Bishoprics and branch presidencies have many responsibilities that can be delegated. But they cannot delegate responsibility for sacrament meetings. Generally, they preside and are thus responsible for both the spirit and the content of these meetings. My teaching on sacrament meetings will therefore be of particular interest to bishops and branch presidents and their counselors—as well as to members of the Church participating in these weekly services.
Sacrament meeting is the one ward or branch meeting that we attend as a family—the basic unit of the Church. Families and members need to arrive well before sacrament meeting begins. We attend, as the Lord commanded, to receive the sacrament and renew our covenants.
He instituted the sacrament to remind us of His Atonement. As a final and specially prepared Passover supper was ending, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to His Apostles, saying, “Take, eat” (Matt. 26:26). “This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). Then He took the cup, said a blessing of thanks, and passed it to those gathered about Him, saying, “This cup is the new testament in my blood” (Luke 22:20), “which is shed … for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28). “This do … in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do [proclaim] the Lord’s death” (1 Cor. 11:25–26). In this way, He linked the sacrament to His impending Crucifixion.
God had declared, “This is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). Then the Son of God voluntarily laid down His life to complete the will of His Father. Thus, immortality became a reality and eternal life a possibility for all who would ever live upon the earth.
We commemorate His Atonement in a very personal way. We bring a broken heart and a contrite spirit to our sacrament meeting. It is the highlight of our Sabbath-day observance (see D&C 59:8–13).
The sacramental prayers have been revealed by the Lord. These prayers contain covenants and a promise (see D&C 20:77, 79). We covenant to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ and keep His commandments. We eat the broken bread in remembrance of His body. We drink the water in remembrance of His blood that was shed for us. And we witness that we will always remember Him. The promise: we will always have His Spirit to be with us. What a blessing!
Planning Sacrament Meeting
With these doctrines in mind, bishoprics and branch presidencies need to plan sacrament meetings thoughtfully in order to keep the meetings focused on the Lord and His Atonement, His example, and the doctrines of the gospel.
Invitations to speak should be extended well in advance and include a clear description of the topic assigned and time allotted, along with an offer to help. Those asked to pray should include members not often called upon. Avoid patterns of prayers given by a husband and wife at the same meeting. This conveys an unintentional message of exclusion to those who are single. And remember: prayers are not sermons.
Departing missionaries may be given an opportunity to speak in a sacrament meeting. Their family members and friends are not invited to speak. Two or more departing missionaries may speak in the same service. Returning missionaries who have served honorably should be invited to speak in sacrament meeting and be given time to share spiritual experiences and bear testimony.
Sacrament meetings afford an opportunity for youth to speak briefly on assigned gospel subjects. At other times, high councilors will be assigned by the stake president to speak.
Members may be called to serve as greeters and ushers. They can welcome worshipers and seat them comfortably, while holding a few rear and aisle seats for those with special needs.
Audiovisual materials such as videocassettes and transparencies should not be used in a sacrament meeting.
Occasionally members may be unable to attend because of illness. In such cases, priesthood holders could be assigned by the bishop or branch president to administer the sacrament to them where they are confined.
A typical sacrament meeting will include:
A welcome and acknowledgment of the presiding authority and representative from the high council, if assigned.
An opening hymn and prayer.
Ward or branch business, such as:
—Releasing and sustaining of officers and teachers.
—Recognizing children who advance from Primary, members called on missions or other assignments, attainments of young men and young women.
—Presenting names of brethren to receive or advance in the Aaronic Priesthood, names of new ward or branch members.
Confirmation of new members.
The sacrament hymn and the administration of the sacrament.
Gospel messages and optional additional music.
A closing hymn and prayer.
Those to be released and sustained do not need to be presented individually. They may be proposed as groups—first those to be released, then those to be sustained in the priesthood, and those to be sustained for callings in the auxiliaries.
Sacrament meetings should begin and end on time and should not be overprogrammed. Prayer meetings need not be held before sacrament meeting. Those participating should be seated at least five minutes before the meeting begins so they can be spiritually prepared for a worshipful experience. During that quiet interval, prelude music is subdued. This is not a time for conversation or transmission of messages but a period of prayerful meditation as leaders and members prepare spiritually for the sacrament.
The hymns of the Church are the basic music for worship services and the standard for congregational singing. Other appropriate selections may be used for prelude and postlude music, choir music, and special musical selections. Opening and closing hymns are usually sung by the congregation. The sacrament hymn is always sung by the congregation.
Ideally, each Church unit has a choir, with an invitation to sing periodically. A choir can bless lives. Sister Nelson and I have fond memories of our participation—years ago—in the choir of our small branch in Minneapolis, Minnesota. When we and the others came forward to sing, there were more of us in the choir than there were members remaining in the congregation.
Pianos, organs, or their electronic equivalents are the standard for use in Church meetings. If other instruments are used, their use should be in keeping with the spirit of the meeting. Instruments with a loud or less worshipful sound, such as most brass and percussion, are not appropriate for sacrament meeting. If a piano, organ, or accompanist is not available, appropriate recordings may be used for accompaniment.
The song of the righteous is a prayer unto the Lord (see D&C 25:12). Some members seem reluctant to sing, perhaps because of fear. We each need to forget our fears and sing as an opportunity to praise our Creator prayerfully. Music in sacrament meeting is for worship, not performance. We must not let our sacred music slip away from us nor allow secular music to replace it.
Conducting Sacrament Meeting
Bishoprics and branch presidencies have responsibility not only to plan these meetings, but to conduct them. They should do so reverently. Some in the congregation are praying for delicate promptings and communication from heaven. Establishing a spirit of reverence will help them receive those promptings. Remember: reverence invites revelation.
Those conducting the meeting begin by extending a cordial greeting. Detailed announcements are more appropriately handled some other time. Because we invite all to come unto Christ, friends and neighbors are always welcome but not expected to take the sacrament. However, it is not forbidden. They choose for themselves. We hope that newcomers among us will always be made to feel wanted and comfortable. Little children, as sinless beneficiaries of the Lord’s Atonement, may partake of the sacrament as they prepare for covenants that they will make later in life.
Our meetings are always to be conducted as directed by the Spirit (see D&C 46:2). Occasionally something unexpected may arise that a presiding officer may wish to clarify or correct, as prompted by the Spirit. Otherwise, no additional commentary is given after the final speaker has spoken.
Administration of the Sacrament
Bishoprics and branch presidencies preside over the Aaronic Priesthood in wards and branches. They, along with quorum advisers, will take every precaution to see that the sacrament is prepared in advance of the meeting and that the passing of the sacrament has been thoroughly planned. Those who administer the sacrament are to look their best and be dressed appropriately. White shirts not only look nice, but they are a gentle reminder of other sacred rites, such as baptismal and temple ordinances, at which white clothing is also worn.
Sacramental prayers are to be offered understandably because he who prays is giving voice to covenants that others are making. Cleanliness and purity of heart are expected of those privileged to bless the sacrament. The presiding authority receives the sacrament first.
Fast and Testimony Meeting
Fast and testimony meetings are held once a month, usually the first Sunday. Generally, babies are blessed on that day. After the sacrament, the conducting brother bears a brief testimony. He then invites members to bear brief, heartfelt testimonies of the Savior, His teachings, and the Restoration. Parents and teachers should help children learn what a testimony is and when it is appropriate for them to express it. Younger children should learn to share their testimonies at home or in Primary until they are old enough to bear an appropriate testimony unaided in fast and testimony meeting.
Each member of the Church bears responsibility for the spiritual enrichment that can come from a sacrament meeting. Each should sing with a grateful heart and respond with an audible “amen” at the conclusion of a prayer or a testimony. We personally ponder the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We reflect upon the significance of His suffering at Gethsemane and His Crucifixion on Calvary. At this time, each of us is to “examine himself” (1 Cor. 11:28) and reflect upon personal covenants made with the Lord. At this time, we meditate upon the sacred things of God.
Gratefully, I thank the Lord for the sacrament meeting and all that it has meant in my life. It has repeatedly rekindled my faith and allowed me to renew my covenants from week to week, helping Sister Nelson and me to live and rear our family in the glorious light of the gospel.