Sacrament Meetings
    Footnotes

    “Sacrament Meetings,” Church History Topics

    “Sacrament Meetings”

    Sacrament Meetings

    When the Church was organized in 1830, revelation to Joseph Smith directed “that the church meet together oft to partake bread and wine in Remembrance of the Lord Jesus” and also set forth that it was the duty of the elders and priests to administer the sacrament as described in the Book of Mormon.1 Accordingly, the sacrament was provided at the founding meeting of the Church on April 6, 1830—a Tuesday—in the home of Peter Whitmer Sr. in Fayette Township, New York.2

    It was not clear at that time where or how often the Latter-day Saints should meet together, nor was it clear when and exactly how they should administer the sacrament. Since that first meeting, the ways Latter-day Saints have fulfilled the commandment to meet together to receive the sacrament have varied depending on their circumstances and guidance by Church leaders.

    Weekly Meetings

    Though most American Protestants in the 19th century valued the Sabbath, not all attended church. Some denominations, such as Presbyterians and Congregationalists, typically met on Sundays in chapels. Others, such as Methodists, Baptists, or those who remained unaffiliated with a particular sect, often worshipped informally in their own homes, attended small group meetings, or participated in large outdoor revivals when they happened to take place.3

    The earliest Saints did not have chapels, so they met to worship, preach, and sing when and where they could. At first, they did not administer the sacrament weekly, but did so on occasions like the Church’s quarterly conferences and confirmation meetings. Latter-day Saint records first mention weekly sacrament observance in August 1831, when a revelation taught that Saints “whose feet stand upon the land of Zion”—meaning Independence, Missouri—should “go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day.”4 While anticipating the building of a house of worship, however, they continued to meet in small groups as occasion permitted.5

    With the completion of the Kirtland Temple in 1836, Latter-day Saints offered the sacrament weekly. This took place during two Sunday meetings that were open to the entire community—one before lunch and one after lunch in the afternoon.6 In Nauvoo, the Saints met together in citywide outdoor gatherings on the Sabbath, often with several thousand Saints in attendance.7 In smaller branches, missionaries and members met regularly in homes for prayer meetings, preaching meetings, and to take the sacrament. These meetings were often held on the Sabbath but sometimes took place during the week.8

    As circumstances changed, the Saints adapted their worship service styles. The meetinghouses built in Utah during Brigham Young’s lifetime could not accommodate everyone at the same time. Adults typically met in these buildings on Sundays; youth and children often took the sacrament at auxiliary meetings during the week. For most of the 19th century, fast and testimony meetings were held on the first Thursday of each month. As more meetinghouses were constructed and ward sizes were changed to match meetinghouse capacities, Saints of all ages were able to meet together each Sunday.9

    In 1980, to reduce travel time for members, Church leaders consolidated each ward’s sacrament, Sunday School, and quorum and auxiliary meetings into a three-hour block of time on the Sabbath. Where circumstances have required, these Sabbath meetings have been provided on a different day of the week than Sunday. For instance, the Church has observed the Sabbath on Friday or Saturday in the Middle East and held branch meetings on multiple days of the week in Hong Kong to give international workers the opportunity to participate in sacrament services.10

    The Sacrament

    As Joseph went to procure wine for use in administering the sacrament at a meeting in August 1830, he was met by a heavenly messenger and instructed to use only wine made locally by Church members for the sacrament.11 The Lord further taught in this revelation that “it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament if it so be that you do it with an eye single to my glory.”12 In keeping with this revelation, early Saints used wine they had made for the ordinance: for example, Elizabeth Ann Whitney, the wife of bishop Newel K. Whitney, offered her homemade red currant wine for the sacrament in Kirtland.13 Sacramental wine was increasingly replaced with water over the course of the 19th century.14

    The amount of bread used for sacrament services has also varied over time. On special occasions such as temple dedications during the 19th century, Saints sometimes ate bread and drank wine or water until they were full, as described in 3 Nephi.15 Nancy Naomi Alexander Tracy recollected how, in celebration of the Kirtland Temple dedication, the elders “went from house to house, blessing the Saints and administering the sacrament. Feasts were given. Three families joined together and held one at our house. We baked a lot of bread.”16

    In the early Church, adult men typically blessed the sacrament and women provided bread, wine, and table linens. In the 1870s Church leaders began ordaining teenage boys to offices in the Aaronic Priesthood, and young teachers and deacons were assigned the task of distributing the sacramental emblems to the congregation. Bishopric members and other adult priesthood holders continued to officiate at the sacrament table until the early 1900s, when young priests—in addition to adult priesthood holders—began blessing the bread and water.17 In 1950, Church leaders recommended that teachers be given the responsibility of preparing the sacrament table.18

    the passing of the “common cup” in the 19th century

    Engraving depicting the passing of the “common cup” during a 19th-century sacrament service in the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City.

    Starting in 1911, for sanitary purposes, the “common cup” of wine or water previously passed throughout the congregation began to be replaced with tiny, individual sacrament cups.19 In 1946, concerned that the tradition of providing sermons and musical numbers simultaneous with the sacramental service was disruptive, the First Presidency instructed Church members to observe a reverent, meditative silence during the ordinance.20

    modern-day sacrament

    Latter-day Saints in a contemporary congregation partake of the sacrament.

    “The ordinance of the sacrament,” taught then Elder Dallin H. Oaks in 2008, “makes the sacrament meeting the most sacred and important meeting in the Church.”21 Accordingly, in 2015, Church leaders called for a renewed emphasis on Sabbath worship centered on partaking of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.22

    Related Topics: Wards and Stakes, School of the Prophets

    Notes

    1. Articles and Covenants, circa April 1830 [D&C 20],” in Revelation Book 1, 57, josephsmithpapers.org; spelling standardized.

    2. Part 3: April–September 1830,” in Michael Hubbard MacKay, Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, Grant Underwood, Robert J. Woodford, and William G. Hartley, eds., Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831. Vol. 1 of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers, edited by Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, Richard Lyman Bushman, and Matthew J. Grow (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2013), 113, josephsmithpapers.org; “Revelation, 6 April 1830 [D&C 21],” Historical Introduction, in Revelation Book 1, 28.

    3. Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, The Churching of America, 1776–1990: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1992), 54–108; William G. Hartley, “Mormon Sundays,” in My Fellow Servants: Essays on the History of the Priesthood (Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, 2010), 343–54.

    4. Revelation, 7 August 1831 [D&C 59],” in Newel K. Whitney, Papers, josephsmithpapers.org; spelling standardized.

    5. While asking for donations to complete the Nauvoo Temple, Hyrum Smith told the Saints that when they would be able to receive the sacrament weekly in the finished temple, it would “do away with a great deal of difficulty” for them by bringing the Spirit of God into their hearts. “Conference Minutes,” Times and Seasons, vol. 5, no. 14 (Aug. 1, 1844), 596–97; Justin R. Bray, “The Lord’s Supper in Early Mormonism,” in Scott C. Esplin, Richard O. Cowan, and Rachel Cope, eds., You Shall Have My Word: Exploring the Text of the Doctrine and Covenants (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2012), 68–69.

    6. Bray, “The Lord’s Supper in Early Mormonism,” 69; Hartley, “Mormon Sundays,” 343–45.

    7. Hartley, “Mormon Sundays,” 345.

    8. M. Teresa Baer, “Charting the Missionary Work of William E. McLellin: A Content Analysis,” in The Journals of William E. McLellin, 1831–1836, ed. Jan Shipps and John W. Welch (Urbana: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 379–405.

    9. William G. Hartley, “Common People: Church Activity during the Brigham Young Era,” in My Fellow Servants, 423, 436; Hartley, “Mormon Sundays,” 348–49.

    10. Church Consolidates Meeting Schedules,” Ensign, Mar. 1980, 73–78; Gerry Avant, “Elder Holland Dedicates Stake Center in the Middle East,” Church News, Mar. 5, 2013; “Jerusalem Center: LDS Church Services,” BYU Continuing Education, jerusalemcenter.ce.byu.edu; Emily W. Jensen, “LDS Church meetings held every day of the week in Hong Kong,” Deseret News, Apr. 11, 2014.

    11. Joseph Smith, “History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834],” 51; “Part 3: April–September 1830,” in Documents, Volume 1, 115–16, josephsmithpapers.org.

    12. Revelation, circa August 1830 [D&C 27],” in Revelation Book 1, 35.

    13. Elizabeth Ann Whitney, “A Leaf from an Autobiography,” Woman’s Exponent, vol. 7, no. 9 (Oct. 1, 1878), 71.

    14. Bray, “The Lord’s Supper in Early Mormonism,” 66.

    15. See 3 Nephi 18:1–9. Joseph Smith also broke bread “after the ancient order” in the School of the Prophets. Zebedee Coltrin remembered how the Prophet blessed the emblems and then broke the warm, freshly baked bread into pieces the size of his fist and invited the men, each with a glass of wine, to eat until they were filled. See Salt Lake School of the Prophets, Minutes, Oct. 3, 1883, 58–59, Church History Library, Salt Lake City. George Q. Cannon observed in 1897, with some regret, that larger meeting sizes had led to greater formality in the administration of the sacrament, as evidenced by the smaller pieces of bread and the manner of their distribution among the congregation. See Cannon, “Editorial Thoughts,” Juvenile Instructor, Jan. 15, 1897, 52–53; quoted in Bray, “The Lord’s Supper in Early Mormonism,” 64.

    16. Nancy Naomi Alexander Tracy, Life History of Nancy Naomi Alexander Tracy Written by Herself, 1885, typescript, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah; quoted in Kristine Wright, “‘We Baked a Lot of Bread’: Reconceptualizing Mormon Women and Ritual Objects,” in Kate Holbrook and Matt Bowman, eds., Women and Mormonism: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2016), 85.

    17. Charles W. Penrose, “The Sacrament of the Lord’s Super,” Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Dec. 3, 1908, Church History Library, Salt Lake City; Bray, “The Lord’s Supper in Early Mormonism,” 67–68; see also Hartley, “Mormon Sundays,” 348–49; Hartley, “Common People,” 423–28, 433–36.

    18. “Teachers to Prepare Sacrament Table,” Church News, Apr. 2, 1950, 11. Before this time, other ward members, including women, sometimes helped prepare the table. See William G. Hartley, “From Men to Boys: LDS Aaronic Priesthood Offices, 1829–1996,” in My Fellow Servants, 70.

    19. Justin R. Bray, “The Lord’s Supper during the Progressive Era, 1890–1930,” Journal of Mormon History, vol. 38, no. 4 (Fall 2012), 89–104.

    20. Hartley, “Mormon Sundays,” 351.

    21. Dallin H. Oaks, “Sacrament Meeting and the Sacrament,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2008, 17.

    22. Church Leaders Call for Better Observance of Sabbath Day,” Church News, July 15, 2015, news.lds.org.