The Lord’s Supper – Prayer Memorization and Open Communion

Memory is tricky thing. I’m a Gen Xer, and in my memory the chapels in which I grew up attending had pull out microphone trays with the prayers typed out on cards that were taped onto it. As I turned sixteen, like the other priests, I knelt, pulled out the tray, and read the words carefully, hoping not to be asked by the Bishop to repeat it because I screwed up. It hasn’t always been that way, however. There was a period when church leaders actively encouraged priests to memorize and not read the prayers. Documenting practice is always challenging, however. I have one friend whose parents grew up during the memorization-only period, whose dad always read the prayer from a card, and whose mom was instructed to memorize it.

In contrast, I have no memory of what we taught non-members who joined our sacrament meetings in France when I was a missionary. I can document in certain locations over time that we have variously tried to exclude nonmembers from taking the bread and water, and in other times and places invited them to join in. But France in the mid-1990s? I don’t know.

Sacrament

So here are my asks: If you grew up before the 1980s, were you taught to memorize the prayer or read it when administering? If you served a mission before 2000, what did you teach people who were coming to church about access to the sacrament? Even better, if you joined the church before 2000, what were you taught to do?

Comments

  1. As a youth we were encouraged to memorize the Sacrament Prayers, but, not required to offer the prayers without using the prayer cards or scriptures. The main thing was not to rush through the prayers which was a common problem.

    As to who was kept from partaking of the Sacrament, only those who were either excommunicated former members or someone currently under church discipline were asked to not partake. The young men served everyone who attended and were not privy to who was on church discipline. Nonmembers were not excluded from the sacrament.

  2. lastlemming says:

    Ordained a priest in 1973. We always read the prayers and a lot of priests seem to think it was the Olympics of speed reading. There was no pressure on us to memorize the prayers.

    Mission in Germany between 76 and 78. We taught nonmembers that the sacrament was for the renewal of covenants that they had not made, so it was unnecessary for them to partake. But we did not slap their hands if they partook anyway (or maybe none of them partook so our response was never actually known).

  3. Ps. I grew up in the 60-70’s. As a missionary we never asked investors to refrain from partaking of the Sacrament. Church handbook book did not state that nonmembers were to be denied the Sacrament. If this happened it was done by leaders who did not understand or chose to ignore the handbook.

  4. Wayne Gledhill says:

    As a priest in the late 50’s we did not memorize the prayers nor was there any discussion about it. As a missionary in Germany in the early 60’s, we told investigators that there would be sacrament, that it was bread and water and if they took it, it was OK but could decline it also, that it was a renewal of covenants that baptized members did.

  5. jlouielucero says:

    Priest in 1996 did not have to memorize. Missionary 99-2001 and we taught people they could take sacrament if they wanted but did not have to and tied it to baptism renewal for members.

  6. Left Field says:

    I became a deacon in ’71 and a priest in ’75. The priests always had a card at the table and we were never expected to memorize the prayers. I possibly remember one or two people who suggested we memorize the prayers, mostly with the idea that we would understand them more, or “just in case” the unlikely event that something might up and no card was available. But we were always expected to read it so as to not make errors. We always had a hand-held microphone or nothing. I never saw the microphone tray thing until maybe the 1990s in some newer buildings.

    The rule I have always heard is that nonmembers can take the sacrament if they wish, but it’s not expected. On my mission 1978-80 I remember telling investigators that they could take it or not as they chose. Sometimes we probably said that it’s mainly for members but there was no objection if they wanted to take it. I think we always discussed it in advance so they wouldn’t be caught surprised not knowing what was expected.

    Also, my memory is that white shirts were for missionaries. I don’t remember ever being expected to wear a white shirt for the sacrament or for church in general before the 1980s. I don’t remember the bishop and such necessarily wearing a white shirt. Maybe they did but if so, it wasn’t a thing I paid attention to or ever heard that it was expected.

    This also made me think about workers reading from a card in the temple. In the past I think I rarely saw it except in the baptistry or if someone was still learning the ordinances. Currently in my temple, cards are always posted in the initiatory, though workers are encouraged to learn the words. There is also a card posted in the new name booth, but I think most workers don’t need it. Veil workers can put up a card if they need it, but I think most don’t. In my experience, sealers usually have the sealing ordinances memorized but may still have a card handy in case they get lost. Nowadays most minor mistakes in wording are overlooked, rather than interrupting the ordinance. We seem to be a lot more strict on the wording of sacrament prayers than temple ordinances.

  7. In the late 1960s in Provo we were encouraged to memorize but always had access to the cheat sheet cards. In France, in the mid1970s, non-members were not forbidden, but if they asked, were told it was for the benefit primarily of the baptized.

  8. I’m female, so I don’t know for sure about being asked to memorize the sacrament prayers. I have heard a few stories of men (then boys) around my age who were required by their bishops to memorize the prayers, leading to a great deal of traumatizing embarrassment at the sacrament table. During my mission (1994-1996), we would tell investigators that the sacrament was for renewing covenants made at baptism and that they were free to take it if they chose. Some did, some did not. I do not remember getting specific instructions to do this, but it’s what we all did.

  9. Ann Porter says:

    When I was investigating the church in 1986, I was told I was not permitted to take the sacrament until I was baptized. They said it gently, though.

  10. I don’t recall ever been asked to memorize in California in the late 70’s-80’s, though good memories of having Sacrament in Primary, with a card built into the table.

  11. These types of questions are always interesting (no memorization mid 1970s. no harm no foul if nonmembers took sacrament. US mid 1970s) mostly because they highlight how different the pockets of one church can be.
    I often blessed the sacrament in Junior Sunday School (yes, it was a thing) and still find it amusing that we policed ourselves and never had a member of the bishopric assuring that we got it right. Were the kids any less deserving of a perfect sacrament prayer?
    Hopefully no one, in this time of distant churching, had a member of the family following along to assure prayers were read correctly. It just multiplies the number of people worrying more about mechanics than message.

  12. Missions are fun says:

    As a brand new missionary in the early 90s, I was surprised when we brought an investigator to church and my trainer told him he could take the bread and water if he wanted, without us having any kind of discussion on its meaning. Later, I brought up 3 Nephi 18:28-29 with my companion and said maybe we ought to discuss things more with investigators, but he said the mission president had recently told the missionaries not to stop investigators from taking the sacrament. I agreed that non-members should be able to take the sacrament, but should understand what it means. In my next interview with the mission president, he chastised me for challenging him (I didn’t think I was) and encouraged me to repent and be more humble (probably a fair goal).

  13. Stephen Hardy says:

    Your mission president also needed to repent and be more humble. Alas, me too

  14. Matthew73 says:

    I was born in 1964. Ordained to the various Aaronic Priesthood offices in ’76, ’78, and ’80. The Priests had the card accessible for the sacrament prayers and everybody used it. I have a vague memory of occasional talks or lessons where it was suggested that memorizing the prayers would be a good idea, but it was never strongly encouraged. During my mission to Holland and Belgium, ’83 through ’85, I memorized the prayers as part of an effort to internalize the ordinance, but that was on my own volition; we weren’t encouraged to do so.

    As an Aaronic Priesthood holder, I remember the days when we were “excused” from Priesthood opening exercises so they could announce who had been excommunicated / disfellowshipped, and those who had gone through that and still attended church were not allowed to partake of the sacrament, in a fairly conspicuous/sort of public shaming way. My family moved to Davis County, Utah (heavily LDS), right around the time I became a Priest so there really were never non-members in attendance in that ward. On my mission, non-members attending Sacrament Meeting was an incredibly rare event. I don’t specifically remember whether we had any guidance as to whether they could or could not partake of the sacrament but I suspect we would have been so grateful to have them in attendance that we would have not really cared one way or the other.

  15. Ordained a Priest in 1985 and we always had the cards even back when I was a boy I recall the Priests having cards and remember being in awe the first time I encountered a newer chapel with a foldout microphone with the card on the plate attached to the sacrament table (late 1980s). We lived East of the Mississippi all the years I was growing up in small and midsized Wards, a District in TN, and Stakes in DE and IL. There was never an expectation to memorize the prayers outside of scripture mastery in Seminary and a discussion that memorizing scriptures like the prayer helps us internalize them.

    But I do recall a story being told with some regularity about how a young Priest saved the day because he had memorized and cherished the words of the prayers and was able to step in and recite the prayers when no scriptures were available. There was also a story of a disabled young man who proudly recited the prayers from memory and how it impressed the congregation when he prayed. Both of these were in either AP lesson manuals or in the Ensign / New Era.

    I always understood children under age 8 were included in that list or people who partake of the sacrament but are not yet under covenant. Nonmembers we’re encouraged to understand the significance of the sacrament and could participate if they wanted but I knew of members who felt that was absolutely wrong and they should not – especially those who might smell of cigarette smoke.

    Served in France 1989-91 and we taught non members that taking the sacrament was up to their choice but we also taught them the meaning behind the bread and water. I knew of members in some Branches who at one point or another had gotten up and told a non member they should not take the sacrament (happened twice in different Branches). We used those as teaching opportunities but lost an interested investigator as a result on one of those occasions. Memorization of the prayers was not required but we did it as part of memorizing French language scripture since we had to be “word perfect” in memorizing the 6 discussion lessons as well.

    I would say I still have better recall of the French prayers than I do the English as a result.

  16. stephenchardy says:

    Here’s another angle:
    As a temple worker, I have watched a number of training videos in the temple about carrying out various parts of the endowment. I also attend the training sessions before every shift. I have been told on MANY occasions that getting everything just right is not as important as making sure that each temple patron and worker has a good experience. In fact some “errors” are shown in the training videos (such as wearing a apron incorrectly.) I was told (I have no first hand knowledge of this) that when people have “helpfully” pointed out the errors to the makers of the training videos the word has come back that the errors are known, but were left in with the purpose of showing that leaving someone alone can be important. I have been taught, for example, that stopping an entire prayer circle because someone has a robe on the “wrong” shoulder should not be done. Just go ahead with it. It has been noted that when someone is corrected in the temple (a patron or a worker) that the person is less likely to return to the temple. Trying to have everything be “just so” is an impediment to the whole thing.

    So, we are taught, to be very careful about fixing something, be it specific wording or a piece of clothing, in either a patron or a worker/volunteer.

    As I have watched some bishops conspicuously reading the sacrament prayer along with the priests, or insisting that a prayer be repeated when the priest has already made a correction, I wonder why a policy that is good enough for the temple is not good enough for our sacrament prayers.

    I am sure that one or more of you might insist that being corrected was good for you. That may be true, but that some public corrective action might result in a priest deciding not to come back, or to avoid giving the prayers at all.

  17. 1990s: We weren’t expected to memorize the prayers in general, but there was a mentally disabled young man my age who wished to bless. Since he could not read well, he had to demonstrate to the bishop that he had memorized the prayers before saying them in the chapel. But that was obviously an unusual case. I doubt this story is the one referenced in Alain’s comment above.

  18. Another windbag says:

    A boy named Rick, with a severe mental disability complicated by stuttering grew up in our ward. As a deacon he was excited to pass the sacrament and the other boys quietly covered his many mistakes. At age 16, he was thrilled to give the prayer. He gladly practiced reading and saying the prayer for the bread at home for several weeks. He did an absolutely horrible job. O O O Oh G G God d d d th th th th the (long pause) e e e et et et et et….He also messed up the actual order of the words in several places. The bishop nodded approval to everyone’s surprise and gratefulness, for not having to sit through that ordeal again.

    I was in ward counsel when the problem was discussed and the obvious remedy was to gently not let Rick say the prayer, he could just sit or stand there with a silly grin on his face. The bishop dithered, not wishing to confront his parents. Rick gave the prayer again and again with no improvement, while I collected data. The fast talking priest could get it done in under 20 seconds. The mature and thoughtful priest came in between 20 and 30 seconds. Rick required at least 90 seconds, if not more.

    Armed with this data, I asked the counsel if it was worth a minute or 2 of our valuable time to give Rick what was clearly the highlight of his week? Nobody voiced any disagreement. Over the next several years, everyone in the ward had the prayer on the bread completely memorized. Every week we sat there quietly rooting for Rick in our minds: come on boy, spit out. You can say it, you can say sanctify. The bishops never made him do it over, although he held the other boys to the absolute highest standard. Rick never grew out of his role. He could not serve a mission or anything else. This was what l he loved most. The rest of his life was pretty difficult and miserable.

    The time came when we only had Rick and 2 priests. One perfectly behaved and handsome young man headed for an ivy league school and eventually a career as a surgeon. The other a tall, robust, gentle, nonconformist, and Viking look-a-like who refused to cut his hair since age 12 . He was headed for a PhD in physics. Rick was aging prematurely and his performance was deteriorating in every way. I asked the two priests if they had a plan, what to do when Rick couldn’t even make it through the prayer. They shrugged their shoulders.

    That day soon came, Rick tried for 5 minutes but could not say anything close to the words. He broke down in tears. The future surgeon took the microphone and began the prayer. The future physicist wrapped his strong arms around Rick and before the prayer began he said, inadvertently into the microphone: It’s ok, Rick. You did your best. God does not expect any more. He is so pleased with you.

    One of the purposes of the sacrament is to draw closer to Jesus, our Savior. That day I heard the words of our Lord, in the voice of a gentle and compassionate priest, masquerading as a nonconformist.

  19. Mission 98-2000; we were told to instruct our investigators not to partake of the sacrament before the meeting when we were preparing them to come to church, but during the meeting we shouldn’t really say anything or make any kind of deal about it if they forgot and took it.

  20. Carl John Martin says:

    1977-79 Rootstown Ward (Akron Ohio Stake) –

    We were encouraged to memorize the Prayers and make them our own. We were to find personal meaning in them and say them with that feeling that comes from that personal meaning. Communion was closed.

    1980-82 (Arizona Holbrook Navajo) –

    As a missionary we taught closed communion.

  21. I grew up in San Diego, CA; my three brothers were not required to memorize the Sacrament Prayers in the 60’s and 70’s. There was one priest who did, just because he wanted to. I saw in another comment that the Aaronic Priesthood was not required to white shirts. Ours were and as far as I’ve ever heard that has been the standard. We don’t (usually) deny someone the opportunity to serve if they are not wearing a white shirt, but it is preferred. We attended a branch in Iowa where the Branch President wouldn’t let our son officiate at the Sacrament table one sSunday because he was wearing a blue shirt with his sweater vest and tie. Several weeks later the BP asked his executive secretary to help officiate because we had so few young men. I was absolutely livid because the morbidly obese man was wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt with a great big “CAPE COD” down the front. I emailed the BP afterward and said that if we were going to have standards that they needed to be applied in all situations. My son was dressed in Sunday clothes, neat, pressed and clean, but was wearing the wrong color shirt. The older man who was only half active looked like a slob off of skid row. The BP apologized and it didn’t happen again.

    I’ve always been taught that non-members aren’t supposed to take the Sacrament, but I’ve never seen anyone denied. As a missionary (Florida Tallahassee 79-80) we taught that they shouldn’t until they were baptized, but didn’t stop them if they wanted to partake.

  22. Latter Millennial here.

    I was encouraged to memorize the sacrament prayers as a doctrinal exercise—knowing them by heart made it easier to reflect on the meaning of the prayers. When it came to actually blessing the sacrament, we always made sure we read it—though I would still occasionally insert a word in the wrong place and have to redo the prayer.

    On my mission (2012-2014) we always encouraged investigators to participate in the sacrament. If anyone ever asked me about exclusion from the sacrament, I’d explain that unless a Bishop instructed you to skip the sacrament, anyone was welcome. It was a way of practicing the covenant they were preparing to make.

  23. Another windbag: this is why I keep reading BCC! Thank you for that touching story and your inspiration to make Rick’s experience the best. Such a nice way to teach young men kindness toward one another and the rest of us patience. I will be thinking about struggling young men, surgeons, and Vikings on Sundays!

  24. Another windbag, thank you.

    I was ordained a priest in ‘61. I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin and we attended university wards outside Utah until the late 1980s. We thought it made a difference. In other words, for us memorizing might be a small virtue but there would always be a card available, and we heard about leaders “out west” requiring memorization described in terms of unnecessary pietism. Similarly, by stories told some of them were strict about who could take, but we were taught either don’t ask, don’t make any judgments, or to positively encourage anyone who would or could to participate.

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