BCC Research Collaboration 1: Sacramental Emblems

It seems that one of the sample questions was considered of interest: the variety of emblems employed for the sacrament.

For Christians, the emblems of the Last Supper, traditionally bread (or the host wafer) and wine, have represented the sacred meal of all Christians, labeled the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, the Eucharist, or, within Mormonism, the sacrament. Labeled anthropophagy (ritualized cannibalism) by those who would label such things so strangely, it is simultaneously an act of participating in the nature of God and an establishment of a religious community. In very early Christianity there is some evidence that the Eucharist was celebrated at graves and ultimately as a part of the liturgy proper, where it has remained to the present day.

For Latter-day Saints, the ritual began largely the same as for their Protestant peers, though the actual liturgy (as short as it was), was specified by revelation both old (Moroni 4 & 5) and new(D&C 20: 77-9). Initially, the Lord’s “flesh” and “blood” were represented by the food eaten at the Lord’s farewell meal, “bread” and “the fruit of the vine” (Luke 22: 1-20). Shortly after the founding of the Church (Fall 1830), Joseph Smith reported being met by an angel while attempting to purchase wine. The angel warned him that “you shall not purchase wine neither strong drink of your enemies,” urging a preference for home-made wine but providing the escape clause: “it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament” (D&C 27:2-4) at the same time it promised that Joseph Smith would drink “the fruit of the vine” with the ancient patriarchs. The header in the current scriptures, elliding a rather fraught ellipsis, comments that “Water is now used instead of wine in the sacramental services of the Church.” The transition probably actually took place several decades later, though it certainly was made possible by the revelation, with some scattered evidence that the revelation was interpreted rather broadly.

So, here’s the question for the research collaborative: what other sacramental emblems besides bread, wine, and water are attested in the literature? We would include 19th-, 20th-, and 21st-century emblems, including firsthand accounts from participants within the blogdom. If someone were to happen to have similar information about Protestant or Catholic churches, that would also be of interest.

And remember, if you have a research question to ask, email it to research at by common consent dot com.


  1. FYI, I’ll offer the first, which is the use of “cocoanut milk” by Addison Pratt, in his report back from the Society Islands in the 1850s, reprinted in HC 7:271-2 (from the Millennial Star 6 (1 Aug 1845): 58 according to Gregory Prince 1995, 96).

  2. Julie M. Smith says:

    What about that story of European Saints right after WWII using potato peelings? I believe I read that in Pres. Benson’s biography.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    I think there are wartime stories of using c-rations or MREs, although I don’t have a cite offhand.

    Because we have a tradition of using water instead of wine, we have a tendency to see the principal symbolism as the cup. This seems to free us to use any liquid close to hand in the absence of wine or water. I’m pretty sure there are statements to the effect that it could even be milk if it had to be (but again, I have no cite at hand).

    A little off topic note: When I was in law school at the UoIllinois, our ward sort of had a sports theme. The bishop was the former Athletic Director; a counselor was the sports psychologist; and our ward fundraiser was to work the concession stand at football games. So when we had a talent show, I did a stand-up routine riffing on this sports influence in our ward. I said that instead of bread and water for the sacrament, we should use leftover popcorn and soda from the concession stand. The popcorn is already white and the right size, and it would be more efficient, as we wouldn’t even have to break it. (I went on to suggest that the ushers should wear striped shirts and throw penalty flags at crying children, which seemed to get the biggest laugh.)

  4. FYI, according to Thomas Alexander (Dialogue, and also Mormonism in Transition) the First Presidency and Twelve began substituting water for wine in their temple sacrament service in 1906.

  5. Christopher Smith says:

    This is only tangentially related: Buzz Aldrin took communion on the moon.


  6. One of the scientists that helped prepare the food for the Lunar Missions (including Aldrin’s communion) was Mormon. Eventually an Area Seventy.

    Here is one excerpt from The History of Louisa Barnes Pratt (pg. 143-144):

    6th day Sabbath [September 1851 – Tahiti]. Held three services, Pariata the third, broke bread, procured from the ship Ravaai; generally bread and fruit is used, and cocoanut water instead of wine.

    My favorite sacrament is at the Kirtland School of the Prophets as described by Coltrin:

    The salutation as written in the Doctrine and Covenants [D&C 88:136-141] was carried out at that time, and at every meeting, and the washing of feet was attended to, the sacrament was also administered at times when Joseph appointed, after the ancient order; that is, warm bread to break easy was provided and broken into pieces as large as my fist and each person had a glass of wine and sat and ate the bread and drank the wine; and Joseph said that was the way that Jesus and his disciples partook of the bread and wine. And this was the order of the church anciently and until the church went into darkness. Every time we were called together to attend to any business, we came together in the morning about sunrise, fasting and partook of the sacrament each time, and before going to school we washed ourselves and put on clean linen. (Minutes, Salt Lake City School of the Prophets, October 3, 1883)

    Personally, during my mission in France, we once scraped the cream filling out of vanilla sandwich cookies once and used the sides. I’m also fascinated by the stories of only white bread and cutting off the crust during the sixties in the US.

  7. I would suppose that such permissiveness in what you eat and drink has to be unique to the LDS church. Most Protestant churches in my experience use the standard cracker-like bits and regular grape juice instead of wine. I’ll not talk technicalities here, but the use of sliced bread kind of puzzled me at first. I suppose you use what is readily available, thus the potato peels, because it’s the blessing and prayer that counts.

  8. George Q. Cannon wrote (having served a Mission in Hawaii) in the Juvenile Instructor (Aug. 15, 1897, vol. 32, pg. 530):

    There are times and places where the Lord permits, on account of the condition and surroundings of His people, a slight deviation from established customs. For instance, on some of the small islands of the South Pacific Ocean there is no bread, and all the water is salt, and the fruit of the coconut tree is the chief food of man. If the members of the Church waited to solemnize the ordinance as their brethren do in more favored lands, the native Saints would seldom, if ever, partake of the sacrament. But in these strange conditions the Lord accepts instead of bread and wine, or bread and water, the meat of the coconut as the emblem of the body and its milk as the emblem of the blood of our crucified Lord. This is the best the people there can do; therefore, it is accepted of God; but, if we, with our advantages, inspired by some whim or fanciful notion, were to make such changes, we should expose ourselves to the displeasure of the Lord, because we could present no justification for such a change.

    Any wilful departure from that which the Lord has commanded is dangerous in the extreme. It is by such departures the Church of Christ has in past times left the true path; little by little they went astray. The Lord accepts water as the sacrament instead of wine; when there is no bread, He accepts that which is used in its stead; but the ordinances of God’s house cannot be deviated from.

    A letter from Addison Pratt was included in the Times and Seasons (May 1, 1845, vol. 7, pg. 883):

    On the 5th of August, I administered the sacrament. For wine I substituted cocoanut milk, that was a pure beverage, which never had come to the open air till we broke the nut for that purpose.

  9. Eric Russell says:

    I’ve used dried banana chips because we had no bread when we camping down at Philmont. (1)

    1. Russell, E.R. Comment in post at BCC weblog, Feb 19, 2007.

  10. Not sure why this is happening, but I will try for the third time to post this comment:

    * Crackers: Kenya and German prison camp

    * Ration biscuits: Neal Maxwell, Robert Hillman, L. Tom Perry

    While in Okinawa in 1945, Elder Maxwell wrote: “I had a C-ration biscuit and rainwater for my sacrament. That proves it is not the ingredients, but the Spirit. It was wonderful.”

  11. (hoping for reports of warm cinnamon rolls and milk)

  12. Worcester, England c. 1991:

    is secretly put into some of the sacrament cups by mischievous Teachers.

  13. John Taber says:

    I said that instead of bread and water for the sacrament, we should use leftover popcorn and soda from the concession stand. The popcorn is already white and the right size, and it would be more efficient, as we wouldn’t even have to break it.

    An entry in the Italian LDS-themed cartoon book, Il Mormonello, has a child asking her mother why their branch doesn’t do just that. (Literally, Perche non passano bibitte e pop corn?)

  14. Anecdotes, not authorities:

    From my younger missionary son (we have two right now), talking about an investigator:
    Last Sunday when he came to church he was surprised to see us passing the sacrament, as we had invited him to fast. “I thought that wasn’t allowed.” We explained that the sacrament was the one exception to the fasting rule, and then he said, “I wish God would instead give us all a little piece of chocolate.”

    One summer when I was a kid, I traveled by train to California with my grandparents. We stayed in a beach house for a few days, over a long weekend. That Sunday my grandfather used soda crackers and orange juice for the sacrament. To some it will be relevant that grandpa was Spencer Kimball, and he was an apostle at the time. To me he was just grandpa, and the sacrament just business as usual, until years later when I lived through white bread with the crusts cut off.

    Once when I was an adult and had the opportunity to make it happen, I baked bread and started the sacrament with a full loaf of freshly baked bread to break apart. I liked that, but it would take a longish essay to tease out the added symbolism.

  15. “I wish God would instead give us all a little piece of chocolate.”

    I am sure that if the Americas had been discovered, he probably would have.

  16. Left Field says:

    No warm cinnamon rolls and milk, but I did once use coffee cake at ambient temperature.

  17. Sorry, but will someone please explain the comments about white bread only and removing the bread crusts?

  18. FYI, in the time frame you provided, the Catholic Church has specified unleavened bread made with wheat and no other substance mixed in such that it’s no longer wheat bread. It also should be recently baked to reduce the possibility of corruption. There was a time when Eastern and Western churches used leavened bread, but in general unleavened bread has been the norm.

    Wine must be wine, preferably red.

    (unofficial, but accurate, source: http://www.dioceseofgfb.org/Diocesan_%20Policies/ref_eucharistic_bread.htm )

  19. These are wonderfully useful responses. 17, my memory tells me that for a time there was a preference in some wards (I believe in the Mormon Corridor) to avoid the textures of real bread in favor of just the central portions of Wonder Bread. Some sense that home-baked or textured bread was somehow aesthetically distracting.

  20. I attend church next to a bakery. Uncoincidentally the sacrament bread is always fresh and hearty!

  21. Nay, smb, it is my understanding that the crustless wonderbread was white and pure as the lamb.

  22. Kevin Barney says:

    The use of unleavened bread presumably relates to the possibility that the Last Supper was a Passover Seder (which would have made the original bread unleavened). It’s an open question whether it really was a Seder; my sense is contemporary scholars are maybe 60/40 against it being an actual Seder, but rather just a pre-Passover meal. (This is all complicated by the contradiction between the Synoptics and John on the chronology of those events.)

  23. re 19, When I was a new convert, I was in charge of the sacrament as my first calling, and was asked to only buy plain bread for allergy reasons. I still got the plain wheat bread though, as I can’t stand white bread.

  24. Oh, and for the girl with celiac disease in our ward, she has to have a special cracker which the Priests bless along with the bread every Sunday for her.

  25. Christopher Smith says:

    Many churches have special glutin-free bread available for people with allergies.

  26. I was just thinking about this, and it seem that the transition from wine to water occurred quite late in the nineteenth century. I may be reasonable to assume that during the mid nineteenth century there were more people using coconut milk than water for their sacrament. Perhaps coconut milk played more of a role than the revelation in the move toward water on a practical level?

  27. And what did they do in the US during Prohibiton?

    I’ve used ash cakes several times while camping.

    “In very early Christianity there is some evidence that the Eucharist was celebrated at graves and ultimately as a part of the liturgy proper, where it has remained to the present day.”

    Interesting. Could you please reference this?

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