It’s always a bit scary to think about attending a church of which one is not a member, let alone actually attending its various meetings. In this post I intend to give the reader an overview of what takes place during Sacrament Meeting, the primary and arguably most important general meeting held by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and to share some doctrines of the Church as a foundation for why this meeting is held.
The most important message I want to relay is that going to Church with the Mormons is most likely similar to attending your own church; we worship Christ, participate in the Sacrament- a reminder of the sacrifice of the Savior and the blessings it brings to each of us-; listen to talks about the Savior and other important principles and doctrines; share in learning from the scriptures during Sunday School; teach fathers and mothers how to raise up righteous families; help little children develop testimonies of Jesus and learn His attributes so they can become more like him; and provide our youth with standards that help them make better choices in a perilous world. My desire is that as you read Breaking Bread with the Mormons you will find within yourself a growing desire to test the waters, find a congregation in your area, and see what the Church has to offer. After all, going to Church shouldn’t be a scary thing; it should be a sacred, peaceful experience that brings you closer to God and His Son, Jesus Christ.
One note before we go further: the official name of the Church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as designated by revelation to its founder, the Prophet Joseph Smith. Because members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints adhere to the teachings of The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, early detractors took it upon themselves to call members of the Church Mormons. Although Mormons have accepted this name as endearing and enduring, it should not be misconstrued that Mormons belong to the Mormon Church; the Mormon Church does not exist. Rather, Mormons are members and adherents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Breaking Bread with the Mormons
Prior to His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus Christ presided over what has come to be known as The Last Supper. Surrounded by the Twelve Apostles whom Jesus had chosen as His representatives and missionaries “Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28). As we continue reading Matthew’s account we learn that during this same event “they…sung a song” (Matthew 26:30) which was part of the Jewish Hallel (Bible Dictionary, Holy Bible- King James Version, LDS Edition, 1985). In revelation to Joseph Smith in 1831, the Lord instructed that, so we might more fully keep ourselves “unspotted from the world,” we are to offer our sacraments to the Lord on the Sabbath, His holy day (Doctrine and Covenants 59: 9). In the previous year, prior to the organization of the Church, the Lord likewise revealed the manner in which the sacrament was to be offered, including the details of the prayer to be given as a blessing on the bread and wine (in modern time the Church has replaced wine with water). Although the Sacrament Meeting in an LDS Church comprises more than just the Sacrament offering, it is the Sacrament which is the most sacred and very purpose for which members of the Church gather on Sunday.
Although leadership meetings may take place early on Sunday morning, typically, Sacrament Meeting or Worship Service is the first general meeting of the day. Perhaps like it is at your church, Sacrament Meeting or Worship Service begins at a specific time. Prior to the start of Sacrament Meeting it is not unusual to see members greeting each other in the foyers or other locations throughout the meeting hall, catching up on the events of the week, making last minute preparations for personal roles in the day’s meetings, or just saying hello. During the 10-15 minutes leading up to the start of Sacrament Meeting it is most likely one will hear a pianist or organist in the chapel playing prelude music to help set a spiritual tone for the meeting. As many of the hymns found in the Church Hymnal predate the founding of the Church and are quite likely played in your congregational meetings, it is quite likely you will recognize some of the music played prior to and throughout the meeting.
When you enter the chapel you may find a few things very similar to your congregation and others that might seem new and intriguing. For example, you will normally find three men in conservative suits sitting together on the podium. These men comprise what is known as the bishopric, all of whom serve for a time as a lay ministers in the congregation, one of whom is called as a bishop. This may be similar to your minister, priest, or preacher. The other two men are counselors to the bishop and assist him as he delegates. Under most circumstances, the bishop presides over the Sacrament Meeting and it is his responsibility to see that the meeting is conducted according to the guidelines revealed by the Lord through the Church leadership. You will find that virtually anywhere you attend a Sacrament Meeting of the LDS Church it will follow the same pattern under the direction of the local bishop. If you look to either the left or right of the podium you will find a table that will be covered with a clean white cloth. Under this cloth are the emblems of the sacrament, the bread and water that will be blessed and administered to the congregation. Sitting at this table will be two or three young men, and occasionally older men, who will offer the blessings on the bread and water as did the Savior. These individuals hold the Priesthood and at least the office of a priest, and are given the specific responsibility of performing this sacred ordinance. You will also find a number of young men sitting in the first row or two of the pews; these young men will pass the bread and water to members of the congregation.
At the start of Sacrament Meeting, one of the aforementioned men sitting on the stand will, under the direction of the bishop, stand at the lectern and welcome those who are attending the meeting. After the greeting he may make any brief but important announcements and will then announce the opening hymn and the name of the individual (a member of the congregation) who has been asked to offer the invocation, or opening prayer. The opening hymn is always a congregational hymn sung from the Hymnal and is designed to help further establish a sense of reverence and to invite the Spirit of the Lord to attend the meeting. In July 1830 the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith that “the song of the righteous is a prayer unto [Him]” (Doctrine and Covenants 25:12). At the conclusion of the hymn, a member of the congregation chosen prior to the start of the meeting will come to the lectern and offer a prayer or invocation on the meeting. This prayer is short in duration and speaking for the congregation as a whole the one offering the prayer seeks the blessings and direction of our heavenly Father to be on those who participate in the meeting, and those who have come seeking special guidance. This prayer, and the prayer at the end of the meeting, or benediction, are never scripted but come from the heart of the one offering it. After the invocation, the individual conducting the meeting may present business that needs the sustaining approval of the members of the congregation. For example, members serve in a variety of positions and responsibilities such as teachers, auxiliary leaders, secretaries, clerks, librarians, and so on. Although the bishop or one of his counselors will extend a calling to a member to fill a role or responsibility, before any member may serve in that calling that decision must be sustained by the membership. Once this business has been concluded, the meeting will move forward with the administration of the Sacrament.
The congregation will again sing a hymn that has been selected specifically for its reference to the atonement or crucifixion of Jesus, His suffering on our behalf, and our gratitude for the blessings we receive as a result of His willing sacrifice. During the singing of the hymn the priests- those individuals who have been asked to administer the sacrament- will break the bread into small pieces in preparation of the blessing prayer. At the conclusion of the hymn, the young men responsible for passing the sacrament bread and water to the congregation will stand before the sacrament table, and one of the priests who has prepared the bread will kneel and read the blessing on the bread. This is one of a few prayers in the Church that is proscribed, and must be read exactly. This blessing was revealed to Joseph Smith during his translation of the Book of Mormon, and in 1830 was written as revelation to the Church.
O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of the Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it, that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father,
that they are willing to take upon them the name of the Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them; that they may always have his Spirit to be with them, Amen (Doctrine and Covenants 20:77).
The bread is then passed from the priests to the young men (typically deacons or teachers in the Priesthood) who will then pass the bread, in trays, to those in the congregation who desire to take the sacrament. Except under very specific circumstances, no one will be denied the opportunity to participate, whether they are members of the Church or not. Once all members of the congregation have been offered the bread, the deacons and teachers will return to the sacrament table and pass the trays back to the priests. Another of the priests will then kneel and recite the blessing of the water:
O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this water to the souls of all those who drink of it, that they may do it in remembrance of the blood of the Son, which was shed for them; that they may witness
unto the, O God, the Eternal Father, that they do always remember him, that they may have his Spirit to be with them. Amen (Doctrine and Covenants 20:79).
As with the bread, the water is then passed to members of the congregation who wish to participate. Again, except in specific situations, no one is denied the water. When everyone has had an opportunity to take of the water, the deacons and teachers return to the sacrament table and pass the trays back to the priests. The bread and water are once again covered, and the priests, deacons, and teachers will leave the sacrament table and join the congregation for the remainder of the meeting.
Perhaps different than the worship service of many other Christian churches, the balance of the Sacrament Meeting is not filled with preaching by a pastor or priest, but rather, members of the congregation will offer talks on a variety of topics as directed by the bishop. Members will be contacted by the bishop or one of his counselors well in advance of a given Sunday and be invited to speak during an upcoming Sacrament Meeting. A specific topic will be assigned, with some direction from the bishopric. However, it is the responsibility of the member to research the topic using the Scriptures and the teachings of modern prophets and apostles as the basis of their talks. Although the pattern may vary slightly, it is common that one or two of the youth will be asked to speak first for about five minutes each. After the youth speaker(s) an adult will speak for 10-15 minutes, again on a topic as assigned by the bishop, to be followed by a musical number. This musical number may be a congregational hymn or it may be members selected from the congregation, but is always in keeping with the reverent spirit of the meeting. At the conclusion of the musical number the final speaker will deliver his or her topic, the congregation will sing a closing hymn, and a member of the congregation previously chosen will offer the benediction, which will conclude the Sacrament Meeting.
Why the Sacrament?
After the resurrection of the Savior, Peter and other of the apostles were preaching on the day of Pentecost the glorious message of Jesus Christ. When asked by those who heard the preaching “What shall we do?” Peter responded by saying unto them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). Alma, a High Priest whose teachings are contained in the Book of Mormon, taught that Jesus Christ “sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you. Yea, he saith: Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely” (The Book of Mormon, Alma 5:33-34).
While repentance and baptism are the first steps in coming unto Christ, as taught by Peter, a regularly renewing of the covenant made between man and God comes through partaking of the “bread and waters of life.” Partaking of the sacrament is a witness to God that the remembrance of His Son will extend beyond the short time of that sacred ordinance. Part of this ordinance is a promise to remember Him always and a witness of individual willingness to take upon oneself the name of Jesus Christ and to keep His commandments. In partaking of the sacrament and making these commitments, Church members renew the covenant they made at baptism (http://www.lds.org/topics/sacrament).
It is my invitation to all who read this to come and break bread with a congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in your area. Bring the truths you already cherish and see what we might add to your faith in Jesus Christ, our Savior.
If you would like to download the pdf book version, you may do so here.
Author’s note: This was originally posted by me on monographsoffaith.wordpress.com.