(Based, in part, on a talk by Elder James E. Slaughter, of the Seventy, Santa Margarita Stake Conference, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022)
1. The sacrament is for renewing all our covenants, not just baptism
We often hear that, by partaking of the sacrament, we “renew our covenants of baptism.” That is true. However, it is incomplete and possibly misleading.
We renew all our covenants when we partake of the sacrament. We not only renew our baptismal covenants, but also our priesthood and temple covenants.
“According to our latter-day prophets and leaders, when you partake of the sacrament you renew whatever covenants you have made with the Lord. For example, if you have been baptized only, that is the covenant you renew. If you have received the Melchizedek Priesthood, you also renew that part of the oath and covenant related to your having received that priesthood. If you have received your endowment, you also renew the covenants associated with it. Further, if you have been sealed, you also renew that covenant. In other words, when you partake of the sacrament, you renew all the covenants you have made with the Lord.” (“What covenants do we renew when we partake of the sacrament,” John E. MacKay, I Have a Question, http://www.churchofjesuschrist.org)
Tangentially, clergy and judges hold special ceremonies wherein married couples renew their wedding vows. However, married members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints renew their wedding vows/sealing covenants every time they partake of the sacrament.
2. Sanctifying the bread and water does not make them holy
A few members complain that the sacrament bread should not be discarded in the trash after the meeting because it has been “sanctified.” (Of course, they don’t make the same complaint about sacrament water being poured down the drain.)
The bread and water are sanctified only “to the souls of all those who partake of it.” The bread and water are not “sanctified” in and of themselves.
We do not believe in “holy bread” or “holy water.” We do not bottle the leftover sacrament water and sell it at Deseret Book as “Holy Water.”
The bread and water are “emblems” of the sacrament. “Emblems” are simply “symbolic objects.” Whether the bread is homemade, or store bought, or whether the water comes from the tap or is bottled, is unimportant. The bread and water are symbols of something infinitely more important.
3. We do not need to “feel” the spirit to always “have” the spirit
Some members believe that they are not receiving the sacrament promise “that they may always have his spirit to be with them,” because they do not always “feel” the spirit.
There is a difference between “having” the spirit and “feeling “the spirit.
“Feeling” is an emotion that sometimes, but not always, accompanies the spirit. We sometimes feel a “burning in our bosom.” We occasionally feel enthusiasm swelling in our hearts and minds. (After all, “enthusiasm” literally means “God in us.”) We often feel peace and comfort.
But these feelings are not necessary to “having” the spirit. We are not promised that we will always “feel” the spirit.
There are many ways to tell whether or not you have the spirit.
One way to tell if you do not have the spirit is if you start seriously doubting your testimony.
- Do you still believe in God?
- Do you still have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior and Redeemer?
- Do you still believe that the gospel and church of Jesus Christ were restored through the prophet Joseph Smith?
- Do you still believe the Book of Mormon and Bible are the word of God?
- Do you still believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is lead by the Lord through living prophets?
If you can give a firm “yes” to these questions, then you have the spirit.
Another way to tell if you do not have the spirit is if you are being overwhelmed by confusion and doubt. God is not the author of confusion, and “stupors of thought” are a warning.
4. Only priesthood holders can “administer” the sacrament – “break,” “bless,” “give”
During the Covid pandemic, a few members were afraid to have priesthood holders enter their home to bless and pass the sacrament. They asked if they could break the bread themselves. Then, the priesthood holders could bless the sacrament loudly from outside the doorway. Afterward, the members could partake.
D&C 20: 38-40 declares that it is the duty of priesthood holders, and only priesthood holders, “to administer” the sacrament. “Administering” the sacrament includes: preparing the bread trays and water cups, breaking the bread, blessing the bread and water, and passing the bread and water. These are priesthood functions.
“And when the disciples had come with bread and wine, [Jesus] took of the bread and  break and  blessed it …. And he commanded that his [disciples] should  give unto the multitude…. Behold there shall one be ordained among you, and to him will I give power that he shall  break bread, and  bless it, and  give it unto the people of my church….And 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.” (3 Ne. 18:3-6)
5. Partaking of the sacrament does not, in and of itself, remit sins
James E. Talmage wrote, “The sacrament has not been established as a specific means of securing remission of sins; nor for any other special blessing aside from that of a continuing endowment of the Holy Spirit, which, however, comprises all needful blessings.” (The Articles of Faith, p. 175)
David A. Bednar observed, “The ordinance of the sacrament is a holy and repeated invitation to repent sincerely and to be renewed spiritually. The act of partaking of the sacrament, in and of itself, does not remit sins. But as we prepare conscientiously and participate in this holy ordinance with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, then the promise is that we may always have the Spirit of the Lord to be with us. And by the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost as our constant companion, we can always retain a remission of our sins. (David A. Bednar, “Always Retain a Remission of Your Sins,” (Gen. Conf. Apr. 2016)
“And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you – that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants. (Mosiah 4:26)
This requires some clarification. Baptism is “for the remission of sins.” Thus, renewing our covenants of baptism by partaking of the sacrament should also be “for the remission of sins.” But the key phrase is “in and of itself.”
Baptism, in and of itself, does not remit or wash away sins. First, we must have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, rely upon his atonement, and accept him as our Savior and Redeemer. Second, we must repent. Baptizing someone by immersion, without faith and repentance, does not remit sins.
Likewise, partaking the sacrament, without faith in the Lord, repentance, and a sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit, does not, in and of itself, remit sins.
Similarly, Joseph Smith commented: “You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism and is good for nothing without the other half—that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost.” (History of the Church, 5:499).
President Russell M. Nelson concluded that instead of merely relying on the weekly sacrament for a remission of sins, we need a “regular daily focus on repentance.” “Repentance is not an event; it is a process.”
6. Being “worthy” to partake of the sacrament does not mean being “sinless”
The scriptures threaten those who partake of the sacrament “unworthily” with damnation. (3 Ne. 18:29; Mor. 9:29; 1 Cor 11:27-29)
Some members feel that if they have committed even a minor sin, like having an unclean thought, being rude to someone, or becoming angry, then they were unworthy to partake of the sacrament.
Analogy of Automobile Drivers.
Experienced drivers constantly adjust the steering wheel tiny amounts in order to keep the car centered in the lane. This is normal. We do this without even thinking. We would never consider giving up driving because of the need for constant corrections.
Likewise, we need to make tiny spiritual corrections in our lives every day as we strive to stay in the center of the covenant path. We don’t need to beat ourselves up over minor sins or mistakes. We don’t need to stay on our knees throughout the day and continually beg for forgiveness. And we don’t need to stop partaking of the sacrament. In other words, “don’t sweat the little stuff.”
Occasionally, we lose control of the car completely and end up in a ditch. At that time, we call the “Bishop’s Tow Truck.” We might need to retake driver’s education. In case of serious sin, the bishop may, or may not, counsel us to not partake of the sacrament.
New drivers often jerk the wheel and oversteer. This is like members who decline to partake of the sacrament because they had an unclean thought, got angry, or were rude to someone.
By recommending daily repentance, President Nelson is not suggesting that we are all so wicked and evil that we need to get on our knees and plead for forgiveness every day. He is suggesting that, like the experienced driver, we need to make regular minor course corrections in order to stay in the center of the lane on the covenant path. We should strive to “drive” a little better each day.
President Nelson declared: “Nothing can be more liberating, more ennobling, or more crucial to our individual progression than is a regular daily focus on repentance. Repentance is not an event; it is a process…. The Lord does not expect perfection from us at this point in our eternal progression. But He does expect us to become increasingly pure. Daily repentance is the pathway to purity, and purity brings power. Personal purity can make us powerful tools in the hands of God. (“We Can Do Better and Be Better,” Gen. Conf. Apr 1029)
“Nobody’s perfect.” “We all make mistakes.” “We are all sinners.” Our ward and stake statistical reports could have a line: “Number of Sinners?” The entry would always be the same – “100%” In reality, we are The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Sinners. But a “saint” is just a “sinner who strives.”
In short, “As long as we are trying to improve and be a better disciple of Jesus Christ, we are worthy to take the sacrament. On the other hand, committing certain serious sins may disqualify us from taking the sacrament, particularly if we are not trying to repent of them.” (“We are told that we should never take the sacrament unworthily,” Questions and Answers, http://www.churchofjesuschrist.org)
7. The sacrament, did not replace animal sacrifice
Jesus explained, “And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings. And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost.” (3 Ne.12:19-20)
The sacrament did not replace the law of sacrifice. The law of sacrifice is still in effect. But instead of killing an animal for blood sacrifice and burnt offering, we need to kill the “animal within.” We offer a sacrifice of a broken heart and contrite spirit in every ordinance and every covenant.
8. There are no upper limits or lower requirements on the frequency of taking the sacrament
Some members believe that if you attend two wards on a Sunday, you should not take the sacrament during the second meeting. Some members believe that you must take the sacrament weekly, and if you are sick one Sunday, priesthood holders should come to your home to administer the sacrament.
There are no upper limits or lower requirements on the frequency of taking the sacrament.
There is no requirement in the scriptures to take the sacrament every week.
For example, most general authorities preside over stake conferences each Sunday. Thus, the general authorities (First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve, Quorums of Seventy, and Presiding Bishopric) meet on the first Thursday of each month and partake of the sacrament. Likewise, Area Authority Seventies attend three stake conferences, and one sacrament meeting, each month.
There is no limit to the number of times you may partake of the sacrament each week.
For example, Jesus administered the sacrament to the Nephites two days in a row. (3 Ne. 18, 20)
Similarly, when I was growing up in the church, before the three-hour block was instituted, the sacrament was administered in the morning during Sunday School and in the evening during sacrament meeting.
I once attended three sacrament meetings on a Sunday as the high council speaker. I did not hesitate to take the sacrament each time. I was honored to renew my covenants three times. Plus, it may have caused rumors to fly had I declined the sacrament in full view of the congregation.
The focus of the scriptures in not on the frequency of partaking the sacrament, but on the purpose.
Lastly, those who are consistently and excessively tardy to church sometimes ask whether it is okay to just take the water – half the sacrament. The answer: “Stop disrespecting the Lord, and the members and leaders of your ward, by always being late!”