of the words of institution. The next oldest testimony, Justin Martyr’s First Apology (mid-2nd century), is at least ambiguous as to whether they were in use.

From the perspective of Latter-day Saint theology, it makes sense that the eucharistic formulas would not be based on words of institution taken from accounts of the Last Supper. The eucharist/sacrament does not come from that one event only. It comes from two events: the Last Supper in Jerusalem and Christ’s institution of the eucharist/sacrament in America as narrated in 3 Nephi 18.32 In the latter narrative, it is noteworthy that Christ refers to “my body, which I have shown unto you”: that is, his glorified and resurrected body.33 In this context, using words like the Anglican formula “this is my Body which is given for you” could be considered to be inapt, since they identify the bread with Christ’s pre-resurrection body at the Last Supper—and, more generally, place an exclusive focus on what happened at that event.

A High or Low Eucharistic/Sacrament Theology?

Having noted how the Latter-day Saint eucharistic formulas are distinct from those of the Nicene Christian churches, we may now consider how they fit together with them. Specifically, we may ask: where do they place Latter-day Saint eucharistic/sacrament theology on the spectrum of “high-church” to “low-church”? These terms are often used to distinguish between churches that have highly developed liturgical, priestly traditions (“high-church”) and churches that, in contrast, reject what they consider to be inappropriate formality and hierarchy (“low-church”).

It is often assumed that The Church of Jesus Christ is to be classified together with the low-church Protestant movements that surrounded [Page 282]Joseph Smith and his friends and family, the implicit assumption being that the prophet devised the Restored Gospel based on material from his native Protestantism. Yet, on closer investigation, the notion that the Latter-day Saints follow a low-church tradition proves to be inaccurate. Latter-day Saint theology is fundamentally high-church. It appears that this insight has not yet been fully explored in the literature, although James Faulconer has noted in an important article that Latter-day Saint liturgy stands in a sacramental tradition that contrasts with the evangelical Protestantism of Joseph Smith’s environment.34

The following discussion will show, specifically, how the Latter-day Saint liturgy of the eucharist locates the Church towards the high end of the high-church/low-church spectrum. Consideration will be given in turn to each diagnostic factor that differentiates high-church and low-church eucharistic theologies.

A real presence?

At one end of the spectrum, the consecrated elements are regarded as consisting purely of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. There is no bread or wine left on the altar after the consecration. The physical materials that look like bread and wine have in true reality been changed into something entirely different. This is the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation: the outward appearance or “accidents” of the bread and wine remain the same, but metaphysically speaking their “substance” has changed. At the other end of the spectrum, the bread and wine are nothing more than bread and wine. They are no different in principle from ordinary foodstuffs. One Protestant theologian commented that “certain Baptists among others have sometimes gone to such extremes as to give the impression that the one place where Jesus most assuredly is not to be found is the Lord’s Supper.”35 Several other possible positions exist, including transignification, in which the elements acquire a new meaning; transfinalization, in which the elements acquire a new purpose; and Martin Luther’s theory of consubstantiation, in which the elements are simultaneously both [Page 283]bread and wine and the body and blood of Christ.36 This makes room for a theology of the “real presence” of Christ without committing exclusively to Roman Catholic scholastic theology.

In Moroni 4:1, at the start of the scriptural section on eucharistic/sacrament liturgy, the elements are referred to simply as “the flesh and blood of Christ.” This seems to proclaim a high eucharistic theology. In Moroni 4:3, 5:1, and 5:2, however, they are referred to as “bread” and “wine” (and the same is the case at Doctrine and Covenants 20:75). The coexistence of these sets of terms seems to locate Latter-day Saint doctrine in the middle of the high/low spectrum. Latter-day Saints believe in the real presence, but not in the exclusive sense understood by Roman Catholics. The elements are the flesh and blood of Christ; and yet they are also bread and water. In this regard, David F. Holland has written of Latter-day Saint thought as occupying a “tense middle space” amidst “forces pushing us away from transubstantiation [and] forces pulling us away from mere symbolism.”37

One particular idea that should be addressed in this context is that of remembrance. This is one of the most used terms in the Book of Mormon (“remember” is used 136 times; “remembrance” 23 times; and “remember, remember” 5 times). We find “remembrance” referred to as a function of the eucharist in several parts of Restoration scripture: at Moroni 4:3 and 5:2; in Christ’s eucharistic discourse at 3 Nephi 18:7 and 18:11; and at Doctrine and Covenants 20:75. The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible also adds “remembrance” language to the Last Supper narratives in Matthew and Mark, although not to those in Luke or 1 Corinthians (see Matthew 26:22, 24 and Mark 14:21, 23 JST). There may be a temptation to read “remembrance” language as a manifestation of low eucharistic theology: that is, to interpret it as meaning that the eucharist is simply an opportunity to “remember” the saving death of Christ in one’s mind rather than to enact his presence through living ritual. This would, however, be a mistake. The term “remembrance”—or ἀνάμνησις in Biblical Greek—is used on several occasions in the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) and the New Testament to describe sacrifices. It does not simply mean, therefore, [Page 284]recalling a past event to one’s mind; it has connotations of undertaking a sacramental act.38

The Latter-day Saint doctrine on the presence of Christ in the eucharistic elements can therefore be located somewhere in the middle of the continuum between the high doctrines of Roman Catholic theology and the low doctrines of radical Protestantism.

Fixed formula

In churches with a high eucharistic theology, the liturgical formula used for the eucharist is typically fixed. If the eucharist truly makes Christ’s body and blood present, it makes sense that it would be celebrated carefully and in accordance with an unvarying formula rather than as an act of unscripted, extempore prayer. Significant deviations from the approved formula are traditionally regarded in high-church theologies as invalidating the sacrament.39

In The Church of Jesus Christ, as we have seen, the words of the eucharistic formulas are set out in scripture itself, both in the Book of Mormon and in the Doctrine and Covenants. This is unique. Other Christian churches routinely quote from the New Testament in their eucharistic formulas, but no other church uses formulas that are considered to be directly mandated by scripture.

In the early years of the Restoration, it appears that members of the priesthood sometimes used their own formulas when consecrating the sacrament. Brigham Young sharply corrected this tendency:

When you administer the Sacrament, take this book and read this prayer. Take the opportunity to read this prayer until you can remember it. . . . This is what I wish of you; it is [Page 285]what is right, and that which the Spirit will manifest to you if you inquire; and if you cannot commit this prayer to memory, the one that is given by revelation expressly for consecrating the bread and the wine, or water, if the latter be used, take the book and read until you can remember. . . . The people have various ideas with regard to this prayer. They sometimes cannot hear six feet from the one who is praying, and in whose prayer, perhaps, there are not three words of the prayer that is in this book, that the Lord tells us that we should use. This is pretty hard on the Elders, is it not? If they could remember one thousandth part of that which they have heard, it would have sanctified them years and years ago; but it goes in at one ear and out at the other—it is like the weaver’s shuttle passing through the web.40

In the modern Church of Jesus Christ, the exact use of the eucharistic formulas is taken very seriously. The sacrament cannot proceed if the person who is consecrating the elements makes a mistake with the text. Either they or the presiding priesthood authority must ensure that the mistake is corrected. The Church’s General Handbook states, “If someone makes an error in the wording and corrects himself, no further correction is needed. If the person does not correct his error, the bishop kindly asks him to repeat the prayer.”41 In the past, even a self-corrected error would require a repeat. According to one of the anonymous reviewers of this paper, “there is room for inspiration on the part of the presiding authority” in letting mistakes pass, since insisting on corrections may detract from the worship. This reviewer encountered an occasion in the 1960s when a bishop insisted on seven repetitions by the priest, an experience that was not edifying. In any event, the Latter-day Saints are in this respect at the high end of the spectrum.

Role of the priesthood

In churches with a high doctrine of the eucharist, the sacrament can typically be celebrated only by an ordained priest. Precedent for this requirement may be found in the earliest decades of Christianity, in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch (who might be considered, from a [Page 286]Latter-day Saint perspective, to have been writing before the Great Apostasy).42 Churches with lower eucharistic doctrines may permit the ceremony to be celebrated by anyone, at least in theory, in line with the key Reformation doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers.”43 There are some grey areas. For example, some Anglicans and liberal Roman Catholics would argue that lay presidency at the eucharist is possible in principle but would in normal circumstances feel bound by church rules and traditions to the effect that it should be celebrated by an ordained priest.44

The Book of Mormon reports that only “elders and priests” consecrated the eucharist among the Nephites (Moroni 4:1; see also Doctrine and Covenants 20:76). Similarly, Christ is quoted at 3 Nephi 18:5 as saying, “There shall one be ordained among you, and to him will I give power that he shall break bread and bless it and give it unto the people of my church.” Ordination is therefore a prerequisite for consecrating the sacrament. Moreover, a celebration of the sacrament in the modern Church requires not only that the person consecrating the elements has the power to do so, deriving from ordination, but also that they—and the other people involved in administering the sacrament—have authorization from priesthood leadership. This is the principle of priesthood “keys.” The Church’s General Handbook states, “The bishop holds the priesthood keys for administering the sacrament in the ward. All who participate in preparing, blessing, and passing the sacrament must receive approval from him or someone under his direction.”45 There are separate rules regarding which grades of the priesthood can prepare, bless, and pass the sacrament, with preference normally being given to holders of the Aaronic priesthood.

We have here another indication that the restored doctrine of the eucharist is at the high end of the spectrum.

[Page 287]Essential to salvation?

A further index of how high a church’s eucharistic theology is may be found in its conviction of how important the eucharist is. While most churches hold the eucharist in high regard, not all regard it as a matter of necessity for practicing Christians to attend the sacrament. At the high end of the spectrum, the Roman Catholic Church requires believers to attend the eucharist on Sundays and holy days, and defines it as the “source and summit of the Christian life.”46 At the other end of the spectrum, some radical low-church movements that emerged from the Protestant tradition do not celebrate the eucharist at all: the Quakers and the Salvation Army may be mentioned in this regard.

Terryl Givens has commented, in reference to Doctrine and Covenants 27:2, “The importance of the Eucharist in Latter-day Saint thought is indicated by the fact that . . . it is referred to by the voice of Christ himself as ‘the sacrament’.”47 Certainly, Brigham Young had no doubt about the critical importance of the eucharist for Latter-day Saints:

I do pray you my brethren and sisters to contemplate this ordinance thoroughly, and seek unto the Lord with all your hearts that you may obtain the promised blessings by obedience to it. Teach its observance to your children; impress upon them its necessity. Its observance is as necessary to our salvation as any other of the ordinances and commandments that have been instituted in order that the people may be sanctified, that Jesus may bless them and give unto them his spirit, and guide and direct them that they may secure unto themselves life eternal.48

This was not simply a rhetorical flight on the part of President Young. In the twentieth century, Truman Madsen spoke of the sacrament in similarly exalted terms:

Sometimes, when I am interviewing young people for a [Page 288]temple recommend or renewal, I hand them a card on which is written this statement:

“Being born again comes by the Spirit of God through ordinances.” (TPJS p. 162)

“Have you ever seen that before?” I ask.

Very few have.

“Do you know where it comes from?”


“It comes from the Prophet Joseph Smith in instructions to the Twelve before they went to England. Do you know what it means?”

“I’m not sure.”

Then I say something like this:

“It means, as I understand it, that the fullest flow of the Spirit of God comes to us through His appointed channels or ordinances. The sacrament is the central and oft-repeated ordinance that transmits that power to us. Indeed, it is the ordinance that gives focus to all other ordinances.” And this is what President McKay meant, I believe, when he said he loved the phrase of Peter: “We may be partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). Eventually, through a lifetime, His spirit can sanctify the very elements of our bodies until we become capable of celestial resurrection.

In baptism we are born once—born of the water and of the spirit. In the sacrament we are reborn, over and over, of the bread and of the wine or water and we are truly what we eat.49

The importance of the eucharist in Latter-day Saint practice was underlined most recently when, during the Covid lockdowns, priesthood holders were authorized to administer the sacrament at home, and sometimes in the homes of others. It appears, then, that The Church of Jesus Christ regards the eucharist as a necessary part of the Christian life of the believer. It therefore belongs to the high-church part of the spectrum.

[Page 289]Frequency of celebration

Closely related to the concept of necessity is that of frequency. In churches with a high eucharistic theology, in which the eucharist is considered a matter of necessity, it is unsurprising that the sacrament is celebrated frequently. At the highest end of the spectrum, there is the Roman Catholic practice of priests celebrating Mass daily (although historically the common people were only rarely permitted to receive communion). A mainstream moderate-to-high approach would be to have a weekly eucharist on Sunday. So, for example, in the Church of England the eucharist is ideally celebrated in each parish on every Sunday and holy day (although parishes in the low-church camp may not follow this practice).50 In low-church Christian communities, the eucharist may be celebrated as infrequently as four times a year.51

In the Book of Mormon, we read that the sacrament was “oft” celebrated by the Nephites; and in the Doctrine and Covenants we similarly find it stated that it should be celebrated “often” (Moroni 6:6; Doctrine and Covenants 20:75). In the early days of the Restoration, the frequency of the eucharist varied. It took a period of years before the pattern of weekly celebration became the norm;52 but it was established, at least at the core of the Church, as early as 1833.53 Weekly celebration is wholly standard today, save during General Conferences and Stake Conferences. I might add that, while this article was being written [Page 290]and reviewed, I encountered several different views as to whether the sacrament is very occasionally celebrated at Stake Conferences.

In this respect, too, The Church of Jesus Christ has a relatively high conception of the eucharist.

Ceremony and music

The most obvious outward sign of a high eucharistic doctrine is rich and elaborate ceremony surrounding the celebration of the eucharist. One might think that elaborate ceremony follows naturally from high theology: only the best is good enough for the most important act of Christian worship in which the body and blood of Christ are consecrated by ordained priests according to the sacred words laid down in the liturgy. Conversely, a view in which the eucharist is a simple and occasional memorial meal that can be celebrated more or less informally leads naturally to a rejection of complex liturgy. A high eucharistic doctrine leads to High Mass accompanied by an orchestra in a cathedral; a low eucharistic doctrine leads to a pastor in shirt sleeves praying in a simple manner with whatever words the Lord gives to him.

Although we have found so far that the restored eucharist occupies a medium-to-high position on the high-low spectrum, it does not have an elaborately developed ceremony. Most obviously, a Sunday sacrament meeting does not follow a set liturgy along the lines of the Roman Catholic Mass, the Orthodox Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, or the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. The Church’s General Handbook simply states that a sacrament meeting “can include” 12 different elements.54 The eucharistic formulas are exceptional because they amount to the only part of the service whose text is fixed and invariable (unless confirmations or ordinations are being performed during a particular sacrament meeting).

In other respects, too, the sacrament as currently celebrated in The Church of Jesus Christ is lacking in ceremonial accoutrements. There are no priestly vestments. The members of the priesthood who administer the sacrament need only be “well groomed and clean,” and avoid “clothing or jewelry that might detract from the worship and covenant making that are the purpose of the sacrament.” A white shirt and tie are the standard attire: this is enforced de facto by peer pressure and local leaders, and even by counsel at general authority level.55 [Page 291]Yet it should be noted that the dress code is essentially smart secular clothing rather than priestly vestments. It is not in principle required by official documents.56 There are likewise few formalities prescribed for the actions involved in administering the sacrament, although the practice is to pass it with the right hand (while perhaps keeping the left hand behind the back); and “[m]embers partake with their right hand when possible.”57 The more prescriptive customs regarding the postures to be adopted in administering the sacrament may be a legacy of the first half of the twentieth century, in which such practices were introduced at the ward level “in order to counteract potential immature behavior of youth.”58 That said, the specific use of the right hand has been justified on the grounds not only of good order but of symbolism and theology, including by the current President of the Church, Russell M. Nelson.59

No set bodily postures are observed by the congregation during the celebration of the sacrament, although the person who is consecrating the bread and water kneels.60 Interestingly, this is an unusual departure from the Church’s scriptural requirements, which state that the whole congregation should kneel (Moroni 4:2; Doctrine and Covenants 20:76). This departure may be seen as an example of scriptural requirements evolving in a Church that believes in continuing revelation.

The lack of liturgical music is perhaps the most surprising feature of the restored sacrament from the perspective of those who [Page 292]are accustomed to the high-church traditions of Nicene Christian churches. While the sacrament bread is being broken, the congregation sings a hymn. This will be a “sacrament hymn” that belongs to a specific genre of Latter-day Saint hymnody. It is not a “normal” hymn,61 but it may be distinguished from the repertoires of music that exist for, say, the Ordinary of the Mass in the Catholic tradition. Moreover, the General Handbook states clearly, “No music should be played during the passing of the sacrament or immediately after.”62 This policy seems to derive from a 1946 letter in which the First Presidency stated that they “look[ed] with disfavor upon vocal solos, duets, group singing, or instrumental music during the administration of this sacred ordinance.” The reason given was that “careful consideration of the institution and purpose of the sacrament will lead to the conclusion that anything that detracts the partaker’s thought from the covenants he or she is making is not in accordance with the ideal condition that should exist whenever this sacred, commemorative ordinance is administered to the members of the Church.”63 This reason is certainly understandable; silence has an important part in religious observance. So also does music.

In more general terms, the relative lack of ceremony at sacrament meetings may be seen as an attempt by the restored Church to purify the worship of God from the apparent excesses of some high-church traditions that had developed over the centuries in both Catholic and Protestant milieux. This is not an unreasonable motive. Perhaps the Church has been influenced by the same considerations that influenced the early Protestants. As the English puritan preacher John Foxe put it:

Finally, it were too long to recite every thing in order, devised and brought in particularly to the mass, and to the church. For after that man’s brain was once set on devising, it never could make an end of heaping rite upon rite, and ceremony [Page 293]upon ceremony, till all religion was turned well nigh to superstition.64

That sentiment was inspired by the legacy of medieval Catholicism. From a Latter-day Saint perspective, it might equally be levelled at some of the “higher” churches that emerged from the Reformation.

It is not the role of a scholar who is not a Latter-day Saint to propose that The Church of Jesus Christ change its religious observances. Nevertheless, it is difficult for an outsider not to be struck by the lack of aceremony in a sacrament meeting—particularly given that the restored Church has a conception of the eucharist that is medium-to-high in other respects. For some, the status quo may be an admirable example of Christlike simplicity. For others, it will come across as an opportunity missed. There is no tradition of using golden patens and chalices for the sacred elements; no scope for the deacons, teachers, and priests to mark their role by wearing even a sober gown or stole; no room for the choir to sing a Mozart Sanctus after the consecration. As to vessels of precious metal for the elements, there is in fact precedent for this: silver vessels were crafted for use in sacrament celebrations in nineteenth-century Utah.65 Certainly, The Church of Jesus Christ has no objection in principle to ritual and symbolism, as attested by the richness of the temple rituals. Perhaps this is one area in which the Latter-day Saint liturgy of the eucharist can, within the parameters of the Restoration, evolve in the future.


The liturgical formulas used by The Church of Jesus Christ to celebrate the sacrament are unique in the Christian world. Latter-day Saints may see this as entirely unsurprising—as testimony, indeed, to the need for Joseph Smith to restore observances that had headed down the wrong path. That said, the sacrament can also usefully be compared with the eucharistic practices of other Christian traditions, and it can be located in the medium-to-high part of the spectrum between high-church and low-church. In this respect as in others, it is wrong to make the common assumption that The Church of Jesus [Page 294]Christ of Latter-day Saints is simply an expression of the Protestant tradition. It is much more complex and interesting than that.

1. The word “broken” (verse 24) seems not to be original to the text; it was probably added by a scribe to give consistency with Luke 22:19.
2. See Maurice Casey, Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), chapter 6.
3. Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, “An Old Testament KnoWhy, Gospel Doctrine Lesson 15: ‘Look to God and Live’ (Numbers 11-14; 21:1-9) (JBOTL15A),” Interpreter Foundation (blog), 19 April 2018,
4. Jeffrey M. Bradshaw and Matthew L. Bowen, “‘By the Blood Ye Are Sanctified’: The Symbolic, Salvific, Interrelated, Additive, Retrospective, and Anticipatory Nature of the Ordinances of Spiritual Rebirth in John 3 and Moses 6,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 24 (2017): 185,
5. On the early history of the eucharist, see, for example, Paul F. Bradshaw, Eucharistic Origins, rev. ed. (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2023). Bradshaw is in turn in dialogue with a classic Anglican work, Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, 2nd ed. (London: Dacre, 1945),
6. See further Paul F. Bradshaw and Maxwell E. Johnson, The Eucharistic Liturgies: Their Evolution and Interpretation (London: SPCK, 2012), 1–11; Andrew Messmer, “Early Christian Liturgy: A Reconstruction of All Known Liturgical Components and Their Respective Order,” Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies 4 (2019): 264–79,
7. Didache, 9.1–3 (my translation).
8. See Justin R. Bray, “The Lord’s Supper in Early Mormonism,” in You Shall Have My Word, ed. Scott C. Esplin, et al. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, 2012), 64–74,
9. See Ugo A. Perego, “The Changing Forms of the Latter-day Saint Sacrament,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 22 (2016): 7–8, citing the diary of John F. Tolton,
10. William G. Hartley, My Fellow Servants (Provo, UT: BYU Studies, 2010), 435, 348, 49.
11. See General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2020), 29.2.1.
12. Appendix 3: “Articles of the Church of Christ,” June 1829, p. 1, The Joseph Smith Papers,
13. Articles and Covenants, circa April 1830 [D&C 20], p. 4, The Joseph Smith Papers,
14. Scott H. Faulring, “An Examination of the 1829 “Articles of the Church of Christ” in Relation to Section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants,” BYU Studies Quarterly 43 (2004): 67,
15. Newell D. Wright and Val Larsen, “The Holy Ghost in the Book of Moroni: Possessed of Charity,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 57 (2023): 53–76,
16. Wright and Larsen, “The Holy Ghost in the Book of Moroni,” 56–57.
17. Personal communication from a former military chaplain.
18. Terryl L. Givens, Feeding the Flock (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), 203–4.
19. Jean Bickmore White, ed., Church, State and Politics: The Diaries of John Henry Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990), 570,
20. Thomas G. Alexander, “The Word of Wisdom: From Principle to Requirement,” Dialogue 14 (1981): 79,
21. Bradshaw, Eucharistic Origins, 54–59.
22. Mark D. Thomas, “A Rhetorical Approach to the Book of Mormon: Rediscovering Nephite Sacramental Language,” in New Approaches to the Book of Mormon, ed. Brent Lee Metcalfe (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993), 58,
23. Thomas, “Rhetorical Approach,” 60.
24. Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Mark D. Thomas, ‘A Rhetorical Approach to the Book of Mormon: Rediscovering Nephite Sacramental Language,’” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6 (1994): 394,
25. For a general historical survey of Christian eucharistic liturgy, see Bryan D. Spinks, Do This in Remembrance of Me (London: SCM, 2013), 370–72.
26. L. Tom Perry, “Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper,” Ensign, May 1996, 53–59,
27. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1966), s.v. “Eucharist.”
28. “Anaphora” is a term sometimes used for a eucharistic prayer. For a reconstruction of an early form of the Anaphora of Addai and Mari, see Bradshaw and Johnson, The Eucharistic Liturgies, 39–40.
30. Richard Lloyd Anderson, “The Restoration of the Sacrament: Part 2: A New and Ancient Covenant,” Ensign, February 1992, 11–17, See also Jeffrey M. Bradshaw and Matthew L. Bowen, “‘By the Blood Ye Are Sanctified’: The Symbolic, Salvific, Interrelated, Additive, Retrospective, and Anticipatory Nature of the Ordinances of Spiritual Rebirth in John 3 and Moses 6,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 24 (2017),” 184–85,; and Loren Blake Spendlove, “Witness of the Covenant,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 58 (2023): 127–66,
31. This may be a convenient point to note an interesting fact. In the Book of Mormon, Christ “took of the bread and brake and blessed it” (3 Nephi 19:3). The New Testament accounts of the Last Supper have the reverse order: “Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it” (Matthew 26:26). The Latter-day Saint sacrament ritual follows the former order: the priesthood first break the bread, then bless it.
32. Kathleen Flake, “Supping with the Lord: A Liturgical Theology of the LDS Sacrament,” Sunstone 16 (July 1993): 19, 26,
33. 3 Nephi 18:7. It should be recognised that he also refers to “my blood, which I have shed for you” at verse 11.
34. James E. Faulconer, “Latter-Day Saint Liturgy: The Administration of the Body and Blood of Jesus,” Religions 12 (2021): 431, Terryl Givens similarly describes the Latter-day Saint eucharist as “profoundly sacramental” (Givens, Feeding the Flock, 200).
35. Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1985), 3:1123,
36. Luther in turn took this theory from a medieval doctrine known as “remanence.” See David Grumett, Material Eucharist (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 179–81.
37. David F. Holland, Moroni (Provo, UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute, 2020), 45.
38. See Robert S. Boylan, “Two Notes on the Language Used in the Last Supper Accounts,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 28 (2018): 173–74, See also the interesting perspectives on the concept in Faulconer, “Latter-Day Saint liturgy” and Spendlove, “Witness of the Covenant,” 161–62.
39. This led to a controversy when the Roman Catholic Mass was reformed in the 1960s. Some arch-conservative Catholics argued that the new Mass was invalid because the translations of the consecration of the wine in English and other modern languages used the phrase “which will be shed for you and for all” in place of the Latin “pro multis,” “for many.” See e.g. Patrick Henry Omlor, Questioning the Validity of Masses Using the New All-English Canon (Reno: Athanasius Press, 1969),
40. Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses 16:161,
41. General Handbook,
42. Ignatius, Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, chapter 8,
43. Cf. Lee Palmer Wandel, The Eucharist in the Reformation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 98–100 on Luther’s views.
44. There is also another position, in which the special power of the ordained priesthood is recognised but it is accepted that in extraordinary cases a person can be ordained by the community outside the “apostolic succession” of bishops who have had hands laid on them in a chain going back to the first Apostles. See, e.g., Richard Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (1594–97), 7.14.11–12,
45. General Handbook, 18.9.1. The distinction between priesthood power and priesthood keys roughly parallels the distinction between holy orders and ecclesiastical jurisdiction in some Nicene Christian traditions.
47. Givens, Feeding the Flock, 200.
48. Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 19:91–92,
49. Truman G. Madsen, “The Savior, the Sacrament, and Self-Worth,” (presentation, Brigham Young University Women’s Conference, Provo, UT, 1999),
51. See e.g. Church Order of the United Reformed Churches in North America, 9th ed. (no loc., United Reformed Churches in North America, 2023), Article 46, A 2012 survey of the Southern Baptist denomination found: “While quarterly observance of the Lord’s Supper is the norm for almost 60 percent of all Southern Baptist churches, a small 1 percent observes the Lord’s Supper weekly. Eighteen percent offer it monthly and 15 percent from five to 10 times a year. Another 8 percent conduct the Lord’s Supper less than four times a year.” See further “Lifeway Surveys Lord’s Supper Practices of SBC Churches,” Lifeway Research, 12 September 2012, Interestingly, infrequent celebrations are contrary to the views of John Calvin, who supported weekly eucharists: see Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (1989; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), 4.17.43, 46,
52. Perego, “The Changing Forms,” 7; Givens, Feeding the Flock, 202.
53. History of the Church, 2:408.
54. General Handbook,
55. Boyd K. Packer, “The Unwritten Order of Things” (presentation, Brigham Young University Devotional Series, Provo, UT, 15 October 1996), Also see Jeffery R. Holland, “How a Priesthood Bearer Should Dress,” 2011,
56. The General Handbook also says that “certain . . . appearances (such as dressing alike) should not be required” (18.9.3).
57. See General Handbook, 18.9.3,; and Perego, “The Changing Forms,” 2.
58. Perego, “The Changing Forms,” 10.
59. Russell M. Nelson, “Is it necessary to take the sacrament with one’s right hand? Does it really make a difference which hand is used?”, Ensign, March 1983, 68–69, Note that this statement was made prior to his becoming the president of the Church. See further David C. Dollahite, “What the Church has actually said about taking the sacrament with your right hand,” LDS Living, 14 September 2022,
60. General Handbook,, 9.
61. There are some exceptions to this: for example, “I Stand all Amazed” is used in both contexts.
62. General Handbook, 18.9.3.
63. “Letter of First Presidency Concerning Sacrament,” The Improvement Era, June 1946, 384, Those familiar with Church teachings regarding the sacrament will recognize that in this 1946 letter, the First Presidency stated that those partaking of the sacrament were “making” covenants, while currently the teaching is that covenants are renewed through worthily partaking of the sacrament. For information on this evolution, see Perego, “The Changing Forms,” 11–15.
64. The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe (London: Seeley and Burnside, 1858), 6:382,
65. Hartley, My Fellow Servants, 348, 435.
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About Robin Douglas

Robin Douglas is an independent scholar and a writer on the history of religion. He has a PhD from Cambridge University, where he previously completed his master’s and bachelor’s degrees in classics (with specialization in ancient history). His book Paganism Persisting (a history of pagan religions in Europe after classical times) will be published by Exeter University Press in late 2024.

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