When I started this series about the LDS ordinance of the sacrament, I thought it would take me two posts to cover the sacrament prayer. As I sat down to dissect the prayers into areas I wanted to cover, however, I realised that it was going to take longer than that. So this is the first of, well, several short articles about the sacrament prayers themselves. If you want to see a list of all of the topics on the sacrament covered so far, go here.
As I’ve said before, the prayer on the sacrament must be word perfect. Any mistake must be remedied, and the Priest will repeat the prayer until every word spoken is correct. I love the symbolism of that.
Yes, we are commanded to be perfect even as the resurrected Christ, or His Father in Heaven, are perfect (3 Nephi 12:48). But we can’t actually achieve that. Not any of us. We all make mistakes and transgress the laws the Lord has given us.
But that’s okay. Because of the atonement of Christ, the emblems of which are displayed on the sacrament table, we can all partake of His grace, repent, and start again. No matter how many times we’ve failed, we can try again. Thus, even with our imperfections, we can keep this commandment by being “perfect in Christ” (Moroni 10:33).
Indeed, we can only obey this commandment to be perfect through our Saviour and Redeemer, and the requirement for perfection in the prayers on the sacrament is a beautiful metaphor for that.
Wording of the Prayers
The words to the sacrament prayers can be found in two places in our scriptures. One is in section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants, and the other is in the 4th and 5th chapters of Moroni in the Book of Mormon. They’re identical in both places meaning the early LDS Church copied directly the words of Moroni for use in these prayers.
I find this interesting because while Moroni was very specific in the words used for these ordinances, he didn’t directly copy the words of the Saviour Himself when He introduced the sacrament 400 hundred or so years earlier. Some words and phrases from across the first 12 verses of 3 Nephi 18 are included in the prayers recorded by Moroni, but that’s as close as it gets(1).
So, the Nephites didn’t copy the Saviour’s words for their sacrament prayers, but we have copied the Nephites’. Within the LDS faith we believe in living prophets and apostles, so we believe the words we use today in the sacrament prayers must be those the Lord wishes us to use. He doesn’t do anything by accident. Everything has as its purpose bringing souls unto Him. But it does start to make us wonder.
What makes this even more intriguing is that Moroni left us the wording for another ordinance in his writings – that of Priesthood ordination (see Moroni 3). That wording, however, we don’t use today.
The question is therefore why we’ve maintained Moroni’s wording for the sacrament specifically. I’ll cover why I think that’s the case as we go through some of the next few posts, but the first thing we should ponder is the very fact that there are two prayers for this one ordinance.
The Two Prayers
When we stop and think about the various ordinances performed within the LDS Church, there are only a few which require two prayers or blessings. Baptism, confirmation, ordination to the Priesthood, baby blessing, dedication of a grave: these all involve only one prayer, blessing or set of words.
Indeed, outside of the temple, there are only two ordinances I can think of requiring two prayers or blessings. One is Priesthood administration to the sick. The other is the sacrament.
This pattern isn’t unique to these two ordinances, however. There are many principles in the gospel where one thing is followed by another. Think of the Aaronic Priesthood followed by the Melchizedek; the lower law by the higher; justification by sanctification; the Comforter followed by the Second Comforter; an Elias followed by the Messiah. In a Priesthood administration to the sick, there is an anointing followed by a sealing and blessing. The one always preceding the other. A preparation followed by a fulfilment of the promise. A foreshadowing followed by the blessing.
And in the sacrament there is the bread followed by the water. Christ’s broken body followed by His blood.
Elder Dallin H Oaks said,
“It is significant that when we partake of the sacrament we do not witness that we take upon us the name of Jesus Christ. We witness that we are willing to do so. The fact that we only witness to our willingness suggests that something else must happen before we actually take that sacred name upon us in the most important sense.
“What future event or events could this covenant contemplate? The scriptures suggest two sacred possibilities, one concerning the authority of God, especially as exercised in the temples, and the other—closely related—concerning exaltation in the celestial kingdom.” (Taking Upon Us the Name of Christ, April 1985 General Conference, emphasis in original)
Note that the “willingness to do so” Elder Oaks refers to is mentioned only in the first prayer for the bread. The “willing to” is completely absent from the prayer on the water. Does that mean the sacrament bread foreshadows something greater, that it is preparatory to the sacrament water?
Differences and Similarities
This leads me onto the final thing I want to discuss in this post, which I hope ties the some of the things I’ve said above together.
Some of the first things that strike me when I read the accounts of Christ introducing the ordinance of the sacrament in both the New Testament and the Book of Mormon are the differences in the language used by Jesus, compared to the words we use today.
In the gospel of Matthew we read that Jesus “blessed” the bread. When the disciples had eaten, He then “gave thanks” for the wine(2) (Matthew 26:26-27).
The same wording is used in Mark (Mark 14:22-23). Luke uses slightly different language in that he says Christ took the bread and “gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them…”, and that He then did “Likewise” with the cup(3) (Luke 22:19-20).
Given the Gospel accounts of the Lord’s supper are at most 4 verses in length, however, the Book of Mormon contains the most detailed account of the sacrament’s introduction, with 11 verses in 3 Nephi 18, and another 7 verses in 3 Nephi 20. In both of these passages, Jesus first blesses and breaks the bread, but there is no mention of any blessing or offering of thanks for the wine before it is given to the multitude.
We can therefore see that one consistent theme across New Testament and Book or Mormon accounts (with the possible exception of Luke) is that Jesus treated the bread and wine differently when He introduced this new ordinance of the sacrament.
Once again, we are left to ponder why. And again we ask whether that suggests the bread and water/wine serve slightly different purposes. While they both point our minds to Christ, do they refer to different parts of our spiritual journey? I’ll come back to this in a later post.
Within the prayers we use for the sacrament today, there are a number of differences between that for the bread and that for the water. Just as Christ treated differently the two tokens of His sacrifice when He introduced this ordinance amongst His people 2 thousand years ago, so too we continue to do so today.
I’ve laid out the two sacrament prayers side by side below. The bold text highlights the differences between them.
We’ll look at some of these differences in the posts that follow this, although in the next article, I’ll look at the very first thing that is asked in both of the prayers: that the emblems be blessed and sanctified.
© Copyright 2017, Jeffrey Collyer
(1) There’s even less of a resemblance when we read of this new ordinance in the New Testament, but then outside of the Gospels we get nothing but passing references to the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament, so we don’t know what words the early Saints used in their prayers
(2) In fact, the wording used is that He gave thanks for the cup rather than the wine itself. Of course, it is the wine that was consumed, not the cup. And Jesus’ wording when He explained it to His disciples was “This is my blood”, which obviously refers to the contents of the cup rather than the cup itself. But the metaphor of the cup is a beautiful one which I’ll discuss in a later post.
(3) Given the Lord clearly didn’t “brake” the cup, it’s clear that “likewise” doesn’t refer to everything performed with the bread. But we can’t be sure whether the “likewise” refers to the giving thanks or solely the giving of the cup to the disciples.