The Sacrament: a (somewhat speculative) liturgical genealogy.

I’m going to write a series of posts that trace the Book of Mormon origins of the ritual we call the sacrament.

I’m calling this a “genealogy” in  sense similar to the sense that Princeton describes its “lives of great religious books” series as “biographies” of the “lives” of religious texts.

A “biography” of the sacrament would be a liturgical history of how the church has performed and adapted the ritual since its “birth” in the 1829 Articles of the Church of Christ. It would include things like the August 1830 revelation permitting the use of water in place of wine, the history of church-owned vineyards for producing sacramental wine, the use of wine up to the early 20th century, the history of the relief society taking charge to bake sacramental bread, the practice of praying the sacrament prayers with uplifted hands, the shift from adult men administering the prayers to teenage priests, the development of a tradition of teachers and deacons preparing and passing the sacrament, the strange practice that arose in some place in the mid-20th century of only using white bread, and of cutting off crusts, and countless other facets of how we observe the sacrament.

All that it interesting but beyond my knowledge, and too much for a blog post. Here I’m going to do something a little different. Rather than examine the “life” of the sacrament, I’m going to tease out its “ancestors”: the things that preceded it and gave rise to it. But like with real life genealogy, some of those ancestors are fairly well documented, while others, especially as you go further back, are a bit more blurry. Eventually genealogy becomes family lore, and family lore ties into mythology. To trace the line, you may have to speculate a bit.

The Birth of the Sacrament in the Restored Church: the Articles and Covenants of the Church.

The document that set the prayers that we use for the sacrament in the restored church was the “Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ,” which was accepted by the church in June 1830 and is now canonized in its current form as section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants. The predecessor of the Articles and Covenants was called the “Articles of the Church of Christ,” and was compiled by Oliver Cowdery in 1829.

The 1829 Articles was the work of Oliver Cowdery, while Joseph Smith appears to have been primarily responsible for the 1830 Articles and Covenants. Joseph Smith may have begun working on the 1830 Articles and Covenants as early as the summer of 1829, and the two of them may have worked on it together. The relationship between the 1830 Articles and Covenants and the 1829 Articles up to some debate. Some writers have characterized Oliver Cowdery’s 1829 Articles as an early draft of the 1830 Articles and Covenants. (I think Steve Robinson says this in his Doctrine and Covenants commentary.) Scott Faulring has taken exception to that characterization and has argued that it was instead an independent provisional document that served to guide the worship of Book of Mormon believers before the church was formally organized, and which was superseded by the 1830 Articles and Covenants. See Scott H. Faulring, “An Examination of the 1829 ‘Articles of the Church of Christ’ in Relation to Section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants,” 43(4) BYU Studies Quarterly 57 (2004). The Joseph Smith Papers seems to endorse this view. See Historical Introduction, “Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ,” Joseph Smith Papers. I’m not entirely convinced that the the difference isn’t more semantic than substantive, but either way, substantial portions of the 1830 Articles and Covenants are identical to the 1829 Articles.

In particular, while the 1830 Articles and Covenants is far more expansive than the 1829 Articles, it follows the 1829 Articles in taking liturgical forms from the Book of Mormon.  In fact, some early copies of the 1830 Articles and Covenants just referred to the Book of Mormon instead of copying out the prayers as section 20 does now. Because the 1830 Articles and Covenants followed the 1829 Articles in going to the same source for the sacrament prayers, I think its reasonable to consider Oliver Cowdery’s use of the sacrament prayers from Moroni in the 1829 Articles to be the “birth” of the sacrament as that ordinance is now set forth in section 20.

Next post: Why did Oliver Cowdery use Moroni’s liturgy?

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