The Sacrament is such a beautiful ordinance. In previous posts, I’ve already talked about how each element of it reminds us of Christ. In so many ways it draws us to Him. The bread, broken that we might eat; the water/wine, poured that we might drink. These things remind us of His body willingly broken, and His blood freely spilt, that we might be made whole.
Likewise the table, the cloth, the priests, and more, all remind us of Him and the grace He so fully offers us. The prayers themselves are no different, and offer us a far greater opportunity to ponder His wondrous sacrifice than perhaps we realise.
In the next couple of posts, I’ll be sharing my thoughts and feelings on that short phrase appearing early in both prayers, “to bless and sanctify”.
As a quick reminder, here are the two prayers laid out side by side, with the differences between them highlighted.
I find it helpful to remind myself that it is the bread and the water – the emblems of the Saviour’s sacrifice – that are being sanctified. Yes, they are blessed and sanctified “to the souls” of those who subsequently take those emblems, but the priests are asking the Father, on our behalf, to bless the tokens.
Why not use different wording, for example, “to bless and sanctify the souls of all those who partake of this bread/water”? Wouldn’t that be, well, a bit simpler? We’d still be seeking the Lord’s blessings only when we actually partook of the bread and water, right?
As I was thinking about this phrase, “to bless and sanctify”, I did a little study on each of those words, “bless”, and “sanctify”. I’ll come back to those shortly, but there was one verse in the Gospel of John that jumped out at me.
A group of Jews surround Jesus in the temple and accuse Him of blasphemy. In reply, one of the things the Saviour says is, “Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemist; because I said, I am the Son of God?” (John 10:36, emphasis added).
See, it is the Father who sanctified Christ. Today, the priests ask the Father to sanctify the reminders of Christ sitting atop the sacrament table.
We can be sanctified only through Christ. In the sacrament, our own souls can be sanctified through the tokens of Christ’s sacrifice – the bread and water.
The very wording of the sacrament prayer thus reminds us that sanctification, indeed our salvation, comes only in and through Christ: and that, because of His great and infinite sacrifice. Our Father in Heaven wants us to become holy. He wants us to become sanctified. He wants us to return to His presence. And the way He has designed for that to be achieved in through Christ.
With that in our minds, we can consider what it actually means to bless and sanctify. And for this post, I’m going to focus on blessing.
Within the LDS Church, all worthy, adult males are given the opportunity to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood. With that comes the privilege of bestowing Priesthood blessings upon others. As a father, I exercise this Priesthood primarily to give blessings to my family: when they are ill, before important events, or sometimes just when they’re feeling a bit down, for example.*
Elder Dallin H Oaks, of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles has said:
“There are many kinds of priesthood blessings. As I give various examples, please remember that priesthood blessings are available for all who need them, but they are only given on request.
“Blessings for the healing of the sick are preceded by anointing with oil, as the scriptures direct (see James 5:14–15; Mark 6:13; D&C 24:13–14; D&C 42:43–48; D&C 66:9)….
“Persons desiring guidance in an important decision can receive a priesthood blessing. Persons who need extra spiritual power to overcome a personal challenge can receive a blessing. Expectant mothers can be blessed before they give birth. Many LDS families remember a sacred occasion where a worthy father gave a priesthood blessing to a son or daughter who was about to be married. Priesthood blessings are often requested from fathers before children leave home for other purposes, such as school, service in the military, or a long trip.” (Elder Dallin H Oaks, Priesthood Blessings, April 1987 General Conference)
These are all examples of when a priesthood blessing may be sought, but they don’t answer the question of what a blessing actually is. Elder Oaks teaches that priesthood blessings, “call upon the powers of heaven for the benefit of the person being blessed.” (ibid)
PRAYERS AND KNEELING
There are other times we seek the Lord’s blessings, of course. We pray before meals asking the Lord to bless our food. We pray individually and in families and congregations, in part to request blessings from heaven. It’s what the Lord wants and expects us to do.
“Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks. Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening. Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies. Yea, cry unto him against the devil, who is an enemy to all righteousness. Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them. Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that they may increase.” (Alma 34:19-25)
The Hebrew origin of the word bless comes from barak (brk).** Commentators have pointed out two words derived from this root, and some see a relationship between them:
baruch: meaning to bless
berek: meaning to kneel
Apparently, anciently when blessings were given, the recipient would kneel. I don’t want to dwell on this too much other than to point out that Jesus Himself knelt when He sought His Father in prayer as His great suffering was about to commence (see Luke 22:41), and instructed His followers to also kneel during prayer (see 3 Nephi 17:13-15, 19:6).
Of particular interest to the topic of the sacrament is that the priests kneel at the table, something specified by the Nephite prophet Moroni as a part of this ordinance (Moroni 4:2).
That the priests therefore kneel as they ask the Father to bless the bread or water is therefore symbolic in itself.
POWER FROM THE LORD
As to the meaning of the word baruch or bless, the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says that it was, “to endue with power for success, prosperity, fecundity, longevity, etc,” (as quoted in this article).
Stop and think about that, especially in conjunction with the definition given by Elder Oaks above.
- “call upon the powers of heaven for the benefit of the person being blessed”
- “to endue with power for success”
When we approach the Lord in prayer, or when a Priesthood holder lays his hands on our head, or when another kneels at the Sacrament table, we are seeking blessings. We (or the Priesthood holder) are calling upon the powers of heaven. When the Lord affirmatively responds to that plea, and He blesses us, we are endowed with that power.
In the sacrament, what does this blessing, given through the bread or water, endow us with power to do?
- To remember the body and blood of the Son of God
- To witness unto the Father our obedience to the covenant
- To have His Spirit to be with us
Because we partake of the sacrament every week, it has the chance of becoming something little more than a routine for us: a tradition if you like. If you’re a Priesthood holder who kneels at the sacrament table many or most weeks, reading the prayers can have the potential to become reading by rote. The very regularity and familiarity of the ordinance can devalue it in our hearts.
But just stop and think about it. Through this ordinance we are asking the Father to endow us with power, through the bread and water, to keep our covenants and to always have His Spirit with us.
This idea of a blessing being an endowment of power has profound implications for how I think about other parts of my life too: when I approach the Lord in prayer, or lay my hands on one of my children as they seek a “blessing”.
This is serious stuff. It’s wonderful stuff!
How grateful I am that the Lord has instituted a way for me to receive this blessing – this power – from Him each week through the ordinance of the sacrament.
© Copyright 2017, Jeffrey Collyer
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* I say that I “give blessings”, but of course that’s as far from the truth as possible. Within the LDS faith we often use the word “blessing” as a noun. It’s a “thing”. But that’s not really true. It would be more accurate to say that I seek the Lord’s blessings, for it is only He who can bestow the blessing I seek.
** Please note that I’m no expert on the Hebrew language or its use in the Old Testament. My study has largely consisted of searching the internet, finding consistent themes and/or sources I think are likely reliable, and then thinking about that in context with the scriptures. You might come to different conclusions in your own study.