Frequency of the Sacrament

I mentioned in my previous post that the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper has been on my mind lately. One reason is that I recently had a friend ask me a couple of questions he was having trouble finding answers to. One of these questions was: “If you go to two wards do you take sacrament twice?” It brought to mind one Sunday as a teenager where I was in a group of young men who performed a music number in three different sacrament meetings and then went and helped with a sacrament meeting in an assisted living home. Some of us partook of the sacrament four times that day. Some only took it only once. Which is right? After spending considerable time searching, I found no unambiguous answer to the question, but the evidence does lead me to think that it is fine to take the sacrament multiple times on a Sunday if you put the full effort into it each time.

The scriptures are somewhat vague on how often we can or should take the sacrament. In speaking of frequency, the New Testament only has phrase like “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 shew the Lord’s death till he comes” (1 Cor. 11:25-26). The focus seems to be more on the purpose of the sacrament rather than the frequency of repetition. The Book of Mormon indicates that it should be done frequently, with phrases like “this shall ye always observe to do” (3 Nephi 18:6) and the fact that Jesus “did show himself unto them oft, and did break bread oft, and bless it, and give it unto them” (3 Nephi 26:13, see also Moroni 6:6). It is significant that during Jesus’s visit to the Nephites, he observed the sacrament two days in a row (3 Nephi 18 and 3 Nephi 20). This indicates that he was fine with partaking of the sacrament multiple times in a week. The Doctrine and Covenants has similar instructions to the Book of Mormon, stating that: “it is expedient that the church meet together often to partake of bread and wine in the remembrance of the Lord Jesus” (D&C 20:75, see also D&C 59:9). The only limit on the sacrament I found in the scriptures is that those who are unworthy shouldn’t partake.[1] Hence, the main instruction I could find in the scriptures is that the sacrament is to be observed often.

Historically, how frequently Christians participate in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper has varied. In the early Orthodox church, the Eucharistic bread and wine were generally thought of as becoming or containing the body and blood of Christ. In the Greek-speaking east (the areas that became the Eastern Orthodox communion), such a measure of awe was attached to this idea that Christians concluded that it was enough for worshipers to be present at the Eucharist without receiving the bread and wine. As a result, laypeople only partook of the Eucharist rarely—sometimes only once a year.[2] In response to a movement known as the Kollyvades, which advocated frequent—if possible, daily—observance of the sacrament, an Orthodox council was held at Constantinople in 1819. This council affirmed their position: the faithful, if properly prepared, could receive the sacrament at every celebration of the Eucharist.[3] Still, it is common for the Orthodox to receive the sacrament only two or three times a year.

Within a few centuries of laity partaking of the sacrament less frequently in the east, it also became standard to receive the Eucharist on an infrequent basis in the Latin west (what eventually became the Roman Catholic communion).[4] This infrequency of Catholics partaking of the Eucharist was one issue attacked during the Protestant Reformation. The earliest proto-Protestant group to threaten breaking from Rome (a Bohemian group known as the ‘Hussite’ movement) insisted on regular communion for laity, including infants.[5] Later on, Martin Luther, though refusing to set a specific frequency, insisted that anyone participating fewer than “three or four times a year despises the sacrament and is no Christian.”[6] John Calvin believed in having the ordinance in “frequent use,” even as often as once a week.[7] This weekly pattern was followed in some reformed churches. Today, however, it is most common for Protestant churches to observe the sacrament on a monthly or quarterly basis.[8]

In the early days of the Latter Day Saint movement, the sacrament was observed less often than it is in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today. Generally, it seems that Latter-day Saints observed the ordinance with similar frequencies to the Protestant churches they had converted from. It wasn’t until December of 1845 that President Brigham Young suggested that the Quorum of the Twelve should meet each Sabbath Day to partake of the Sacrament and the following October in Winter Quarters that he indicated that “it is wisdom” for all Latter-day Saints “to rest on the Sabbath and partake of the Sacrament.”[9] After settling in Utah, however, sacrament observance continued to be relatively infrequent, especially in larger settlements. By the end of the 19th century, however, it became standard to partake of the sacrament in ward chapels on a weekly basis, as is the case today.[10] Thus, in the early days of the Restoration, it was an uphill battle to have members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints partake of the sacrament weekly.

From the late 19th century until the late 20th century, Latter-day Saints did have the opportunity to partake of the sacrament at least two times on Sundays as part of their weekly meetings. Sunday School was initially organized in the 1860s, with a focus on teaching children. By the 20th century, youth and adult classes were included as well. President Brigham Young noted in the 1870s that, “In some of our Wards and settlements the administering of the Sacrament has been introduced in the Sunday schools.” This, he stated, “is very pleasing and gratifying to the spirit that I possess” in order that children could “receive the proper instructions with regard to their faith.”[11] As classes for adult members were added, the practice of observing the sacrament in Sunday School meetings continued. Sacrament hymns were even included in the Sunday School songbooks beginning in 1909. The sacrament was practiced as a part of the worship service in Sunday School meetings until 1980, when Latter-day Saint meetings were compressed into a three-hour, back-to-back meeting schedule. Because of the reduced time in meetings, the Sunday School worship service was discontinued, including the sacrament.[12] This means that the practice of partaking of the sacrament multiple times each Sunday was something common in the modern Church up until relatively recently.

Finally, in looking at the question of how frequently someone can partake of the sacrament, it is important to review the purpose of the sacrament. At the heart of virtually every scriptural discussion of the sacrament is the idea that we remember Jesus Christ, particularly his death and sacrifice made in the Atonement. Other reasons include looking forward to the Christ’s Second Coming and making or renewing covenants with God. As we partake of the sacrament worthily and keep the covenants made during the ordinance, we are promised the companionship of the Holy Ghost. When we prepare ourselves and approach the sacrament with these purposes in mind, it can be, in the words of President Howard W. Hunter, a time “of self-examination, introspection, self-discernment—a time to reflect and to resolve.”[13] In other words, if approached properly, the sacrament is an intense time of spiritual renewal.

When considering these as the purposes for the sacrament, I see very little reason why it would be improper to partake of the sacrament multiple times on the same Sunday. It is fine to remember Jesus more than one time in a day. It is fine to look forwards to the Second Coming more than once a day. It is fine to have the Holy Ghost with us more than once in a day. Witnessing that we remember Christ, take his name upon us, and follow his commandments multiple times in a day is also fine. All around, I see no reason intrinsic to the ordinance for setting limits on how often you can participate in it.

I do acknowledge, however, that when you are participating in the ordinance, it is important to make sure that you really are taking it seriously. There is also something to be said about the law of diminishing returns, meaning that the more often you partake of the sacrament, the easier it is to become complacent. This, in my understanding, would be the main argument against partaking of the sacrament multiple times on the same Sunday. It’s similar to the reasoning for calling the higher priesthood the Melchizedek Priesthood instead of the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God: “too frequent repetition of his name” may lead to less “respect or reverence to the name of the Supreme Being” (D&C 107:3-4).  Limiting yourself to the sacrament once a week may be seen as a way to increase or maintain reverence for the sacrament.

What I get out of looking at all this information is that Latter-day Saints who are properly prepared can receive the sacrament every time they attend a sacrament meeting. The scriptures indicate that it should be done frequently, and the only time Saints are prohibited from the sacrament by the scriptures is when they are unworthy. Throughout much of the 20th century, it was common practice in the Church to partake of the sacrament two times each Sunday—once in Sunday School and once in sacrament meetings. Finally, the purposes given for the ordinance are ones that do not cause problems by repeating the sacrament multiple times in a day. The main exception is if performing the ordinance multiple times in a day results in a greatly diminished engagement with the sacrament. Thus, while there is no unambiguous answer from the Church’s website or published materials that I could find, I feel like it’s fine to partake of the sacrament multiple times if you attend multiple sacrament meetings on the same Sunday and are worthy.

 

[1] 1 Cor. 11:27-29, see also Mormon 9:29; D&C 46:4 and Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: John Taylor (SLC: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2001), 113.

[2] See MacCulloch, Diarmaid. Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (pp. 432-433). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[3] Ware, Timothy. The Orthodox Church (p. 96). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition. See also https://nftu.net/the-patriarchal-sigillion-of-1819-under-st-gregory-v-of-constantinople-on-frequent-communion-with-confession/.

[4] See MacCulloch, Diarmaid. Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (pp. 432-433). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[5] See MacCulloch, Diarmaid. Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (pp. 571-572). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition

[6] Martin Luther, The Small Catechism, 22, in Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan and Valerie Hotchkiss (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 2:33.

[7] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2008), IV.xvii.44, 46, pp. 929-30.

[8] See Terryl L. Givens, Feeding the Flock: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Church and Praxis (Oxford University Press, 2017), 202.

[9] The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young: Volume 1, 1832 to 1852 (Kindle Locations 3842-3843, 5599-5600). The Smith-Pettit Foundation. Kindle Edition.

[10] See Givens, Feeding the Flock, 202.

[11] Brigham Young and John A. Widtsoe (ed.), Discourses of Brigham Young (SLC: Deseret Book Co., 1941), 173; see also Journal of Discourses 19:92.

[12] “Church Consolidates Meeting Schedule,” Ensign, March 1980, https://www.lds.org/ensign/1980/03/news-of-the-church/church-consolidates-meeting-schedules?lang=eng

[13] Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter (SLC: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2015), 204.

3 comments for “Frequency of the Sacrament

  1. queuno
    June 18, 2019 at 8:40 am

    My son and I went to a mission farewell in a different ward immediately after our own block, and we took the sacrament twice. Our perspective was that we were just participating in the same covenant/ordinance twice. Also … given that we knew so many people in that other ward, it might have looked weird if we had let it pass by. (Appearances still kind of matter…)

  2. Mark B.
    June 18, 2019 at 11:32 am

    Speaking of appearances, on occasion I have attended more than one sacrament meeting on the same day and, because of my calling in stake or district leadership, presided at all of them. It would have looked odd, and caused serious confusion to the deacon passing the sacrament on the stand, if I had declined to take the sacrament at the second or third meeting I attended that day.

  3. Sheldon Miller
    June 19, 2019 at 3:30 pm

    Before the institution of the block schedule, we all partook of the sacrament twice each Sunday, in Sunday School and in Sacrament meeting.

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