sacrament elements

There is perhaps no more constant reminder of the essentially Christian nature of Latter-day Saint worship than our weekly celebration of the sacrament, which is known in other faith traditions as the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, or communion. The institution of the sacrament is described several times in the New Testament (Matt. 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:14-20, 1 Cor. 11:23-26), but there are enough differences between those accounts that Christians have never been able to agree on precisely how the ceremony should be conducted, what it means, or its effects upon believers. And this despite the fact that everyone recognizes the sacrament as one of the oldest and most significant of Christian practices.

The wording of the LDS sacraments prayers came by revelation in the Book of Mormon, and was repeated in D&C 20. The concise, elegant formulation captures most of the main elements of the biblical accounts, which have been summarized in the New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible as:

remembrance of the death of Jesus for the world resulting in forgiveness of sins for believers and the inauguration of the new covenant; a spiritual feast in which Jesus is both host and sustenance; a symbolizing of the unity of the disciples with one another as well as with their Lord; and an anticipation of the heavenly banquet. (I. Howard Marshall, s.v. “Lord’s Supper”)

When we reflect on the prayers while the bread and water are being passed, one of these themes may be missing-the last one, about a future joyous reunion. As Mormons we tend to think backwards during the sacrament, towards Christ’s atonement and our own shortcomings, rather than forward to the millennial promise. Yet there may be room for such reflections.

In New Testament times, the connection was explicit. Our earliest account of the institution of the sacrament is in 1 Cor. 11 (oddly enough, the letters of Paul were actually written before the gospels):”After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come” (vv. 25-26, emphasis added).

The earliest gospel, Mark, expresses a similar idea in different words: “And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many. Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (14:24-25, emphasis added).

Now, take a look at the sacrament prayers from the book of Moroni, arranged in the way that Royal Skousen compares them in his Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, part 6, p. 3898:


Moroni 4:3                                                         Moroni 5:2

O God the Eternal Father                               O God the Eternal Father

we ask thee in the name                                we ask thee in the name

of thy Son Jesus Christ                                  of thy Son Jesus Christ

to bless and sanctify this bread                     to bless and sanctify this wine

to the souls of all those                                   to the souls of all those

whopartake of it                                             who drink of it

that they may eat in remembrance                that they may do it in remembrance

of the body of thy Son                                   of the blood of thy Son

                                                                       which was shed for them

and witness unto thee                                   that they may witness unto thee

O God the Eternal Father                              O God the Eternal Father

that they are willing                                      that they

to take upon them

the name of thy Son

and always remember him                          do always remember him

and keep his commandments

which he hath given them

that they may always have his Spirit           that they may have his Spirit

to be with them                                            to be with them

Amen                                                           Amen


The second prayer, on the wine (or water), is clearly a shortened version of the first, but there is a gap in the first column, where we are missing a parallel explanation of Christ’s body to match the explicit meaning of his blood, “which was shed for them.” There are no indications of any textual problems here; the sacrament prayers as we read them today seem to be exactly what Joseph Smith first dictated to his scribe. Nevertheless, there is something of a conceptual gap. What exactly should we be thinking of when we remember “the body of thy Son”? Which was _________ for them? How would you fill in the blank?

Actually, the Book of Mormon does provide an answer, nearly a hundred pages earlier. When the risen Lord introduces the ordinance of the sacrament to the Nephites, he uses wording quite similar to what Moroni would later include in the sort-of Handbook of Instructions that he appended to his father’s history.

In Third Nephi, after having given the multitude bread, Jesus said:

And this shall ye always observe to do, even as I have done, even as I have broken bread and blessed it and given it unto you. And this shall ye do in remembrance of my body, which I have shown unto you. And it shall be a testimony unto the Father that ye do always remember me. and if ye do always remember me, ye shall have my Spirit to be with you” (3 Ne. 18:6-7).

And there is a parallel passage that comes shortly thereafter, when Jesus gives the people wine:

And this shall ye always do to those who repent and are baptized in my name; and ye shall do it in remembrance of my blood, which I have shed for you, that ye may witness unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me, ye shall have my Spirit to be with you (3 Ne. 18:11)

So the next time you listen to the sacrament prayer on the bread, and you hear “that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son,” perhaps it would be appropriate to mentally add which he showed to the Nephites.

Yet the Nephite epiphany at the temple at Bountiful was a rather unique situation, which might not be directly applicable to modern members of the Church. So let me suggest an alternative that would be in keeping with New Testament teachings about the meaning of the sacrament, and also with President Benson’s observation that “in the Book of Mormon we find a pattern for preparing for the Second Coming” (“The Book of Mormon-Keystone of Our Religion,” Ensign, Nov.


When you hear “that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son,” you might thinkwhich he will show unto us.This may be at the time of Christ’s second coming, or at some later date. The promise of the gospel, as contained in both the Bible and the Book of Mormon, is that someday we will be rescued from physical and spiritual death, and each of us will stand in the presence of the resurrected Christ, who will show himself to all his children.

Alma once taught that this life is “a probationary state, a time to prepare to meet God” (Alma 12:24). The sacrament offers us a chance to reflect on the atonement of Christ, and also on the reunion that his great sacrifice makes possible, when we will see him in the flesh, just as the Nephites did. Until that day, we are assured that we can have the Spirit to be with us, if we remember our Savior and keep his commandments.

Bonus links:

1. John Welch has written a fine article tracing the antecedents of the sacrament prayers in the book of Moroni to the words of Christ in 3 Nephi and also to King Benjamin’s discourse in Mosiah. You can read the entire article here or a shorter synopsis here.

2. Some of you may have noticed that the sacrament prayer on the bread is not exactly the same in the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants. The former has “keep his commandments which he hath given them” while the later reads “keep his commandments which he has given them.” The cards at the sacrament table have the D&C reading, and hardly any bishops will ask for the prayer to be offered again if they are following along in the Book of Mormon. This is a very small difference, but the earliest manuscript of D&C 20 followed the Nephite prayer, as you can see herein the invaluable Joseph Smith Papers Project. That one word was changed, probablyinadvertently, in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. Perhaps a future edition of the D&C will bring Section 20 back into exact correspondence with the Book of Mormon.


Grant Hardy is the editor of The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition (University of Illinois Press, 2003) and the author of Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (Oxford University Press, 2010). His most recent publications include the Oxford History of Historical Writing, Vol. 1 and Great Minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition, a 36-lecture cd/dvd course produced by the Great Courses. Hardy is a professor of History and Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina-Asheville.