The Sacrament, Part 3: Bread and Water

This post is the third part of a multi-part series on the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. A question asked by a friend of mine was: “If you miss the bread do you take the water? … Obviously the best answer for the first is to make sure to take both but what is proper procedure?” I think many of us have been in this situation before. Perhaps you were on a trip and arrived at a sacrament meeting just as they’re blessing the water. Perhaps you have small children and one week, by the time they’re all corralled into the church, you’ve missed the bread. Perhaps you just planned poorly and walk in as the deacons are bringing the water into the foyer. You know that it would have been better if you could have been there earlier, but that doesn’t help you know what to do at that exact moment. Do you take the water? Do you ask that they bring the bread out to you before you take the water? Or do you just let it pass and try again next time?

The short answer, after doing a bit of research, is that it depends on how your view the ordinance. Ultimately, it is a personal decision. That seems vague, but there is a lot of evidence and arguments that can be used either way. Both sides can summon scriptures and the words of prophets in support of their point of view, though there is, perhaps, a little bit more support for the first option. In this post, I’ll be arguing in favor of needing both the bread and water every time. In the next post, I’ll discuss only partaking of the water. Going into this discussion, let’s review a bit of relevant history.

The New Testament accounts of the sacrament being instituted include both the bread and wine being served in short succession, with similar statements attending each. For example, the earliest account has Jesus breaking bread, then stating: “Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24). Then, “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” (1 Cor. 11:25). All New Testament accounts of the Last Supper include both tokens (bread and wine).

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Bread and water. Image courtesy LDS.org

Interestingly, the order of the bread or water varies, depending on the account. Paul, Mark, and Matthew all have the bread before the wine. Luke, on the other hand, reverses the order: wine before bread. This is similar to one of the earliest Christian documents to discuss the sacrament (a document known as the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles or Didache), which indicates that when the Eucharist is performed, wine is to be blessed and distributed before bread.[1] Further complicating things, the book of Acts only references the ordinance as “breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42, see also Acts 20:7) without even mentioning wine. Thus, the New Testament can be interpreted that the bread and water portions of the sacrament are both important, but is a bit unclear about the exact order in which they need to be performed.

There has also been some variation in how the ordinance is performed among Christian churches over the years. The Eastern Orthodox church has consistently used both bread and wine, viewing the sacrament as incomplete without both. In the Roman Catholic church, however, it gradually became common practice to use only bread. This was because it was thought that Christ is equally present in each species (bread or wine) and nothing is lacking if only one is partaken. Thus, from early middle ages onward, it became very rare for Christians in western Europe to use wine in their observances of the Eucharist. In fifteenth century Bohemia, however, the leaders of a proto-Protestant group known as the Hussites began teaching that both the consecrated bread and wine are necessary for salvation and started offering both in the Eucharists. Later Protestant reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli also challenged use of only bread.[2] As a result of this focus on the restoration of “both kinds” among Protestant reformers, almost all Protestant churches practice Communion with both bread and wine.

In the early days of the Restoration, use of both bread and wine in the sacrament was standard. The Book of Mormon teaches that when the resurrected Christ visited the Nephites, he instituted the sacrament, telling his disciples to bring bread and wine. The bread was broken and blessed first, and Jesus explained that it symbolized his body. The wine was then blessed and distributed. After each kind was distributed, he stated that: “This shall ye always observe to do, even as I have done” (3 Nephi 18:6, see also 3 Nephi 18:11). The revelations of Joseph Smith generally also refer to the bread and wine together, reinforcing the notion that both are to be used.[3] This was the pattern followed whenever the sacrament happened in the early Church, sometimes in quantities comparable to a full meal. Thus, it is standard in our Church, like most Christians other than the Roman Catholics, to use both the bread and wine or water.

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Both bread and water are used in Latter-day Saint services. Image courtesy of LDS.org. 

That being stated, what arguments can be used to discuss the situation of arriving after the bread has been served but before the water? The foremost argument is that it is a matter of obedience. This was the approach taken in the closest thing to a direct stance on the issue that I could find on LDS.org. The discussion in question was written by a local bishop (E. Kent Pulsipher) and published in a youth magazine (The Friend or Liahona), so it does not carry much weight or authority as an official statement by the Church. The question Bishop Pulsipher was answering was also slightly different (is there some particular significance in the order of bread and water?). Despite that, his response is important to note and discuss here.

After discussing the sacred nature of the sacrament, Pulsipher turned to 3 Nephi 18, where Jesus institutes the sacrament among the Nephites. He stated that this chapter shows the procedure for the ordinance, then noted that: “Though emphasis is placed on the renewing of our souls and covenant making, the order and procedure as outlined by the Lord should be followed.” He then turned to Doctrine and Covenants section 20, stating that “the perfect order of the ordinance is emphasized by the Prophet Joseph Smith” in placing the wording and order of the sacrament prayers the way he did. In addition, “perhaps the slight difference in wording between the two prayers suggests a progressive commitment,” from willingness to doing.[4] Thus, at the core, Bishop Pulsipher’s argument is that the bread and water should be administered in that order because the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants do it in that order. Applying this to our discussion, it means that the sacrament should include both the bread and wine because the scriptures teach that it should include both.

To further this argument, it must be established that the ordinance needs to be done according to a strict procedure to benefit from it. As Bishop Pulsipher mentioned, there is a “perfect order of the ordinance” based on Moroni and Doctrine and Covenants 20 that is required to be followed. The fact that the sacrament prayers have strict wording strongly indicates that a specific procedure must be followed when participating in the ordinance for it to be acceptable. Further, President Brigham Young once stated the following about the sacrament: “In what consists the benefit we derive from this ordinance? It is in obeying the commands of the Lord. When we obey the commandments of our Heavenly Father, if we have a correct understanding of the ordinances of the house of God, we receive all the promises attached to the obedience rendered to his commandments.”[5] Thus, to President Young, obedience and understanding are the basis of receiving blessings from the sacrament.

President Joseph Fielding Smith elaborated on the necessity of obedience when he discussed the sacrament prayers He noted that “there are four very important things we covenant to do each time we partake of these emblems, and in partaking, there is the token that we subscribe fully to the obligations, and thus they become binding upon us.” The four covenants he had in mind were as follows: 1) Eat bread to promise that we remember of the dying body of Christ. 2) Drink to promise that we remember the blood of Christ that was shed for our salvation. 3) Covenant to take upon us the name of the Son and always remember Him. 4) Covenant to keep all His commandments. Then he stated that “if we will do these things then we are promised the continual guidance of the Holy Ghost, and if we will not do these things we will not have that guidance.”[6] The full sacrament (involving both the bread and water) is where we make those covenants, and the covenants must be agreed to and observed in order to have the promised blessing of the Holy Ghost in our lives.

Continuing this argument is the belief that the sacrament and its covenants must be made frequently. President Joseph Fielding Smith taught that, “this covenant we are called upon to renew each week, and we cannot retain the Spirit of the Lord if we do not consistently comply with this commandment.”[7] The person who does not do this on a regular basis “is not loyal to the truth. He does not love it. If he did, he would be present to partake of these emblems… to show his love for the truth and his loyal service to the Son of God.”[8] Frequency in the ordinance is necessary: “We have been called upon to commemorate this great event [the Atonement of Jesus Christ] and to keep it in mind constantly. For this purpose we are called to together once each week to partake of these emblems.”[9] Thus, not only must the covenants be made through partaking both the tokens of bread and water, but they must be renewed on a regular basis to keep them fresh and in our minds as we work out our salvation.

Since the purpose of the sacrament is to remember the Atonement and make or renew sacred covenants, preparation is necessary to truly benefit from the ordinance. As Elder Vaughan J. Featherstone taught: “Simply eating the bread and drinking the water will not bring that forgiveness. We must prepare and then partake with a broken heart and contrite spirit. The spiritual preparation we make to partake of the sacrament is essential to receiving a remission of our sins.”[10] For this reason, Church leaders also suggest that we arrive before the meeting even starts to mentally prepare for the sacrament. [11] Not only do we need to partake of the full ordinance on a regular basis, but we must really make a conscious effort to prepare for the sacrament prior to partaking of it to reap the benefits of participating.

Thus, the main arguments in favor of needing to partake of both the bread and water is that it is necessary to follow the full procedure frequently to benefit from the sacrament. According to this side of the argument, if you arrive just as the water is being passed, you should either ask for the bread or just try again next time you attend sacrament meeting. This is the approach that seems to be more in line with what I can find from the teachings of the general authorities. In my next post, however, I will be arguing the other side of the issue—that it is permissible to take only the water when the sacrament is being passed.

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Byzantine icon of the Last Supper

[1] Didache, Hoole translation, 9:3-4, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/didache-hoole.html.

[2] John Calvin, for example, wrote that: “For Christ not only gave the cup, but appointed that the apostles should do so in future. For his words contain the command, ‘Drink ye all of it.’ And Paul relates, that it was so done, and recommends it as a fixed institution. (Institutes of the Christian Religion, a New Translation, by Henry Beveridge, Esq, Book IV (Chapter 17, Section 48)”http://www.reformed.org. The Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics (CRTA). Retrieved 21 February 2015.)

[3] See D&C 20:40 and D&C 27:2.

[4] E. Kent Pulsipher, “Questions and Answers: Is there some particular significance in the order of bread and water in the sacrament?”, Liahona Oct. 1985, https://www.lds.org/liahona/1985/10/questions-and-answers/is-there-some-particular-significance-in-the-order-of-bread-and-water-in-the-sacrament?lang=eng

[5] Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1997), 151.

[6] Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith (SLC: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2013), 100.

[7] Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, 96-97.

[8] Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, 96.

[9] Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, 96.

[10] https://www.lds.org/ensign/2001/09/sacrament-meeting-and-the-sacrament?lang=eng&_r=1

[11] Russell M. Nelson, “Worshiping at Sacrament Meeting,” Ensign August 2004, https://www.lds.org/ensign/2004/08/worshiping-at-sacrament-meeting?lang=eng&_r=1; Dallin H. Oaks, “Sacrament Meeting and the Sacrament,” CR October 2008, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2008/10/sacrament-meeting-and-the-sacrament?lang=eng; Peter F. Meurs, “The Sacrament Can Help Us Become Holy,” CR October 2016, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2016/10/the-sacrament-can-help-us-become-holy?lang=eng

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One comment

  1. […] In my last post, I discussed an argument in favor of needing to partake of both the bread and water during a sacrament service as opposed to only partaking of the water. This post is essentially a continuation of that same discussion, this time discussing arguments in favor of partaking only the water, so I recommend reviewing the first part of the discussion before proceeding on. […]

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