New Handbook: Evolution of Church Liturgy and Authority

Who performs rituals in our liturgy, and what authority they invoke is at the heart, not only of our lived religion, but integral in the construction of our cosmos. It is part of how we structure the worlds in which we live. It has also been a perennial interest for me. Today, a new handbook of instructions was released, with a number of changes. Besides a throwback to the JFS-era idea of taking the sacrament with your right hand (perhaps I’ll do a follow-up post on that idea), there is an important change in the instruction on home dedication.

Historically grave dedication was a ritual that any church member could perform. Then, in the 1940s it became “an ordinance of the church,” requiring priesthood authority to perform it. On p. 98 of Power of Godliness I use that antecedent to contextualize shifts in home dedication practice:

Though grave dedication emerged after home dedication among Latter-day Saints, it became an “ordinance of the church” first. While a common practice among Mormons, home dedication was absent from church handbooks for virtually all of the twentieth century. It was not until 1983 that the General Handbook included any instruction on the ritual. [n79] In 1998 the section on home dedication was updated to read: “Church members may dedicate their homes as sacred edifices where the Holy Spirit can reside and where family members can worship, find safety from the world, grow spiritually, and prepare for eternal family relationships . . . . To dedicate a home, a family might gather and offer a prayer that includes the elements mentioned above and other words as the Spirit directs.” [n80]

Similar to the beginnings of grave dedication, home dedication was not initially a ritual confined to the priesthood ecclesiology. Often men who held the priesthood performed the ritual, and in fact, many Latter-day Saints believed that the ritual performance required priesthood office, [n81] but any church member was authorized to dedicate the home. In 2010 the General Handbook was updated with the addition of the following text: “A Melchizedek Priesthood holder may dedicate a home by the power of the priesthood. If there is not a Melchizedek Priesthood holder in the home, a family might invite a close relative, a home teacher, or another Melchizedek Priesthood holder to dedicate the home. Or a family might gather and offer a prayer.” [n82] It is clear from this text that dedication by the “power of the priesthood” is implicitly superior to a prayer by a non–priesthood holder. Moreover, following the developmental pattern of the grave dedication ordinance, the recommendation of such an exercise of priesthood authority may very well be the introduction and formalization of a new official ordinance of the church.

Back in 2011, I wrote a post that touched on some of these ideas in a preliminary way. I noted that it is interesting to be an observer of historical changes as they happen. “I have often thought, ‘I wonder what people thought about x, y or z, when a, b, or c letter came out.’ Well, I now know for at least one future bit of history. If home dedication is to follow the pattern set by the balance of Latter-day Saint liturgy, then the last sentence of the 2010 instruction will likely be removed in the next edition.”

And so it is with the new 2020 edition of the Handbook: “A home is dedicated by a Melchizedek Priesthood holder.” Full stop. It appears that home dedication in now an ordinance of the church, requiring Melchizedek Priesthood office.

[UPDATE:] Per the discussion in the comments below, I’m going to make a clarification. The 2010 Handbook introduced the idea that a home dedication “may” be performed by a priesthood holder, who invokes priesthood authority during the ritual. Whereas other rituals included a formal pattern to follow including invoking priesthood authority, home dedication did not include any formal instruction (consistent with previous handbooks), and came after the other formal rituals in the section. This text indicated three possible ways of dedicating the home (see previous handbooks for comparison), these were a priesthood holder who lives there, a family friend or relative who is a priesthood holder, or a family prayer.

The instructions for home dedication in the 2020 handbook, by contrast, no longer come at the end, but are included before grave dedication. Moreover, the directions include an example text indicating that a “Melchizedek Priesthood holder” “2. States that he is acting by the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood.” As indicated above, the introduction of this ritual declares that “A home is dedicated by a Melchizedek Priesthood holder.”

Now the 2020 handbook still has possibilities for homes where no priesthood holder lives to either ask priesthood holding friends and family, or have a family prayer. My argument is that with shifted definitions, formalized priesthood procedure, and placement changes, we have witnessed a transformation of home dedication into an “ordinance of the church.” In 1998 no priesthood indicated. In 2010 priesthood may be invoked. In 2020 priesthood is invoked. I would argue that the possibility of a family prayer in the context of 2020 is consequently categorically different (though still important to the liturgical history–it shows continuity).

For context, here is the entirety of the 1998 text:

Dedicating Homes
Church members may dedicate their homes as sacred edifices where the Holy Spirit can reside and where family members can worship, find safety from the world, grow spiritually, and prepare for eternal family relationships. Homes need not be free of debt to be dedicated. Unlike Church buildings, homes are not consecrated to the Lord.

To dedicate a home, a family might gather and offer a prayer that includes the elements mentioned above and other words as the Spirit directs.

Comments

  1. And here I thought the trend-line suggested including and expanding opportunities for women wherever possible. (For a contemporaneous reaction. This does seem counter-cyclical.)

  2. As a practical matter, how many people actually dedicate their homes? Perhaps it is something discussed occasionally in priesthood meetings, but I can’t recall the topic ever arising in any meeting whatsoever of which I was a part.

  3. I dedicated my home. I’m a woman. Why on earth would I contact out my ability to call God into my family’s space to anyone else?

  4. nobody, really says:

    Ardis, I’ve known at least a dozen people who made a big deal about dedicating their homes, apartments, condos, and even a houseboat on Lake Powell. But, of all of them, they have been the same sort of people who insist on their children adhering to the BYU Honor Code starting in kindergarten, or would drive home to fetch a T-shirt when they perceive a young woman at an activity isn’t dressed according to Celestial Standards (TM).

  5. Interesting. In a home dedication as a Church ordinance, “a Melchizedek priesthood holder … [d]edicates the home as a sacred place where the Holy Spirit can reside…” (All else is optional or forbidden.) I would have thought that a home is “a sacred place where the Holy Spirit can reside” to the extent its occupants’ desires, thoughts, prayers, and behavior make it one. Does a Church-sanctioned dedication override contrary desires, thoughts, prayers and behavior? Are those things ineffective to invite the spirit in the absence of a Church-sanctioned dedication? Did anybody think this through?

  6. The implication that women are never ever fully human, able to perform even the non-ecclesiastical functions of church membership is just so painful. And so unnecessary.

  7. I think the “priesthood upgrade” of this ritual may have been influenced by the new “Home Centered-Church Supported” approach.

  8. The narrative I grew up with, long long ago, was that dedicating a home was desirable but not required and not an ordinance, and that it usually came after paying off the mortgage so the house could be considered owned outright. Then there was speculation that the no-liens expectation led to disuse, and the practice faded.

    Nothing official in any of that. Just the folk religion I grew up in.

  9. One more thing women are excluded from.

  10. Christian, that is right. It was essentially a folk ritual in the church until the 1980s, when the formalization process began.

  11. In the brand new video from the church (not going to link because don’t want to get caught in the spam snare) where Church leaders discuss the handbook, Elder Perkins talks about priesthood power and how everyone in the church with callings have “delegated authority” and that it’s important to understand that. Sister Aburto adds that “We think this is so important for members to understand, both men and women, that God is giving us his power so we can go and do the things that He has asked us to do. He has also delgated authority on us. So we can receive revelation so we can have His help and His guidance every step of the way.”

    Delegated authority. Women and children can have authority if it’s delegated.

    Of course the unspoken thing is that delgeators are all men. Always men.

    So if it’s delgated authority is it true authority?

  12. Why can’t the church ever be ahead of the curve on things like this? What can’t our policy ever be expansive and surprise us with its generosity? Dedicating a home, which should be an intimate family thing morphs into something that requires an active MP-holding father, with other options being second class. It isn’t a “saving ordinance” and we now believe that women hold the priesthood in some sort of “they have it, have always had it, will continue to have it, but can’t actually use it” way. Would it be that bad, would it hurt that much, if we had a policy that said something like:

    “Calling on God to bless a new home or place of residence is a family-centered occasion with both parents taking the lead?”

    Such wording would further exclude those who aren’t in a nuclear family… so how about something like this:

    “Blessing a home or residence is a good opportunity to show gratitude for God’s blessings, and a time to dedicate ourselves to God. This blessing can be performed with the carefull planning and at the wishes of those living in the residence.”

    Would it kill us?

  13. I have been hearing for the past six months that, as someone who has been to the temple and goes there at least semi-regularly, I exercise priesthood power and, when set apart to a calling, priesthood authority.

    Apparently not?

  14. My father and his father dedicated their homes in the 40s and 50s. Perhaps the change in the 80s handbook was included because the Church needed direction. There is a tendency for members from different regions to conduct ceremonies in different manners. The Church is one of order. The current handbook is now clarifying that dedicating a home to the Lord needs to be considered a sacred and formal experience and act and just like other nonsaving ordinances they are important for comfort, guidance, and encouragement, as noted in lds.org. Perhaps this change is to remind us how important the home should be when it is invaded by TV, gaming, and other distractions. How does this change in guidance change the fact that women can still pray and make their home a christ centered home. If you want an ordinance, the priesthood is required. That dedicating a home has been changed to a ordinance by definition does not change the fact that dedicating a home is open to everyone who wishes it.

  15. it's a series of tubes says:

    Odd that in the same linked section on the sacrament, it both discourages meaningless formality:
    “The passing of the sacrament should be natural and not overly formal. For example, certain actions (such as holding the left hand behind the back) or appearances (such as dressing alike) should not be required.”
    (18.9.3)

    and suggests meaningless formality:
    “Members partake with their right hand when possible.”
    (18.9.4)

    I guess it’s not so odd given that both are focusing on the thick of thin things where scriptural guidance is nonexistent.

  16. Not to thread jack but please yes a post on taking the sacrament with the right hand. What on earth is the basis for this? Seems rooted in old stereotypes about left-handedness (which are still true in some developing countries–I spent a summer in West Africa and learned that they still forced left-handed people to learn to use their right hand). So weird to see something that I thought had been debunked make its way into the handbook.

    As for the rest, agree … no one of church leadership needs or has the right to delegate to me or anyone else the power that I can exercise in the walls of my own home. No thanks. Stay out.

  17. 18.15.1 reads “A home is dedicated by a Melchizedek Priesthood holder. If there is not a Melchizedek Priesthood holder in the home:
    A family may invite a close friend, relative, or ministering brother who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood to dedicate the home. The person does not need to seek approval from a priesthood leader.”

    What am I missing that is significantly different?

    A family might gather and offer a prayer as guided by the Spirit. The prayer could include the elements mentioned in 18.15.2, number 3.

  18. Seriously, it’s things like this that make me wonder if I should leave the Church. I’m just getting so tired of the dogged patriarchy. I’ve had enough authoritarian men in my life, thanks.

  19. Somehow my comment got inserted into the quoted language. This is why you should not post from a phone.
    Corrected:

    “A home is dedicated by a Melchizedek Priesthood holder. If there is not a Melchizedek Priesthood holder in the home:
    A family may invite a close friend, relative, or ministering brother who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood to dedicate the home. The person does not need to seek approval from a priesthood leader.
    A family might gather and offer a prayer as guided by the Spirit. The prayer could include the elements mentioned in 18.15.2, number 3.”

    How is this different in any meaningful way? Am I missing something?

  20. Ken, that would make sense. The earliest home dedications I have been able to document are in the 1860s (grave dedication appears to arise in the 1870s). They were similar to dedicating/consecrating/releasing the dying on their deathbed (began in the 1840s), in that they all began as folk rituals. The first two were formalized, but the last was not. They certainly serve important purposes for the Saints.

  21. As an active member who implements strictly the church’s guidelines for church functions even when I disagree, I view the church’s instructions regarding family religious observation and ordinances as mere guidance. The presiding authority in my home is not the Bishop or even President Nelson, it is my wife and me as co-presiders. Just as I can make a recommended policy for the ward or church at large, but the brethren will make the final decision, the church is welcome to provide guidance to my wife and me regarding home dedication, children’s blessings, FHE frequency and content, and many other aspects of religious life, but the final decision lies with the key-holders (again, my wife and me).

    I’m also curious about the “right-hand sacrament” policy. I’d thought that idea was dying out. I simply don’t see the basis. As anyone who’s been the temple can attest, both hands are covenant hands. But if this is now the policy for sacrament observance at church, I will abide it.

  22. …the right hand thing was clearly written by someone who is not trying to wrangle one or more small kids who are either trying to spread their germs all around the bread and water, and/or think they can pass the tray All By Themselves (spoiler: they can’t), and/or trying to hit their sibling at the same time. I mean, I guess all of that falls into the “when possible,” but it still makes me grumpy.

  23. Dsc: I agree that the MP holder dedicating a home via prayer and a family dedicating a home via prayer are pretty much the exact same thing. What is the actual difference?

    Would God really offer less blessings because a single-woman prayed over her home compared to a single-but-MP-man?

    All this does for me is muddy the waters of what an ordinance actually is.

  24. The Other Brother Jones says:

    My Father dedicated out home once it was paid off in the early 80’s. We had a ceremony and burned (a copy of) )the loan documents, then a dedicatory blessing. But what is the point. I wondered what the meaning being paid off was. No, it is unlikely that many will pay off the mortgage at a young age. Most will be empty nesters or retired.

    I recall a story where a young girl was being consoled after her house was destroyed in a fire. They said,”Isn’t it sad that you lost you home?” The girl replied,” We still have our home. We just don’t have a house to put it in.” So what exactly are we dedicating? The physical structure, or the spiritual one?

  25. This seems like an odd requirement given the statements in Section 3.5

    “Priesthood power is the power by which God blesses His children. God’s priesthood power flows to all members of the Church—female and male—as they keep the covenants they have made with Him. Members make these covenants as they receive priesthood ordinances.”

    And from Section 3.6
    “All Church members who keep their covenants—women, men, and children—are blessed with God’s priesthood power in their homes to strengthen themselves and their families”

    So what exactly is the purpose of home dedication anyway? Seems superfluous.

  26. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I am SO TIRED of the discrimination I feel for being left-handed. That sounds flippant, but I am surprised by how much it really does bother me. This is just another reminder that God made me wrong, I guess. I also realize that this is a pretty small thing to put up with. As a male, I can’t even wrap my head around the magnitude of the many, many things that contribute to women feeling marginalized in the Church.

  27. The Other Brother Jones says:

    I am also left-handed. The hand I use to take the sacrament depends on if the tray is coming from the left or right.

  28. Dsc, what stands out to me is that if women actively participate, what was a “dedication” becomes simply a “prayer.” This would be similar to a sub point under “baby blessings” reading, “Mothers may pray for their children as guided by the Spirit.” Uh, okay…

    Frankly, I don’t need the handbook’s (or anyone’s) permission to offer a prayer at any time for any reason. Nobody does.

  29. Part of the cultural pattern for LDS home dedications are the church building dedication ceremonies of various Christian denominations. In many of them there is the idea that a building cannot or should not be dedicated to God if a third party has the right to take it away from God by foreclosing a mortgage. Thus some denominations have mortgage burning ceremonies after or concurrently with the dedication. I think the LDS church continued that practice for its church buildings until the financing of church buildings was centralized as part of Correlation in the 70s. With the rise of the 30 year after WW II, I believe the “no dedication before mortgage” idea quickly faded with respect to LDS home dedications.

  30. Owen Witesman says:

    IMHO, the right hand rule only serves as one more thing for new members to do wrong and have to be corrected for. I don’t expect it to last long in the handbook.

  31. “Members partake with their right hand when possible.” (18.9.4)

    This. This is why people are leaving the church.

    People want to be engaged in doing good, in helping create a world full of greater love, a world of greater equality for all, a world ready for the millennium, policies like this (and just about everything dealing with gender) push us away. Come on. Give us some real vision and hope. Not this pettiness.

    We aren’t leaving because we didn’t read the scriptures enough or weren’t dedicated enough. We are leaving because church leadership is taking the expansive, beautiful gospel of Jesus Christ and turning it Pharisaical.

    It is the nature of hierarchy and an increase in size for those at the top to loose an understanding of what is happening on the ground.

  32. Feels like authoritative creep. The members are doing something that makes them feel good (that affects their salvation in no way whatsoever) but it isn’t uniform. So they step in and regulate it so everyone who chooses to do it, does it the same way. It isn’t strictly necessary, not everyone will choose to do it, it doesn’t affect ones standing in the church, and yet, now it’s an ordinance (or will soon become?) with rules. Fascinating.

  33. Kevin Barney says:

    You sir are a prophet!

    Literally the last time I ever heard someone push the right hand thing over a pulpit was by RMN himself, in a speech he gave in the de Jong Concert Hall at BYU in 1980 before he was an Apostle (I think he had some involvement in the General Sunday School at the time). The main thing I recall as a stated rationale was the name Benjamin, which comes from Hebrew Binyamin “son of the right [hand].” Although that is indeed literally what the name means, the implication is probably “Son of the South,” since in an eastward oriented culture like Israel the right hand stands for the southern direction, and the tribe of Benjamin was located physically in the south.This sacrament practice derives from historical, superstitious bias against the left hand. Note that the Latin word for the left hand is “sinister.” I kid you not.

  34. In the temple, when only one hand is used, it is the right hand. Taking the Sacrament with the right hand follows this pattern. Plain and simple.

  35. So when I was growing up, my father taught us that every time we kneel for family prayer, we dedicated our home and family to serving the Lord. Didn’t matter if my mom prayed, or my little brother prayed, we were dedicating ourselves to the Lord. I always liked that sentiment. Didn’t need any priesthood authority, and we all said “Amen” so we all agreed to it. Don’t see any reason to formalize it. Seems superfulous.

  36. To echo Dsc, I’m not understanding what changed since the 2010 edition. According to the post, the 2010 edition ended said this:

    “A Melchizedek Priesthood holder may dedicate a home by the power of the priesthood. If there is not a Melchizedek Priesthood holder in the home, a family might invite a close relative, a home teacher, or another Melchizedek Priesthood holder to dedicate the home. Or a family might gather and offer a prayer.”

    Also from the post, the author predicted the last sentence (allowing a prayer rather than a priesthood dedication) would someday disappear. And yet, when I read the updated handbook, I still see the option for a prayer rather than a formal priesthood dedication. The new language:

    “A home is dedicated by a Melchizedek Priesthood holder. If there is not a Melchizedek Priesthood holder in the home: [1] A family may invite a close friend, relative, or ministering brother who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood to dedicate the home. The person does not need to seek approval from a priesthood leader. [2] A family might gather and offer a prayer as guided by the Spirit. The prayer could include the elements mentioned in 18.15.2, number 3.”

    We can argue all day long about all kinds of things, but unless I’ve misunderstood, the original post is incorrect to claim that a family prayer is no longer explicitly endorsed.

  37. If we really think Jesus cares which hand we use to take his sacrament, then perhaps Mormons really do believe in a different Jesus than the rest of Christendom. And perhaps it is time to concede the point that we’re not Christian?

  38. “So if it’s delegated authority is it true authority?”

    Of course it is. All authority is delegated. The very nature of authority is that it is derived or granted from another source.

  39. I love sch’s question: ” What can’t our policy ever be expansive and surprise us with its generosity?”

    It would be a welcome change if it did.

  40. Jack Hughes says:

    The right hand sacrament thing will most likely go away, sooner or later. Like the naming conventions for the Church, it has been a bee in Pres. Nelson’s bonnet for years. As I recall, he wrote a lengthy response in the Ensign to a member’s question back in the 1980s on that very topic. I anticipate it will become a non-issue after he is “released”.

    I had never heard of home dedication at all in my growing up years. The first time I witnessed it was when I went away to college (2000, at a public university outside of Utah) where groups of LDS roommates were dedicating their shared apartments at the start of the academic year. The local YSA ward leadership pushed for everyone to do it, without any mention of priesthood authority or gender exclusivity.

    For better or worse, handbooks that are primarily published electronically can be changed quickly.

  41. Anon widow, I understand the sentiment, but my only point is that there’s not been any substantive change. Previously, a Melchizedek Priesthood holder could dedicate a home via a priesthood ordinance or someone else could offer a prayer. That remains true under the revised manual. Whatever the issues are with that position, they are the same today as they were yesterday.

  42. Remember all – the handbook is not scripture. But….. it won’t be too far removed to imagine an ambitious Bishop asking his Deacons to ensure members are taking the Sacrament with the right hand. Just one more item we can use to judge another. Can you really imagine the savior doing that, or caring in the least? It seems like the exact type of thing He railed against while on the earth. After the price he paid for us, I can imagine the joy he feels when anyone, with any hand at all, willingly partakes of the sacrament with the desire for help in remembering HIm and His sacrifice.

  43. J. Stapley says:

    adano, the shift is from “may” in 2010 to “is” in 2020. The 2010 handbook preserves the possibility that a dedication be done by a family prayer. In 2020 the dedication is defined as a Melch Priesthood ordinance. In this latter instance the alternative of the family prayer would be categorically different.

  44. Jack Hughes says:

    And yes, as a lefty, I can relate to the frustration. If anyone makes a stink about the supposed superiority of the right hand for sacred tasks, I simply remind them that the right hand was also the “correct” hand for simulating throat slitting and other forms of Masonic ritual suicide in the pre-1990 endowment. That should shut down any further discussion. And most of the people that really care about the right hand thing will be old enough to remember that.

  45. Anon Widow says:

    Dsc, I also see no substantive difference between today and yesterday. The format in which the information is presented is different, but the difference in content is negligible.

    Does it make a difference whether this information is presented in paragraph or outline (bullet point) format? I doubt it.

  46. J. Stapley – the 2020 version you linked to still leaves the possibility of the dedication being done by family prayer as many others have said. So I would say that, at present, changing “may” to “is” is another step on that road, but that still co-exists with the family prayer option when no MP holder is in the home so we’re not all the way to MP-only yet.

  47. Even if the text on the subject of home dedication has not changed substantively since 2010, the point (IMO) is that this section was not improved a decade later. I think RMN’s reign appears to be full of change but actually emphasizes patriarchy more than before…albeit a very benevolent type. In some ways it’s worse, because the benevolence serves as a confusing mask.

  48. Alas! We have touched on the pettiness and nightmare of Mormonism. The leaders of our church have poisoned the general membership enough where we all now strain at gnats (Matthew 23:24). This has got to be one of the dumbest conversations ever, totally neglecting what matters in Christianity for the absurd. RMN and DHO have people obsessing over the name of the church, what hand to use, how to dress and groom, and who can say a prayer. Good grief. The Mormon church looks a hell of a lot like the Pharisaical order to me. Here’s an idea: let’s focus on loving our neighbors, showing forgiveness and compassion, serving other people, protecting the innocent and weak, and lifting up the poor and abused. The hierarchy, patriarchy, formal rituals, rote prayers and ceremonies, and all other nonsensical policies and standards that don’t motivate us to love our neighbor can all be tossed.

  49. Anon Widow says:

    I missed the “may” to “is.” So when and where and what I can pray for is, in fact, restrained by a passage in a handbook? That doesn’t feel right at all.

  50. On a positive note, the recommendation that those blessing and passing the sacrament wear a white shirt has been completely removed.

  51. J. Stapley,

    I think you’re reading far too much into the switch from “may” to “is”. The context makes clear that this is an optional ordinance and that the same purpose can be accomplished with a prayer. I truly fail to see any substantive difference at all, and you may be trying to force the change to fit your theory. There is absolutely no substantive difference between the old and new wording. This appears to be purely a stylistic change.

  52. I do also think that your report of the change gives the impression that the option for a non-priesthood prayer has been removed, and in the interest of clarity, I highly suggest revising the last paragraph. As is, this blog post is misleading.

  53. Yes DB! I remember when the recommendation for white shirts was added, and my ward bishopric turning it into a requirement for the boys. I am happy it is no longer there.

    Whenever someone tries to correct me about which hand to take the sacrament, I tell them that I do naughty things with my right, like wipe my bottom, or shake hands with leaders.

  54. J. Stapley says:

    All, I have added the following update to the post text. I hope it clarifies things:

    [UPDATE:] Per the discussion in the comments below, I’m going to make a clarification. The 2010 Handbook introduced the idea that a home dedication “may” be performed by a priesthood holder, who invokes priesthood authority during the ritual. Whereas other rituals included a formal pattern to follow including invoking priesthood authority, home dedication did not include any formal instruction (consistent with previous handbooks), and came after the other formal rituals in the section. This text indicated three possible ways of dedicating the home (see previous handbooks for comparison), these were a priesthood holder who lives there, a family friend or relative who is a priesthood holder, or a family prayer.

    The instructions for home dedication in the 2020 handbook, by contrast, no longer come at the end, but are included before grave dedication. Moreover, the directions include an example text indicating that a “Melchizedek Priesthood holder” “2. States that he is acting by the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood.” As indicated above, the introduction of this ritual declares that “A home is dedicated by a Melchizedek Priesthood holder.”

    Now the 2020 handbook still has possibilities for homes where no priesthood holder lives to either ask priesthood holding friends and family, or have a family prayer. My argument is that with shifted definitions, formalized priesthood procedure, and placement changes, we have witnessed a transformation of home dedication into an “ordinance of the church.” In 1998 no priesthood indicated. In 2010 priesthood may be invoked. In 2020 priesthood is invoked. I would argue that the possibility of a family prayer in the context of 2020 is consequently categorically different (though still important to the liturgical history–it shows continuity).

  55. J. Stapley says:

    …and for context, here is the entirety of the 1998 text:

    Dedicating Homes
    Church members may dedicate their homes as sacred edifices where the Holy Spirit can reside and where family members can worship, find safety from the world, grow spiritually, and prepare for eternal family relationships. Homes need not be free of debt to be dedicated. Unlike Church buildings, homes are not consecrated to the Lord.

    To dedicate a home, a family might gather and offer a prayer that includes the elements mentioned above and other words as the Spirit directs.

  56. The hard work that I have done in building, remodeling, maintaining our home (this week it’s painting, replacing baseboards and door casings in a bedroom and the living room) have consecrated it far more than any words’ poor power to add or detract. And I’m going to leave it at that.

  57. As a fellow lefty, I’m highly irritated by the inclusion of sacrament must be taken with the right hand only. I was taken to task on this in my young adult (college ward) years several times, not even realizing that I’m reaching out with my left hand. Growing up in a right-handed world, i learned to be pretty ambidextrous, I do a lot of things with either hand, although I have noticed that the fine motor skills are usually left handed, gross motor skills (put a little elbow grease into it) are right handed.

    I got tired of people calling me out on that, albeit rare but still often enough, that I went and read the old handbook and there was NOTHING in there about having to take the sacrament with your right hand. Of course, I also ran across this article: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1983/03/i-have-a-question/is-it-necessary-to-take-the-sacrament-with-ones-right-hand?lang=eng
    Written by Nelson in 1983, I personally feel like this new “policy” or “doctrine” is not going to go away, at least not while he is president and prophet of the church.

    Who is going to police the pews? Does it negate the baptismal covenants to take the sacrament with the “wrong” hand? Should we also specify that no one under the age of 8/before being baptized should ever take the sacrament? I’ve had family members who have refused to let their kids take the sacrament before age 8, I’ve had others force feed their toddlers the sacrament. I’ve also seen other people let their kids partake if they notice the tray going by and not worry if the kid doesn’t get the sacrament. How far are we going to go with policing HOW we take the sacrament?

  58. All that is not required is forbidden.

  59. Who is going to police the pews?

    This is the main question. I’m assuming it will be the guy sitting behind me, and the response will be a thimbleful of water in his face. :-)

  60. I belong to the CoJCoLDS ? says:

    Oh, gender neutral people!!!
    Can I say that what happens in SLC stays in SLC? Do we really want deacons fumbling sacrament trays? Never heard of ritual burnings of documents or home dedications.
    I guess we should run back to our old houses and have ritual burnings on the front lawns.
    I may go back and brush the doors with sacrificial lamb’s blood just in case.

  61. Excellent clarification. I don’t know that I’m convinced that the change is all that significant, but it makes sense. It’s fascinating how things develop between leadership officially and the membership organically, and the interaction between the two.

  62. Late to the game, but there was some conversation earlier about whether home dedications are actually discussed, etc., I thought I’d add a few memories.

    I remember home dedications being mentioned many times when I was probably a teen 90s, but I didn’t ever witness one.

    When serving a mission in Spain, the sister missionaries in our district got a new apartment and moved all their stuff in, but didn’t want to sleep there until it was dedicated. They asked my comp, the DL, to do it. He didn’t want to go over there, so he looked it up in the “White Bible” and concluded that it didn’t say to declare the authority of the priesthood, and therefore the sisters could do it themselves. I thought this was an incorrect conclusion, because the topic was covered in the section on priesthood ordinances, and so was intended to be performed by someone with the priesthood when possible. Besides, they asked us to do it, and I suspected his real reasons for not doing it seemed selfish.

    When I was in a student ward, an apartment of women that I home taught asked us, the home teachers, to dedicate their apartment. We told them we would be happy to do it, but they could do it themselves because it didn’t require declaration of priesthood authority. They asked me to do it anyway, which I did. A week later the EQ president told me one of them had said I did it wrong by not using authority, and asked that we go do it again.

    And then a few years later in another ward the topic came up during one of those lessons from the prophets-manuals in elders quorum. The question came up as to whether home dedication was a priesthood ordinance, and whether priesthood should be declared. There was no consensus, but those that believed it was an ordinance were louder and more confident, and therefore carried the day.

    So there you go. Home dedications from the life of Rockwell. Now in a few minutes I might have a more contraversial comment about left-handing the sacrament.

  63. Avid reader says:

    “Does Jesus care about this?”
    I ask this all the time.
    I’m not trying to be snarky.
    It’s how I survive

    If I don’t think he cares about something, I don’t care about it either.

    President Nelson isn’t Jesus. He’s a prophet. That doesn’t make him Jesus.

  64. On taking the the Sacrament with the wrong hand, Oaks was allegedly recorded visiting a ward and telling deacons they should take the sacrament with the right hand. This is discussed here:

    http://www.mormondialogue.org/topic/71566-left-hand/

    Note: this may be an example of why leaders have been asking not to be recorded. I can give him a bit of a break as he’s speaking off-the-cuff, but I’m still going to talk about it.

    What really strikes me is this quote: “I know why you [took the sacrament with the left hand], because the sacrament tray was coming up on this side, and it was easiest to do that way. But a mother who’s holding a baby, probably changes the baby, so she can use her right hand. And all of us should partake of the right hand, when we participate in that great ordinance of the gospel.”

    I was just really surprised at the suggestion that a mother should feel compelled to adjust the position of a baby in order to follow an unwritten tradition. There is literally no scripture that talks about taking the sacrament with the right hand. I’m not even sure there is scripture about using the right hand for any ordinance.

    It appears to be doctrinal creep, just like the changes to home dedications. In the beginning, most people used the right hand to perform ordinances because, in shocking coincidence, they were right handed. Overtime it became standard practice. Then it became normalized and codified in the manuals for baptism and other ordinances. And then it gains theological significance. Pretty soon the right hand might be called the righteous hand and the left could be the hand of iniquity.

    But it didn’t start with theological significance. We know this because it’s never mentioned.

  65. I’m curious about the folk ritual that gave way to home dedications and if it’s history has anything to do with current priesthood requirements. The small about I’ve heard from word of mouth is that dedicating homes was originally about commanding spirits (I.e casting them out, inviting them in, or setting boundaries they cannot cross) and that the ritual of doing so requires the priesthood power.
    Clearly the current instructions about making the home a sacred space comes at home dedications from a different angle. Is there some folk ritual element that remains to the ordinance requiring the priesthood?

  66. Geoff - Aus says:

    I’m not sure if I should say this in case it gets correlated. We had a family tradition to put the sacrament cups back without making any noise. Just to be reverent, and individual/different. Not sure anyone even noticed.
    Have never dedicated any of the homes I’ve built. There was a missionary thing at some stage where missionaries offered to dedicate your home as a door approach. I was not comfortable about that, but not a missionary then.
    The inference in the email I recieved about this is that the man and woman shown did the new handbook. Perhaps they need someone who questions patriachy, and phariscaical activities to do the next review?

  67. Billy Possum says:

    +1 for Kevin Barney, who correctly (imho) surmises that our culture’s right-hand obsession is a gift from the Romans. Maybe it goes further back to the Greeks – though it does seem more quintessentially Roman to me. In Latin, the respective terms for right- and left-sidedness are “dexter” and, indeed, “sinister.” If you’re dexterous, you must be right-handed. If you’re sinister, well . . . .

    This right-good, left-bad cultural iconography is all over the place, in and out of the church. Important guests sit at the “right hand,” and your best subordinate is your “right-hand man.” We shake hands, swear oaths, and raise a glass with the right hand. Even our word for “right” derives from an Indo-European word for the concept of straightness, whereas “left” derives from a Germanic word for weakness.

    What any of that has to do with the Lord’s sacrament is beyond me. But apparently, RMN has it all figured out, so that’s fine, I guess.

  68. TataniaAvalon says:

    In my early college years the family I nannied for dedicated their home. They were fairly superstitious and thought their home haunted. They dedicated their home in order to make it holy ground that the ghosts couldn’t enter. On the sacrament thing I remember being a fairly young child trying to take the sacrament with my left hand and being chided by my mom. “It’s taken by the right hand.” I was confused as to why but always took it with my right from now on. Seriously the world is against lefties don’t make our lives harder then they are with stupid rules.

  69. Paul the latter-day Apostle says:

    Rockwell, Well this is the same Dallin H. that sits in his study and sorts his Christmas cards as good, better and best! I am really wondering what crazy sh*t he comes up with when he’s the guy! (Of course, assuming RMN actually dies!)

  70. Sounds like we are one step closer to The Church of Russell M. Nelson and Dallin H. Oaks of Latter-day Saints. How they don’t view this right handed nonsense as classical Pharisees is mind-blowing.

    I don’t want to claim I’ve been a victim of my left-handedness but it’s true the world wasn’t built for us and there are a lot of inconveniences. But when I was reading scriptures with my darling exuberant wide-eyed left-handed 6-yr old this morning I thought about how he might feel if I told him he’d have to take the sacrament with his right hand and what negative message that might send to his innocent self. Of course I won’t tell him that and I hope no one else will. What a joke.

  71. “The prayer could include the elements mentioned in 18.15.2, number 3.”

    Can I just use that in the prayer?:

    Heavenly Father, please bless this home with all the elements mentioned in 18.15.2, number 3”

    In the name of…

  72. I’m very excited to know that I should take the sacrament with my right hand when possible. I’ll try really hard not to make sure those around me are doing the same. I didn’t want to focus on pesky little things, like how should I be more Christlike this week or have to ponder on my covenants when I could instead focus and stress about, “but did I take it correctly and with the right hand?!”

    Gag.

  73. I too am left handed. Back in the day when there was a lot of talk about taking the sacrament with the right hand, I tried. I really tried. But it felt sooooo awkward. And it took my mental focus away from the ordinance because I had to focus on the minutiae. (Here comes the tray. Remember, right hand, right hand, right hand, right hand.) So I went back to using my left hand or whichever hand was closer to the tray. This allowed me to focus on the Saviour. I think He would be okay with that.

    I had hoped this folk tradition was dying out. This new policy is a step backward and a big win for the Pharisees. And we know how Jesus felt about them.

  74. The LDS handbook of instructions is what you get when you put 15 old men who, deep down, know they are devoid of the revelatory and prophetic powers that they claim to have, yet recognize the gravity of letting Joe Member in on that joke so they sit in a room and come up with all kinds of crazy garbage in an attempt to continue the ruse.

  75. Old Man never realized the sensitivity possessed by so many left-handed people in the Church. Old Man was taught as a child in the 1960’s to take the sacrament with his right hand. No psychological or emotional injuries so far. It was a challenge each Sunday, but prepared Old Man for life. He made L shapes with his thumb projected out from his hand so he remember which hand was which. Of course, Old Man’s generation rode bicycles without helmets and never used booster seats in cars. They also drank unfluoridated water and only saw the dentist if something fell out.

  76. I usually take the sacrament cup while holding the tray. So when the tray comes down the pew from the right, I grab it with my right hand and take the cup with my left. When the tray comes from the left, it’s vice versa. Either way, I end up using both of my hands to “take” the sacrament, so I think I’m covered.

  77. it's a series of tubes says:

    Old Man was taught

    Apparently, Old Man never learned that something could be a non-issue for Old Man yet an issue for others. But hey, if not an issue for you, everyone else should get over it, right?

    As others have noted, excessive levels of detail and concern about meaningless things, and total disregard of certain meaningful things, were characteristics of a group that took a lot of heat from Jesus. Now please excuse me, I need to go weigh some mint leaves.

  78. Kevin Barney says:

    I decided to take a look at RMN’s 1983 Ensign article “Is it Necessary to Take the Sacrament with One’s Right Hand? Does it really make any difference which hand is used?”

    I noticed he kind of muffed the etymology of the word “sacrament.” He says it comes from two Latin words, sacr meaning “holy” and ment meaning “mind.” “It implies sacred thoughts of the mind.” Close, but not quite. The true etymology is as follows: “Borrowed from Old French sacrement, from Ecclesiastical Latin sacrāmentum (“sacrament”), from Latin sacrō (“hallow, consecrate”), from sacer (“sacred, holy”), originally sum deposited by parties to a suit.” (Per Wikipedia.) The “mind” business is understandable, as the Latin word for mind is mens, but the root is ment-, seen in such declined fors as menti, mento, mentum, etc. But that is not the source of the mentum in sacramentum. Rather, the -ment (or -mentum) is simply a noun forming suffix. You can search Google until you’re blue in the face and no one bothers to explain the -ment, because that does not actually come from a separate Latin word. It does not mean “mind.”

    Anyway, here is the most important line in the piece, which I fully endorse: “Much more important than concern over which hand is used in partaking of the sacrament is that the sacrament be partaken with a deep realization of the atoning sacrifice that the sacrament represents.”

  79. It was once said, “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”

    The majority of what we practice as a people is more about appearing to be something rather that actually being something.

  80. Now I feel a perverse desire to use my left hand when I take the sacrament. Can not fathom how it matters.

    There is some real sh#% going on in the world. This is our focus?!?

    Real sh#% = regular human ailments, homelessness, refugees, hunger, low wages, high housing costs, lack of health insurance, discrimination (poc, lgbqt, females, etc), war, oppression, displacement, wage disparity, huge wealth disparity, fake news capturing the minds of too many people, churches accumulating vast amounts of wealth, . . . .

    This does not inspire confidence in church leadership. Where can we find a Pope Francis?

  81. J Stapley, thank you. Fascinating article, as always. I hope you do write the article about the right and left hand. It’s odd that some here are bent out of a shape about this? Re: Boy Scout, I’d argue that the hand we use is not the “focus” of our church, nor of the new Handbook’s release. A recommendation on the hand we use, unmentioned in any announcement, is made in one small part of the General Handbook. If you go to LDS.org, you see an article about forgiveness, temple attendance, the new volume of our shared history, the dedication of a temple in Durban, even Black History Month! I’d love to hear more about some of those issues too, but I don’t think you can say this hand issue is the “focus” of our church.

    And Kevin, thanks for sharing that article re: President Nelson and the hand thing. That was a great article to read, and I endorse the main point at the end too.

  82. J. Stapley says:

    Hey all, there is an elevating amount of angst in the comments here, and some of it is pretty disrespectful. Please take it easy. Be constructive.

    Regarding the history of right hand usage. I’ve gone through my files, and there is pretty robust documentation for the practice throughout the 20th century. I’ll likely be writing up a thing, but note that this is a valid tradition in the church, even if it hasn’t been emphasized for a couple of decades.

  83. Yes, J., I can remember the right-hand rule/suggestion/whatever-it-was being emphasized at times in the mid 20th century. Some of us, even then, put it in the class of our bishop’s insistence that only white Wonderbread with the brown crusts cut off could be used for the sacrament. I’m not sure where that latter rule came from. The two probably didn’t belong in quite the same class if the classification were by origin.

  84. J. Stapley says:

    Wondering, that bit about crustless white bread was including in one edition of the General Handbook back in the day. By contrast, right hand instructions are fairly well documented in every decade of the twentieth century.

  85. I’m sorry, J. I’m trying to control my snark, and I’ll do better. Thanks for the reminder.❤️

  86. I’ve always (since 1950’s) been pretty strict with myself about using my right hand to partake and to pass the sacrament tray. But over the years the more meaningful thing to me has become the serving. I feel good when I can hold the tray while the person next to me partakes and I appreciate the person next to me holding it for me.

  87. your food allergy is fake says:

    Crustless white bread! That is so absurd it is actually funny. Possibly the least nourishing bread (or even food) imaginable as a symbol of the atonement?

  88. @food allergy, You are generous to suppose that nourishment — physical or spiritual — was even an issue. Without being told, in the early 60s, we understood that it was an insistence that Jesus must have been “white and delightsome” and not a person of color. Couldn’t risk a representation that might have suggested a “curse” of dark skin (or crust)! It was absurd (even offensive) to me — a baby-boomer — but not to some of my parents and grandparents. But it was not funny to any of us. Certainly not there in the town designated by the NAACP as the “Birmingham of the north.” Sometimes I can choose to be amused; I cannot at that one.

    @all, Please don’t make an extensive tangent out of this. The crustless whitebread is long gone.

  89. Not being glib here.

    The section on the WoW seems to imply that Canadian members can use legal recreational marijuana and be aligned with church teachings, especially since one might make solid arguments of it being neither harmful nor habit-forming.

    “38.7.12
    Word of Wisdom
    The only official interpretation of “hot drinks” (Doctrine and Covenants 89:9) in the Word of Wisdom is the statement made by early Church leaders that the term “hot drinks” means tea and coffee. Members should not use any substance that contains illegal drugs. Nor should members use harmful or habit-forming substances except under the care of a competent physician.”

    The handbook seems particularly silent on alcohol; is beer okay (per D&C 89) and liquor bad (also per D&C 89)?

    I guess my suspicion would be that the unwritten order of things will take over, and miscellaneous pronouncements at vary and sundry places will be the real guidance, and not the handbook?

    Seems like a pretty big omission when they are willing to talk about minutiae like right hands, particularly since the WoW is a big deal for many people as external evidence of their obedience.

    As well, it would appear that masturbation is no longer explicitly mentioned.

  90. Wowbigger,
    Old Man thinks “glib” is allowed in moderation on BCC, but Steve Evans would know for sure. .

    They’ll get you with “habit-forming.” So I guess you could use marijuana once. Save it for when you are called to the Bishopric. You will then need it.

    As for the last item, Old Man believes that one should not use a word one can’t define to an underage audience without getting arrested.

  91. a whistling girl says:

    Given that endowed women are acknowledged to hold the Melchizedek priesthood (per President Nelson last conference), I’m confused at some of the angst in this comment section. I’ve seen no reason to think that an endowed woman would not be able to dedicate her own home, before or after the handbook changes.

    My own experience, for what it’s worth: I remember my single mother speaking about dedicating our home when we moved in, on at least one occasion (we moved a lot). The home we bothered dedicating was one that seemed especially worth it–we all had strong feelings about it. I believe we dedicated it via family prayer.

  92. WTH?? I wonder why I continue to be surprised by the whining I read here at BCC. At first, I thought the gentleman complaining about being discriminated against because he’s left-handed was being sarcastic, then realized he wasn’t. What luxurious lives we live when we don’t have to worry about where our next meal is coming from and can find all sorts of ways to be a victim.

  93. Mike, some of us wonder at self-righteous commenters as well–also a luxury similar to the one you are condemning.

  94. And Brian, definitely a well thought out response. I take it, then, that you are a victim of my self-righteousness? Either that, or my self-righteousness mitigates yours?

  95. Wowbagger, Masturbation is mentioned in 32.6.4.1 (Failure to Comply with Some Church Standards) as an action for which a membership council is not held.

  96. Mike, I get it. Irony is often difficult to transmit in comments, as you make clear in both your misreading of other people’s complaints and of my comment. You didn’t realize I was intentionally deploying the verbiage and tone of self-righteousness to show how simple it is to do and that it, indeed, adds nothing to the conversation. But, go ahead, troll away!

  97. That’s right, Brian, so easy to dismiss people by calling them self-righteous trolls. But guess what, I still don’t feel like a victim. Sorry to disappoint. (And BTW, lest you confuse me for one of those persons who has no disagreements whatsoever with the way the Church does things, I’m not. I have a number of them. I just don’t care to pile on in a public forum).

  98. I did not have the right to read the old handbook and don’t know whether this is new: According to section 32.6.1.5, a felony conviction requires a membership council. To me, this seems surprisingly broad and harsh, and it seems inconsistent with section 32.6.2.1, which mentions attempted murder (nearly always a felony) as an act that MAY require a membership council. I wonder if it is an unintended mistake and if there is a legitimate channel for inquiring about it.

  99. Thank you kamschron; I did not see this section prior to you pointing it out.

    In the relative hierarchy of sin, it seems like this might be a downgrade?

    Wondering, not opining.

    Will Bishops still ask about it?

    Will it delay a mission call?

  100. D&C74:1 says:

    Well if you think that taking the sacrament with the right hand is bad. On page 143 of the new 2020 handbook it states that faithful members pray using the right side of their brain. This really offends me as I’m left brained & it’s giving me a headache!

  101. “Hey all, there is an elevating amount of angst in the comments here, and some of it is pretty disrespectful. Please take it easy. Be constructive.”

    Amen! Thanks for the article J. I always enjoy your insights. I believe that ritual and the presentation of covenants are revealed in the beauty of outwardly expressed poetry so we can understand the magnitude and depth of personal, inward conversion. The interpretation, and expression, of this personal conversion reveals who we are becoming. One purpose and intention of revealed ritual is to unveil Christ to the participants. The participants, in turn, reveal what was unveiled to their view. Some can’t see past the reflection in a puddle, while others discover deep caverns of personal conversion to Christ. And thus we become a true community of believers, some strangling their neighbor over a personally constructed gnat. While others silently serve Pharisees and sinners in their homes. I pray that eventually our world-wide community will become true, converted disciples of the Master that consistently did the latter.

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