On May 15, 1829, John the Baptist restored the Aaronic Priesthood to the earth. He did so by laying his hands upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and speaking these words: “Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins” (D&C 13:1).
Later, the Lord revealed these further truths: “The lesser priesthood … holdeth the key of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel;
“Which gospel is the gospel of repentance and of baptism, and the remission of sins” (D&C 84:26–27).
What does it mean that the Aaronic Priesthood holds “the key of the ministering of angels” and of the “gospel of repentance and of baptism, and the remission of sins”? The meaning is found in the ordinance of baptism and in the sacrament. Baptism is for the remission of sins, and the sacrament is a renewal of the covenants and blessings of baptism. Both should be preceded by repentance. When we keep the covenants made in these ordinances, we are promised that we will always have His Spirit to be with us. The ministering of angels is one of the manifestations of that Spirit.
During His ministry, Jesus taught that baptism is necessary for salvation. “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). When we are baptized, we covenant that we will take upon us the name of Jesus Christ and serve Him and keep His commandments.
At the conclusion of His ministry, Jesus Christ introduced the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. On that sacred occasion known as the Last Supper, Jesus explained the mission of the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost. The Comforter would testify of Him and reveal other truths.
The close relationship between partaking of the sacrament and the companionship of the Holy Ghost is explained in the revealed prayer on the sacrament. In partaking of the bread, we witness that we are willing to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ and always remember Him and keep His commandments. When we do so, we have the promise that we will always have His Spirit to be with us (see D&C 20:77).
To have the continuous companionship of the Holy Ghost is the most precious possession we can have in mortality. But we must keep ourselves free from sin. When we sin, we become unclean and the Spirit of the Lord withdraws from us. How grateful we are that the Lord has provided a process for each baptized member of His Church to be periodically cleansed from the soil of sin. The sacrament is an essential part of that process.
We are commanded to repent of our sins and to come to the Lord with a broken heart and a contrite spirit and partake of the sacrament in compliance with its covenants. When we renew our baptismal covenants in this way, the Lord renews the cleansing effect of our baptism. In this way we are made clean and can always have His Spirit to be with us. The importance of this is evident in the Lord’s commandment that we partake of the sacrament each week (see D&C 59:8–9).
We cannot overstate the importance of the Aaronic Priesthood in this. All of these vital steps pertaining to the remission of sins are performed through the saving ordinance of baptism and the renewing ordinance of the sacrament. Both of these ordinances are officiated by holders of the Aaronic Priesthood under the direction of the bishopric.
I will now suggest how teachers and priests and deacons should carry out their sacred responsibilities to act in behalf of the Lord in preparing, administering, and passing the sacrament. I will not suggest detailed rules, since the circumstances in various wards and branches in our worldwide Church are so different that a specific rule that seems required in one setting may be inappropriate in another. Rather, I will suggest a principle based on the doctrines.
The principle is that those officiating in the sacrament—whether preparing, administering, or passing—should not do anything that would distract any member from his or her worship and renewal of covenants.
Deacons, teachers, and priests should always be clean in appearance and reverent in the manner in which they perform their solemn and sacred responsibilities. Teachers’ special assignments in preparing the sacrament are the least visible but should still be done with dignity, quietly and reverently. Teachers should always remember that the emblems they are preparing represent the body and blood of our Lord.
To avoid distracting from the sacred occasion, priests should speak the sacrament prayers clearly and distinctly. Prayers that are rattled off swiftly or mumbled inaudibly will not do. All present should be helped to understand an ordinance and covenants so important that the Lord prescribed the exact words to be uttered. All should be helped to focus on those sacred words as they renew their covenants by partaking.
As a 16-year-old priest, I was just beginning a part-time job as a radio announcer at a local station. After I offered a prayer at the sacrament table in our ward, a girl who was present told me I sounded like I was reading a commercial. Can you imagine the shame I felt? After 50 years that rebuke still stings. Brethren, remember the significance of those sacred prayers. You are praying as a servant of the Lord in behalf of the entire congregation.
Deacons should pass the sacrament in a reverent and orderly manner, with no needless motions or expressions that call attention to themselves. In all their actions they should avoid distracting any member of the congregation from worship and covenant making.
All who officiate in the sacrament—in preparing, administering, or passing—should be well groomed and modestly dressed, with nothing about their personal appearance that calls special attention to themselves. In appearance as well as actions, they should avoid distracting anyone present from full attention to the worship and covenant making that is the purpose of this sacred ordinance.
This principle of non-distraction applies to things unseen as well as seen. If someone officiating in this sacred ordinance is unworthy to participate, and this is known to anyone present, their participation is a serious distraction to that person. Young men, if any of you is unworthy, talk to your bishop without delay. Obtain his direction on what you should do to qualify yourself to participate in your priesthood duties worthily and appropriately.
With the single exception of those priests occupied breaking the bread, all who hold the Aaronic Priesthood should join in singing the sacrament hymn by which we worship and prepare to partake. No one needs that spiritual preparation more than the priesthood holders who will officiate in it.
The Aaronic Priesthood holds the keys of the “gospel of repentance and of baptism, and the remission of sins” (D&C 84:27). The cleansing power of our Savior’s Atonement is renewed for us as we partake of the sacrament. The promise that we “may always have his Spirit to be with [us]” (D&C 20:77) is essential to our spirituality. The ordinances of the Aaronic Priesthood are vital to all of this. I testify that this is true, and I pray that our brethren of the Aaronic Priesthood will understand the importance of their sacred responsibilities and act worthily in them.