This is the third post in my short series about the “genealogy” of the LDS sacrament. In the first we looked at Oliver Cowdery’s 1829 Articles of the Church of Christ as the “birth” of the sacrament in the restored church. In the second, we looked at the sacrament prayers that Moroni records as the source for the prayers that Olive Cowdery put in the Articles. In this one, were going to look at the account in 3 Nephi of Jesus’ post-resurrection sacrament meal as the source of Moroni’s prayers.
The Progenitor of the Line: Jesus’ Words in 3 Nephi 18
Oliver Cowdery got the sacrament prayers from Moroni, but where did Moroni get them? I think it is apparent, from a close reading of Jesus’ words in what is now 3 Nephi chapter 18 that the prayers that Moroni recorded almost four centuries later were a liturgy that developed out of those words, similar to the way that the Eucharistic liturgy celebrated by Christian churches in the middle east and in Europe around that same time developed out of the accounts of the last supper in the gospels.
In 3 Nephi 18 Jesus breaks bread, blesses it, and gives it to the disciples. (See vv. 2-4). After they have eaten, he explains that a priest will be ordained, and that he, Jesus, will empower that priest to “break bread and bless it and give it unto the people of my church.” (v. 5). He then commands: “this shall ye always observe to do.” (v. 6). He then explains:
this shall ye do in remembrance of my body, which I have shown unto you. And it shall be a testimony unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you. (3 Nephi 18:7).
He then blesses the wine and gives it to the disciples, and then explains:
Blessed are ye for this thing which ye have done, for this is fulfilling my commandments, and this doth witness unto the Father that ye are willing to do that which I have commanded you. And this shall ye always do to those who repent and are baptized in my name; and ye shall do it in remembrance of my blood, which I have shed for you, that ye may witness unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you. (3 Nephi 18:10-11).
3 Nephi 18 does not give set prayers for the sacrament, but by the time Moroni comes along, four centuries later, the sacrament has developed into a liturgy of set prayers that incorporate all the elements of Jesus’ teachings about the sacrament when he first gave it to the disciples. We can trace nearly every line in Moroni’s liturgy to a line in 3 Nephi 18:
O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, [compare 3 Ne 18:19] to bless and sanctify this bread [compare 3 Ne 18:3, 6] to the souls of all those who partake of it; that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son [compare 3 Ne. 18:7], and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him, [compare 3 Ne 18:7] and keep his commandments which he hath given them [compare 3 Ne 18:10], that they may always have his Spirit to be with them [compare 3 Ne 18:7].
O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee, in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, [compare 3 Ne 18:19] to bless and sanctify this wine [compare 3 Ne 18:3] to the souls of all those who drink of it, that they may do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them [compare 3 Ne 18:11]; that they may witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they do always remember him [compare 3 Ne 18:11], that they may have his Spirit to be with them [compare 3 Ne 18:11].
Given the similarity between Moroni’s liturgy and the words of Jesus in 3 Nephi 18, I think we can identify Jesus’ giving bread and wine to the disciples as the ancestor of Moroni’s liturgy. But the four centuries of sacrament observance between that meal and Moroni are not recorded, and the line between them is unclear. This is where we have to speculate a bit.
Set prayers prescribed by Jesus but not recorded, or set prayers developed by the church?
It is possible, I suppose that after Jesus gave his disciples bread and wine, he then took Nephi aside and gave him the prayers to use, word for word, in the exact same form that Moroni recorded it 400 years later, and that the disciples used that exact same form with no variation for almost 400 years. But if Jesus had done so, it is strange that the disciples didn’t record it, or that Mormon didn’t think it merited inclusion in his record. Given the attention that the narrator pays in 3 Nephi to Jesus’ words, and given that Jesus does prescribe a set prayer for baptism, I think it more likely that Jesus did not give the Nephite disciples set sacrament prayers.
I speculate, instead, that the disciples developed the prayers that Moroni later recorded as an effort to follow, preserve, and give effect to Jesus’ teachings on the sacrament. We can only guess at how that development might have happened.
At one extreme is the possibility that the Nephite disciples wrote the prayers immediately in the wake of Jesus’ visit and set them down in a format that would be binding in all the Nephite congregations, and which survived, unaltered, until Moroni recorded them. That’s what John Welch argues for. (See footnote 3.)
Another possibility, though, is that the prayers were not initially set prayers, but that the priests simply gave an extemporaneous blessing on the bread and wine, and that the prayers were later standardized. There could be any number of reasons for that standardization. Maybe the priests wanted to have set prayers out of a desire to make sure that the sacrament was done right. Maybe some priests added false doctrine to the prayer, or maybe some priests got long-winded and just added too many extraneous things to the prayer, so that church leaders felt the need to regulate and standardize the prayers. Given the lack of a recorded set prayer anywhere in 3 Nephi–not one provided directly by Jesus, and not one composed by the disciples–I think the latter possibility more likely. We also don’t know the extent to which the Nephite disciples or church members were literate, or had access to written records, and if literacy was limited, then putting Jesus teachings’ into a liturgy of set prayers would be an effective way to preserve those teachings and provide access to them to church members.
Next time: but what about the ways in which Moroni’s liturgy is different from Jesus’ words in 3 Nephi?
 I’m taking for granted that the Book of Mormon is an ancient text. So, given that the sacrament prayers come from the Book of Mormon, I’m assuming an early fifth century american origin for the sacrament prayers, rather than look for possible early nineteenth century sources in the eucharistic liturgies of other Christian churches. Mark D. Thomas once wrote an article exploring some similarities between the Nephite Sacrament and eucharistic practices of other christian churches. See Mark D. Thomas, “A Rhetorical Approach to the Book of Mormon:Rediscovering Nephite Sacramental Language,” in New Approaches to the Book of Mormon, Brent L. Metcalfe, ed. (Singature Books 1993) at 53-77. Thomas suggests that the sacrament prayers in Moroni are responsive to eucharistic controversies in nineteenth century American Christianity, but he does not argue outright that they were a nineteenth century creation. He admits that his argument may lead some to that conclusion, but he raises the alternative possibilities that such parallels may be due to the Book’s author or translator writing with a nineteenth century audience in mind, or that the same or similar controversies were also present in an ancient context. But see also Richard Anderson’s highly critical review of Thomas’ article: Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Review of “A Rhetorical Approach to the Book of Mormon: Rediscovering Nephite Sacramental Language” (1993),” FARMS Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6/1 (1994), at 379–417.
 I suppose that an alternative explanation could be that Mormon or Moroni, or perhaps some earlier chronicler arranged Jesus’ teachings in 3 Nephi 18 such a way as to make them match up with the sacrament liturgy that had developed by the time that Nephi’s record was put into the form in which Mormon had it. But for purposes of this discussion I am going to assume that the account of Jesus giving bread and wine to the disciples influenced the liturgy Moroni records, rather than the other way around.
 Welch disagrees with me on this point. He recognizes that Jesus did not use Moroni’s liturgy, but says that we can “confidently assume” that Moroni’s liturgy was settled “at least very soon after the appearance of Jesus in 3 Nephi and quite possibly at the time of Jesus’ appearance itself.” John W. Welch, “From Presence to Practice: Jesus, the Sacrament Prayers, the Priesthood, and Church Discipline in 3 Nephi 18 and Moroni 2–6”, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 5/1 (1996), at 126. But his reasoning for that conclusion seems to be based on the assumption that the sacrament Jesus gave to the Nephites requires set prayers. I don’t see any support for that assumption in 3 Nephi. Welch says that “the record states that Nephites observed the sacrament again with Jesus and that they continued to do so from that time onward (3 Nephi 20:3; 26: 13),” id., but that does not support his conclusion that Moroni’s liturgy was set at that time because there is no reason, aside from the assumption that set prayers are necessary, why they could not have continued to observe the sacrament with extemporaneous prayers. Welch further says that “[t]he fact that they so dutifully recorded, preserved, and used the words of Jesus in general, together with the fact that they were commanded to use specific words in performing the ordinance of baptism (3 Nephi 11 :27), gives considerable assurance that the Nephites began using the sacrament prayers as we know them at a very early time and that they did not change them during the four hundred years between the times of Jesus and Moroni.” Id. But again, the fact that they dutifully preserved his words and were given a set prayer for baptism doesn’t support that conclusion that there was a set prayer for the sacrament; in fact, I think it actually supports the opposite conclusion, because it demonstrates that when Jesus wanted to institute a set a prayer, he said so, and the disciples recorded it. And even though it is plausible, given the textual record, that the disciples set the prayers at an early stage, certainly none of this demonstrates that the liturgy remained completely unchanged “during the four hundred years between the times of Jesus and Moroni.” Id. It is natural for rituals and patterns of worship to evolve, and I see no reason why this would have been an exception–particularly given that Jesus did not prescribe a set prayer.