A disclaimer for all of my posts is this: I am not authorized to officially interpret anything. These are just my personal thoughts. Your mileage may vary.
Recently in a Facebook group I belong to, a poignant question was posed — a question asked by a young girl to her mother — about why girls don’t pass the sacrament in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My pondering and study and personal impressions have led me to agree what Sister Cheryl Esplin shared in a General Conference talk on the sacrament, given a couple of years ago.
“Aaronic Priesthood holders represent the Savior when they prepare, bless, and pass the sacrament. As a priesthood holder extends his arm to offer us the sacred emblems, it is as if the Savior Himself were extending His arm of mercy, inviting each one of us to partake of the precious gifts of love made available through His atoning sacrifice—gifts of repentance, forgiveness, comfort, and hope.”
This concept was brought to the forefront of my mind again on Christmas day, as my mom gave each of her grown daughters a print of a painting called “Sacrament Meeting” by Don Christensen. It’s one I had never seen before. The artist’s recorded experience (you can read it here) mirrors a vague memory I have of an experience I had.
But my personal feelings about all of this come mostly from my study of the scriptures and my own experiences with the Spirit.
First of all, the Savior Himself instituted the sacrament with His apostles right before His death. It was, from the beginning, a very personal — and presided-over — ordinance. He held, broke, blessed, and passed the bread Himself. He held, blessed, and passed the cup Himself.
I think this is so important to consider. The Savior first gave this ordinance to His apostles, those who would be charged with continuing the Church after His death. But the ordinance was instituted as a very personal experience. One by one the apostles partook of the emblems of the Savior’s sacrifice and were invited to ponder what it meant.
After His resurrection, when ministering to the Nephites in the Americas, He instituted the sacrament among them. Again, He was presiding over the ordinance.
He first took the bread, brake it, and blessed it. He then gave it to His disciples. He then commanded the disciples to give the broken pieces of bread to the multitude. Before repeating the process with the wine, He taught about how the sacrament was to be administered in the Church, and that it needed to be done with priesthood authority:
“And when the multitude had eaten and were filled, he said unto the disciples: 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, unto all those who shall believe and be baptized in my name” (3 Nephi 18:5, emphasis added).
He then repeated the process with the wine — blessing it, giving it to the 12 disciples, and then commanding them to distribute it to the multitude.
In 3 Nephi 20, the Savior visits the people again and repeats the pattern of giving the sacrament to His disciples and then commanding them to give the sacrament to the multitude. This repetition of the ordinance — and the pattern of delegated authority with this ordinance — to me is not insignificant.
In Restoration scriptures, we also see the Savior teaching that authority is essential to administering of the sacrament.
“The priest’s duty is to preach, teach, expound, exhort, and baptize, and administer the sacrament…”(Doctrine and Covenants 20:46).
Interestingly, though, the Doctrine and Covenants also talks of deacons and priests not being authorized to administer the sacrament.
“But neither teachers nor deacons have authority to baptize, administer the sacrament, or lay on hands… (Doctrine and Covenants 20:58).
However, the scriptures also talk about teachers and deacons assisting priests in their duties.
I think it is worthwhile to consider these patterns that appear in the scriptures and how they might relate to how things are done today. To me, what is done today is consistent with scriptural patterns and how I understand priesthood keys and authority and their purpose and functioning.
- When Jesus was present, He did not delegate the breaking of the bread or the blessing of the sacramental emblems. But He knew He would not be present always, so…
- He taught in more than one place and time that the sacrament and its administration is a priesthood ordinance that requires authority.
- He gave the sacrament to His apostles/disciples and then commanded them to give to the multitude. (I think this pattern is reflected in the fact that the presiding authority gets the sacrament first, and also that the sacrament cannot be given without authorization of one who has keys for that ordinance.)
- He did delegate the distribution of the sacrament, but the responsibility was still given to those who had authority to act in His name.
- The authorized administration of the sacrament is part of the commandments given to His apostles (and the 12 disciples in the Americas).
- Delegated authority is an obvious part of that commandment in both the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants.
One of the things I love about priesthood ordinances is that you can ponder them for a lifetime and not stop get insights about them. To me, the sacrament continues to be an ordinance that teaches me the more I ponder it, both at a doctrinal and a personal level.
To me, the fact that the sacrament is administered by males is not something to be coveted by women and young women, but something to be cherished and pondered. I think priesthood execution can signal something to our minds: Christ is in it all. He’s in the taking, breaking, blessing. He’s in the emblems. He’s in the passing, the giving, the desire for all to partake. To me, priesthood has come to signal to my mind, “This is what Christ would be doing if He were able to be in millions of places at once.”
That we all help pass to each other along the pews is something that some would say is also significant. That has never struck me in the same way that it does others because the authorized element of the ordinance is important and meaningful in my mind, and because we don’t see that pattern reflected in scriptural text. To me, scriptures do present a more ‘vested’ responsibility in the giving of the sacrament to the Church, and I think it’s important to not dismiss the fact that this is a priesthood ordinance through-and-through (from authorization to administration) as a cultural oversight.
And yet, I think there are always layers to truth and surely in the Church we are both receivers of the heavenly gift of the Atonement and the Spirit, and we are also able to help others partake of the blessing of the Atonement.
Either way, though, all of the pondering of the scriptures to me still takes me to one place: that to me the focus of the sacrament should be mostly on the receiving of it and on Who the Giver truly is. The Savior gives Himself to us in it all, and we — each of us, all of us, male and female, old and young — have the opportunity each week and through the collective experiences of a lifetime to learn what it means to receive, to partake, to be nourished, to be filled, to be loved by the Son of God and by His Father.