Say It Again, Sam (a Plea to Bishops)

You know that moment: the person blessing the sacrament looks at the bishop. The bishop shakes his head. And, instead of standing up and handing the trays of bread or water, the person repeats the prayer. The congregation may be puzzled the second time through. By the third, fourth, or fifth time, they’re holding their collective breath, praying that this time he gets through it.

The first time, his voice is clear, notwithstanding the small error. The second time, if you listen closely, you can hear it begin to shake. And every subsequent time, the shaking gets worse.

So what’s up with that? Well, some combination of tradition and the Handbook. But we should back up a little: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn’t have a lot of liturgical prayers. By and large, we’re devotional prayer people. But we have a couple liturgical prayers. The big ones are the sacrament prayers and the baptismal prayer, two prayers that we get from our scriptures.[fn1]

Both the Doctrine and Covenants and the Book of Mormon lay out the sacrament prayers. But the scriptures themselves don’t say anything about repeating the prayers word for word. In fact, we don’t; here’s the scripturally-prescribed blessing on the water:

“O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee, in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this wine 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; that they may witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they do always remember him, that they may have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.”

(Emphasis added.) From enough experience, I can assure you that the cards we use to read the sacrament prayer don’t say “wine”; they say “water.” Which makes sense, because we use water, not wine, in our sacrament.

So where does the requirement that the sacrament prayers be said word-for-word come from? I don’t know how it developed, but it was codified in the church’s General Handbook of Instructions (now the General Handbook). But even in its codified form, it has changed over the last several decades.

In the 1985 Handbook, bishops were instructed that:

“The sacrament prayers were revealed by the Lord (see D&C 20:77; Moroni 4, 5), and the bishop should make sure that they are spoken accurately. When the bishop corrects an error, he should be careful to avoid causing embarrassment or distracting from the sacredness of the ordinance.”

In 1989, the church updated the Handbook and made one small (but significant) change to this instruction:

“The sacrament prayers were revealed by the Lord (see D&C 20:77, 79; Moroni 4, 5); the bishop should make sure they are given accurately. If the person blessing the sacrament makes an error in the wording but corrects it himself, no further correction is required. However, if he does not correct an error, the bishop should ask him to correct it. In doing so, the bishop should be careful to avoid causing embarrassment or distracting from the sacredness of the ordinance.”

I’ve underlined the changed language. In essence, prior to 1989, if the person blessing the sacrament erred, he had to start over. In 1989, though, if the person blessing the sacrament caught and corrected himself, he was good.

Fast forward to the current Handbook. Now it says:

“The bishop makes sure the sacrament prayers are spoken clearly, accurately, and with dignity. If someone makes an error in the wording and corrects himself, no further correction is needed. If the person does not correct his error, the bishop kindly asks him to repeat the prayer. The bishop uses discretion when asking for the prayer to be repeated. He ensures that doing so does not cause undue embarrassment or detract from the ordinance. Another person at the sacrament table can help as needed.”

(Emphasis added here, too.) The current version builds on the 1989 version. But it makes a truly substantive change: it provides the bishop with explicit discretion to not ask that the prayer be repeated, even if the person blessing the sacrament errs. It’s within the bishop’s discretion. And what should guide his discretion? Whether repeating the prayer will cause undue embarrassment or will detract from the sacrament itself.

Asking someone to repeat the sacrament prayer will, in virtually every circumstance, cause undue embarrassment. There may be a handful of people who are embarrassment-proof (I’d probably put myself in that category), but there aren’t a lot. In most cases, every additional attempt will lead to the person getting more self-conscious, more nervous, and more likely to err again. In my ward, I’ve seen a couple recent converts have to repeat the sacrament prayer a couple Sundays in a row; after two or three Sundays like that, I’ve never seen them at the sacrament table again, and some I haven’t seen at church.

Even for people who are embarrassment-proof, though, having the sacrament prayer repeated hugely detracts from the ordinance. It interrupts the congregation’s communion with God. It pulls us out of the ordinance.

That’s not to say that the person blessing the sacrament should never be asked to repeat it. I can see it if someone accidentally said the blessing on the water while blessing the bread, or said the baptismal prayer while blessing the water, or just recited the lyrics to “The Magic Number.”

But short of something like that, the bishop doesn’t have to have the person blessing the sacrament repeat the prayer for small errors. The handbook says to use his discretion, being guided especially by the potential for embarrassment and the potential for detracting from the ordinance.

In almost every circumstance, repeating the sacrament prayer will implicate both of those issues. And in literally every case, it will implicate at least one.

So bishops, please stop asking people to repeat the sacrament prayer.


[fn1] Of course, just because a prayer is in the scriptures doesn’t mean we use it. We don’t, for example, pray the Lord’s Prayer, in spite of it showing up in the New Testament in Matthew and Luke, and in the Book of Mormon in Third Nephi.

Image from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Media Library.

Comments

  1. Growing up there was a kid in my ward who had severe degenerative eyesight problems. Because of that he was never able to read the sacrament prayer, until a bishop printed a HUGE version of the prayer for him. That first week he was excited to say the prayer, but when he read through it he got something wrong. The bishop indicated to do it again, and he got it wrong again. This went on for about five or six rounds until the bishop walked over and told him what was wrong.

    After the sacrament the bishop brought the kid up and put his arm around him and tearfully apologized: he realized that he had made a mistake when he printed the prayer out.

    It was nice of him to publicly apologize, but if I’m that kid bringing him up just made it all worse. So embarrassing. So cringe.

  2. In my long experience in the church I only had one bishop that would require a repeating even if the slightest error was made. All the others were pretty flexible, to the point that we’d hear a repeat maybe only a few times a year and then only if the error was particularly egregious ( saying “water” instead of “bread”). And if the priest doing it was new or nervous, the bishops would even look the other way during big mistakes but follow up after. I think most bishops approach compassionately. But there’s always a few rotten apples…..

  3. Eg97, that’s good to hear! It hasn’t been my experience, but it’s the right answer. And honestly, with most small mistakes, nobody will notice and it will detract from the sacrament far less than requiring him to repeat the prayer!

  4. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    Not the prayer, per se, but I once had a Stake President ask me to repeat the prayer because I didn’t have both (both!) knees on the floor. Nevermind that kneeling isn’t necessary, it caused much congregational confusion because nobody could figure out why I was going again – the prayer was flawless. I think this update in the Handbook is a very good step. Would be nice if they could also include instructions about the other nonsense surrounding so many ordinances.

  5. Roger Hansen says:

    The Sacrament ordinance has always been a bit of a mystery to me. It is nonsalvific, but very important to many members. When I was young, it was distributed twice every Sunday. Now once. And during the pandemic, many members were cut off from the Sacrament. Some Bishop refused to even authorize priesthood holders from enacting the ordinance in their home.

    Since the ordinance is nonsalvific, why couldn’t a member invent their own way to remember Christ’s sacrifice? Or do an unofficial version of the Sacrament? Even repeat the literal prayers in their heart? Should a Bishop have the right to deny home Sacrament ordinances? Should a nonpriesthood household be denied the Sacrament?

    The important thing should be to remember Christ. I obviously vote for a not too strict reading of the prayer. Having to repeat the prayer(s) is unnecessarily distracting.

  6. Turtle—D&C 20:76 does say that the elder or priest shall kneel in prayer, but I only know this because I was asked to take the sacrament to a nursing home in our neighborhood and a bishop visiting a patient in one room made us re-do it when we stood at the foot of the patient’s bed rather than kneeling. I was tempted to point out that it says “kneel with the church” so technically maybe everyone else should kneel if we’re going to be hyper-literal about it. But it was less awkward to just comply and move on.

  7. Today the bishop had the priest repeat the prayer three times. He is a wonderful bishop, very spiritual and compassionate. But he is a lawyer so just couldn’t help himself.

  8. Sara, the thing is, as lawyers we’re trained in carefully reading, parsing, and understanding rules and regulations. And the plain language of the applicable regulatory regime says he literally does not need to ask someone to repeat the prayer.

    I think, as with many things in the church, there’s a lot of muscle memory here: he remembers as a priest he had to get it right or repeat it (or, if he’s a little younger, catch himself or repeat it) and he hasn’t carefully read the current standards.

  9. Tired, as Staples would point out, the whole LDS congregation did used to kneel together.

    ASL units received permission in the 80s to have the priest stand so everyone could see.

  10. Few times I have seen my mother enraged about something at church, but the Sunday my dyslexic brother was asked to repeat the prayer over and over and over, then, the visiting Stake HC member highlighted his mistakes during his remarks has stayed with me my entire life.

    It was something I considered when I was raising my own dyslexic son and I admit I felt a surge of relief when my son dropped out of church attendance before his 16th birthday.

    Is performance perfection really something worth alienating young men over?

  11. Thanks for that additional context, jpv.

    And cloves, that’s both horrifying and enraging. There is absolutely no excuse for it.

  12. As a mother, I always had my sons memorize both prayers before they turned 16.

  13. Interesting to compare what we often see/hear in Sacrament meeting to the training temple workers receive. I’ve seen the sacrament prayer repeated as many as ten times. I dare an Apostle to get it right having been failed by his bishop nine times before. This to simply renew covenants made previously.

    In the temple we’re taught to approach mistakes as if the patron is doing their best and to let less than perfection slide. This for a proxy ordinance that will be done only once ever for each individual. One temple counselor pointed out that the atonement fixes our mistakes not just our sins. The difference lets me laugh at myself when I mess up in the temple, start over, and get it right the second time. (Yes, I do recognize that the temple too has become less rigid over time. It was far less accommodating to human frailty when I started as a worker 28 years ago.)

  14. In my 30+ years attending church as an adult, I’ve been in dozens of Sacrament meetings where a General Authority was visiting (usually a member of the 70 or an Area Authority). In maybe eight or ten of those meetings, the young man blessing the sacrament missed a word – usually putting an “always” where it didn’t belong or not saying “always” when he was supposed to. I have noticed that not one of those higher-ups has made the young man repeat the prayer. Unfortunately, Bishops and Stake Presidents don’t seem to get that memo, and I have seen many instances of having the prayer repeated four or five times. I often feel very tense during the prayers out of concern for the person saying it, which really detracts from the spirit of the service. My own sons were very worried about making a mistake and were careful to read slowly. One of them had to repeat the prayer one time and he was very upset about it. Now they don’t go to church at all, though not because of that.

  15. Aussie Mormon says:

    I’ve been asked to repeat once (by the other person at the table)
    I’ve seen a few re-reads requested by the bishop. One was someone with english as a second language who pronounced “thee” as “the”. A few others I didn’t get why. The worst I’ve seen personal was about his 5th go, (he ended up getting glasses from memory, so that was likely part of it).

    In regards to the kneeling bit, I’ve had a bishop ask that I kneel on both knees (I was previously using one for ease/comfort).

    STW:”In the temple we’re taught to approach mistakes as if the patron is doing their best and to let less than perfection slide. ”

    That’s interesting. The most recent time I went, the worker made me re-do part of it, I’m still not sure what I said wrong. I put it down to the temple worker being old, and possibly having hearing issues. (I was talking quite fast)

  16. Aussie Mormon says:

    Note: The 5 times repeat was about 24 years ago, so multiple handbook revisions ago.

  17. A former Pres. of the Q12 shared a story with the GA’s in the annual training. His general theme was charity and patience. He in sum said there are very few things that need to be perfect. Then he shared a story of visiting his home ward. The priest made a mistake on the prayer and the bishop nodded to him to repeat the prayer. He made the same mistake and the bishop was about to do the same with the Apostle patted the bishop on the knee and said let it go. Then he told the bishop “there are very few things that need to be perfect and this not one of them, let it go.” So as in many cases, unfortunately, old practices have very long lives as they bore themselves into the culture.

  18. STW: “In the temple we’re taught to approach mistakes as if the patron is doing their best and to let less than perfection slide. ”

    I find that very interesting, as it has not been my experience. I once had a temple worker require me to remove the ceremonial clothing and put it back on again. (While everyone else sat and watched me try to hurry.) I do not have any idea why.

    It’s very possible, however, that this is done by people who are not able to find ways of letting go of the requirements they learned years ago. I know that as my father’s dementia progressed, he became very rigid about not accepting any changes to the way things had been when he was a bishop decades earlier.

  19. Latter day Paul says:

    When I was Young Men’s president (I know, a long time ago) I had the Priests memorize the prayers (they really are short and pretty easy to learn for any 16 year old). As an incentive, when they all passed it off, we went to Leatherbys for any ice cream treat they wanted. No repeats after that.

  20. Latter day Paul, though I’m not entirely sure what Leatherbys is, that sounds tremendously fun, and I’m sure it was a great experience for the boys.

    But it also helps illustrate how this breaks down: first, while memorizing the prayers is great, saying them in front of a congregation is different from saying them in front of a YM leader (or even the whole quorum). And if they misspeak without the prayer in front of them, it’s going to be orders of magnitude harder to get it the second, third, or fourth time.

    But also, in much of the church I’d wager you don’t have 16- and 17-year-old boys saying the prayers. (And to be clear, being asked to repeat the prayer can be immensely humiliating for teenagers too.) Here, it’s been years since we had a 16- or 17-year-old boy in our ward. The sacrament is blessed by adult men. And it tends to go very smoothly when they’re 20-something lifelong members from out west.

    But when they’re adult converts? It can go radically different, in a way that is bad for the convert and uncomfortable for the congregation.

    If there were some reason it needed to be repeated verbatim, I suppose that would be a tradeoff and harm we’d have to live with. But, other than tradition (or some sense of hazing), there’s absolutely no reason why it needs to be word-for-word. The Handbook literally says asking to repeat is within the discretion of the bishop. And a couple commenters here have said that General Authorities have expressly disclaimed the need for verbatim repetition.

    So it strikes me as a tradition (a bad one), carried over uncritically from earlier times. A tradition that, frankly, we should jettison.

  21. I was asked to repeat a sacrament prayer because I was kneeling on one knee instead of two (I have sensitive knees and its easier to kneel on one instead of two). This happened when I was in my late 30s.

  22. Abe Lincoln says:

    It isn’t a tradition uncritically carried over from the past but rather an overcorrection from the further past. The pendulum is just swinging back to the center recently. In the early days of the church, the prayer was not given verbatim. It varied greatly to the point that all sorts of other things were going on in the sacrament prayers. Requiring the exact language was to correct the wild variations that had been occurring.

  23. Abe, can you expand on that? Like I said in the OP, I’m not familiar with when the policy started or what inspired it.

    That said, the current iteration is most definitely uncritically carried over from the past; if bishops were reading the Handbook, they wouldn’t be making people repeat the prayers. But, as with so many things. they remember it from when they were boys (or from when they were YM leaders) and carry it on in spite of current policy.

  24. Left Field says:

    The current temple training can be summed up as “give everyone a break, they’re doing the best they can.” Specifically, there’s a whole training video saying that once a patron has put on the clothing, they are not required to make changes and any errors are not to be pointed out. If they realize the error themselves, they can correct it or not as they choose.

    I’m sure some things were done differently in the past.

  25. Raymond Winn says:

    THANK YOU for posting on this topic. This is one item that the CH has definitely gotten wrong in the past – that the prayer needed to be repeated unless it was word-for-word perfect.
    In 1968 Wichita, the ward had worked to re-activate a family from a small town east of the big city. They had to drive about 15 miles to the church meetings, but they began doing so. After about 6 months, their 16-yr-old son had progressed enough that they made him a priest. The first time he blessed the sacrament, he made that most-common mistake in the bread’s prayer (that they may eat IT in remembrance . . ). The bishop, who in my estimation to that point was a kind and thoughtful man, indicated to him that it had to be done again. Again [and again, and again] the same mistake. After about 8 tries, the boy just stopped. The other priest said the prayer, and the meeting went on. Needless to say, that family never returned to another church meeting or activity.
    Ever since then I have marveled at the idiocy/stupidity/muddy thinking that would direct a bishop to do such a thing, in front of an audience, knowing that the boy will be humiliated.

  26. When my bishop asks me to bless the sacrament, I sometimes tell him: “I can’t, because I am not God”. According to the text of the prayer: “O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee, in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify …”. The Handbook gets this wrong, too.

  27. BlueRidgeMormon says:

    In the context of the church recently reinforcing other “performative” aspects of things, like members needing to handle the sacrament with their right hand, or all public prayers (impromptu ones) needing to use ‘thee’ and ‘thine’ instead of ‘you’ and ‘your’…. or even the prohibition on using the word “Mormon” or the semi recent admonition to avoid even patronizing coffee shops as businesses… I think the pharasaical approach is clearly dominating. The OP’s detailed textual analysis notwithstanding, I think it will be increasingly rare for the OP’s advocated “spirit of the law” approach to find oxygen.

  28. BlueRidgeMormon says:

    To take things a step further (beyond the direct subject of the OP I realize), I worry that the kind of desirable leader behaviors occasionally highlighted in the comments (e.g. visiting GAs kindly suggesting an exacting bishop “let it go”) are being systematically driven out of the church. They seem far more like the exception than the rule at this point. It seems much more likely that pharasaical leaders who thrive on “compliant obedience culture” are increasingly drawn to stay and advance, while the flexible, spirit-of-the law types get worn out from constantly swimming upstream in a culture that values virtue signaling and shuns nuance. And like begets like.

    So with the BYUs actively purging faculty that seem even ever-so-slightly unorthodox or non-CES-ish, based on newly introduced nebulous standards, I think we can glimpse what SLC prefers and prioritizes right now, and I therefore worry that those of us who offer (as local leaders in the church) an alternative to stridency are a dying breed.

    As illustrative anecdotes from just the past few months, I have one son (halfway thru a freshman year at BYU) who was ordained just over a month ago to the Melchizedek Priesthood with a 95-year old grandfather standing in the circle —- great experience for a young man who is actively considering whether to serve a mission or not —- but only later did I learn that his campus stake president interview centered on the SP’s query about “what the gospel was all about” and the correct (and reinforced) answer being “that we can become gods”. Precisely the type of weirdness this son is skeptical of. Another son is nearing the end of serving a terrific mission that’s been full of spiritual maturation and devoted service, but he has found himself unimpressed with the South American mission’s “vibe” that explicitly ties mission leadership assignments to quantitative achievements (report xxx and you are automatically made a zone leader) and then showers arbitrary perks on those leaders (e.g. second phones and extra Pdays and fun leadership conferences), “like a summer sales organization”. So as someone unwilling to ‘play the game’ and often a lone voice that gently advocates against unrealistic goal setting etc, he has ended up underutilized despite a great/demonstrated capacity to teach and train other missionaries. Missed opportunity, and one that’s already reinforcing the notion that “the church” doesn’t really appreciate his approach but instead values (to bring it back to the topic at hand) bishops who prioritize exact wording in the sacrament prayers. Well…ok. But I fear the organization is turning this prioritization into a cycle that will drive young thinkers or compassionate disciples away. It becomes challenging as a father to continually advocate and argue that the church is a place of inspiration and fulfillment when (if?) they mostly experience a rule-following culture and a shallow unexamined devotional performativity.

    To use an analogy from a now-abandoned church youth regime, these same sons were active in scouting, and I think experienced the best of what it had to offer: they learned to love the outdoors, and gained resiliency from long backpacking trips, and have fond memories of high adventure. But there were also always scouts who were more drawn to what my sons considered the more silly aspects of the movement: the uniforms, and the recitations, and the ceremonial/military stuff. As a metaphor, it now feels as if the church is choosing to emphasize the uniforms in the ceremonies, but the high adventure has been hollowed out.

  29. I had the good fortune some 20 years ago to work with a young man (convert) who was a refugee from a West African nation. Otis’s (a nickname) native language was French, and his English was barely conversational. About six months after he was ordained to be a priest, I convinced him to try blessing the sacrament (he was happily preparing and passing every week, just very nervous to speak). We agreed he could do it the next week, giving him a few days to get comfortable with the prayers at home before having to read them in front of the congregation.

    The next Sunday came around, and Otis kneeled down to bless the water. But through his thick accent, something sounded not quite right to me. Apparently the bishop thought it was off as well and asked him to repeat the prayer. The second time through I listened very carefully and this time I caught it. “…bless and sanctify this wine…”

    Wait? What!? what card is he reading? And then it dawned on me that Otis wasn’t reading at all. He had spent the week at home memorizing the prayers out of the Book of Mormon. I frantically waved a thumbs up at the bishop, who also appeared confused about why we were blessing the wine. Thankfully, when he saw my adamant expression that the prayer was good enough, he nodded in approval to Otis.

    After the meeting, I explained the situation to the bishop. To his credit, he immediately pulled Otis aside privately, apologized, and praised him for putting more effort into the sacrament prayers than any other person in memory. Otis was, thankfully, good natured and laughed it off. He blessed the water the next week; I was a little disappointed. His first prayer remains my favorite.

  30. Sam, your comments regarding the needless and distracting practice of Sacrament prayer repetition is a hot spot for me.

    One contributor to this custom occurs when a member of the Stake Presidency visits a ward Sacrament meeting. Regardless of the local bishop’s own (and correct reading of the handbook), the bishop will invariably ask the priest to repeat the Prayer for word perfection. Why? To save himself from being embarrassed by a higher authority’s insistent, yet picayune attitude. In these cases when the bishop is unfamiliar with the authority’s feeling on the matter, if the bishop takes no action on a slip-up, the bishop risks possible embarrassment as the congregation sees the authority lean over to tell the bishop to tell the young priest to repeat the prayer. Silly and thank goodness this is rare.

    The wording of the handbook is troublesome as you point out. It seems impossible to ask a young priest to repeat the prayer without causing embarrassment.

    Then too, there is the “handedness” of a member’s Sacrament partaking. This “handedness” is another trifling, unnecessary formality with has recently been (re)introduced into our liturgy. Is there no end to Latter-day Saint appetite for more Pharisaical rules . . . .rules that signal to oneself and others righteousness and obedience (see above)?

    In my opinion, such rules or customs detract from the Holiness of the Sacrament and distract our thoughts away from the Savior. I ask us members: (i) Do we focus more on the word-perfectness of the prayer, rather than the meaning and spirit of the words? (ii) Which hand bore more weight and agony for Christ on the cross? (iii) Do we waste short, but precious time shuffling our books and small children so that we can use the right hand? (iv) Further on, do we then feel the need to whisper to our small children, “No, Johnny, the right hand.”

    Paul reminds us: The Kingdom Of God Is Not Meat And Drink But Righteousness And Peace And Joy In The Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17)

  31. Stephen Hardy says:

    I would like to follow-up on the comment made by STW who compared the sacrament prayers to our temple ordinances. I am not currently an ordinance worker, so things may have changed. However, I was an ordinace worker up to a year or two ago. Because I was also a friend of one of the members of the temple presidency I was able to listen to his comments about temple work as well.

    Each shift as a temple worker includes some training. This is usually in the form of a video which reviews some aspect of temple work. My friend who was in the temple presidency told me that mistakes are purposely placed in the training videos. The reason being that we should be ready to accept errors in our sessions. The training videos included mistakes like having the robe on the wrong shoulder, or errors made in the prayer circle held towards the end of the endowment. The point implicitly made was this: such errors do not negate the temple ceremony. The entire rite did not need to be stopped and repeated, not even the part where the error was made. You just move on. You don’t embarrass the patron, nor do you humiliate the temple worker.

    The presidency member told me that there is an emphasis on making the ceremony comfortable and edifying for everyone. Many patrons and temple workers get hung up on right hand vs left hand, exact wording, or other details. And a focus on those details was resulting in some patrons having a negative experience and possibly not returning for further sessions. I’ll bet that we all know someone who doesn’t enjoy their temple experience because of anxiety about various details. The presidency member also told me that focusing on the minute details can also result in a negative experience for temple workers. Their goal: to make the temple an uplifting experience for everyone: patron and worker. An over-zealous focus on small details during the ceremonies can result in negative experiences and in the end can cause someone to stay away from the temple.

    I have long thought that if mistakes are implicitly allowed in the temple (through training videos) then we ought to allow mistakes in the weekly sacrament ordinance. Both are sacred and both can be cheapened or ruined by a focus on minutiae.

  32. Stephen Hardy says:

    Benjamin: love your story!

  33. “if the bishop takes no action on a slip-up, the bishop risks possible embarrassment as the congregation sees the authority lean over to tell the bishop to tell the young priest to repeat the prayer. Silly and thank goodness this is rare.”

    Seems to me a good pastor of his flock would much prefer to risk embarrassment himself than mete it out to a child.

  34. Kevin Barney says:

    Great post Sam. I could not agree more strongly.

    I have given sacrament prayers many hundreds of time in my life, and I have never botched one. This is because I know how mortified I would be to have to repeat it that I am super cautious about it. I say the words slowly, one at a time, tracing my finger under each word. It’s quite possible that if I had ever botched one I might have immediately left and never come back, that is how mortifying it would be to me.

  35. Kevin Barney says:

    Great post Sam, I totally agree.

  36. I know I’m not a good example, but my time in bishoprics was all under the 1989 version and I always found license to waive an error in “careful to avoid causing embarrassment or distracting from the sacredness of the ordinance.” It seems to me that calling for a second reading almost always causes embarrassment and is a distraction.

    Confessionally, whenever I see a bishop call for a correction or second reading, I judge the bishop harshly.

  37. Stephen Hardy says:

    Christian: I would judge the bishop harshly… but… in my ward/stake (30 year’s time) we have never had a Bishop or stake president who seemed to give an inch on this. It’s so worked into our culture in my ward. I’d be judging all the bishops harshly. My harshness goes another layer up. Our local leaders won’t relax on this until they are encouraged or even forced to do so by area or general authorities. Tweaking the handbook isn’t enough. We’ve never had a lesson or talk about the practice. I’ve heard on occasion that when someone has to say the prayer three or more times it is “because we need to hear the prayer more carefully.”

  38. Kent Jackson says:

    I don’t think any of my last four bishops ever had a priest redo the prayer, and I’m glad. I don’t remember the last time I saw it happen. Show your bishops the handbook if necessary.

  39. Thanks for all those experiences and insights. Really appreciated. Reminds me of what an elderly judge once said in court, “We are all on a learning curve sergeant.”. I think wisdom increases charity. Thank you all.

  40. I agree with you about what should happen. No priest is perfect, no bishop is perfect, and God knows we’re all doing our best. But I think “discretion” here is not in the sense of “freedom to decide” but in the sense of “acting with sensitivity so as not to cause offense” i.e., doing something discreetly. The handbook authors don’t seem to have provided much useful advice about how that works when it’s necessarily in front of the whole church and we all know that even a discreet shake of the head means “wrong!” — but presumably, don’t make the same person guess their mistake over and over again (hence the part about “help as needed”).

    Why do I think “uses discretion” means “does so discreetly” here? First, the sentence before it is non-discretionary. If the person does not correct the error, then the bishop asks for the prayer to be repeated, full stop, no exceptions. Second, the “when asking” part of “uses discretion when asking” takes as given that the asking is taking place. It’s not about whether to ask; it’s about what to do when you ask. (By contrast, if we’re talking about a judge having discretion to grant or deny a motion, we use more even-handed language than “the judge uses discretion when denying the motion.”) Finally, the sentences that follow are similarly not about *whether* to ask for the prayer to be repeated, but *how* to ask: without causing undue embarrassment, maybe by having someone else assist so as not to repeatedly shift focus from the ordinance to the person who made the mistake — in other words, discreetly.

  41. Mike, while I’ll grant that that’s a possible reading of an slightly ambiguous paragraph, I don’t think it’s the best reading. In essence, it renders the previous and subsequent sentences superfluous. There’s no discretion offered in asking kindly or in ensuring that asking doesn’t cause undue embarrassment, etc. The only place discretion is really possible is in deciding whether to ask for a repetition or not.

  42. I think the fixation on word-perfect repetition reflects a poor understanding of what makes rituals meaningful. I can see why the error comes up. Repetition is a necessary element of ritual, so there is a temptation to act as if perfect repetition will perfect the ritual. Alas, that is a child’s understanding of ritual. To obsess on verbatim accuracy is to treat the words like a magical incantation.

    The power of the sacrament is in the way it brings us together. This ritual is fundamentally communal, unlike our private, individual devotions. We can pray and repent without receiving the sacrament. We can feel the Spirit’s presence and receive the assurance of God’s love and forgiveness without receiving the sacrament. However, in receiving the sacrament we are doing something together. We receive the sacrament as a token of our commitment to following Jesus together as members of his church.

    In reverence, we make our best effort to follow the prescribed form of the ritual. But we must do that with the purpose of the ritual in mind. Its purpose is to strengthen us together in our weakness. When we administer the sacrament in a way that discourages faith and love, we profane the gift of the sacrament. Sooner or later, the obsession with verbatim repetition is bound to discourage faith.

    The same observations hold for the temple rituals. It’s good to know that temple workers are now taught not to be strict about matters of form.

    Another way to put this is that form and meaning in ritual are different things. If we don’t allow the form to serve the meaning, form can destroy our community.

  43. senatorgravett says:

    Former mormon, current Anglican. I’ll just note that our service is almost 100% prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer. I’ve heard priests and deacons make plenty of mistakes; it’s almost inevitable in an hour long service. I’ve never ever seen anyone tell them to start a prayer over. I think the reason is that: 1) the liturgical prayers were made for man, not man for the liturgical prayers; and 2) the idea that an exact set of words said 100% correctly is required to activate God’s grace seems almost gnostic.

  44. Let cherubim and a flaming sword mark/guard the way. Mercy and justice mark/guard the way. It can feel like a flaming sword be told to re read the sacrament prayers, it can feel like a flaming sword to hear them again, but an effort to correct and try again serves a communal purpose in the ritual.

  45. 2pennys, except that doesn’t make any sense at all. Invoking scriptural language from the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden is not even orthogonal to the question of whether the sacrament prayers don’t count if they’re not repeated word for word. There’s no scriptural demand that prayers be recited verbatim. In fact, we don’t do the blessing on the water verbatim. Like I said in the OP, we don’t pray every liturgical prayer in scripture, even in our scriptures. Even with baptism, we don’t follow the prayer related in the Book of Mormon. At best, it’s a policy choice that the church has made.

    And the church has formally walked that policy choice back over the last roughly 30 years.

  46. This all reminds me of a discussion we had in seminary, back when I was still a seminary teacher. I’d asked the young men to talk about what it was like for them to pass the sacrament for the first time, and one said, “I spilled the water. All over the bishop’s khaki pants.” After people had chuckled, he admitted that while it was funny now, “all the time you’re leading up to your twelfth birthday, you’re hearing, you’re going to be a representative of Christ. It’s coming. It’s coming. And then, boom. He’s crying now.” One of his classmates talked about accidentally banging a metal sacrament tray into a metal chair, and the resulting clang reverberated so loudly through the chapel that it took several weeks and much encouragement from family and young men’s leaders before he was willing to try it again.

    Then we got onto what it was like to bless the sacrament for the first time. “My hands were shaking so much I could barely break the bread. There was a really short hymn that day, and the organist had to keep playing and playing because I couldn’t get it done in time.” Another young man volunteered that, although he had been blessing the sacrament for over a year with no problem, there had been a day a couple of months earlier when he hadn’t been able to get it right, and he’d had to keep trying again. And again and again. One of his classmates asked how many times he’d had to try, to which the boy answered, “Six or seven.” The second young man just shook his head and let out an involuntary whistle. The sympathy was palpable, not just from him, but from every other boy in the room.

    I hadn’t expected those responses but it was a real eye-opener to me as to how stressful getting the sacrament exactly right can be.

  47. Sam,
    Thanks for your reply, rereading my comment was helpful to me and I think the comment was more of a non sequitur or a wrongfully employed mixed metaphor, than “except that doesn’t make any sense at all”.

    I used the example of guarding the way to the tree because I see a lot of constructive overlap in that angelic role, the role of a high priest on Yom Kippur (a lot more exactness) and a bishop and priest’s role in our sacrament ritual. Not the most direct connections to the conversation but it was in an effort to add to the OP “what’s up with that?” regarding exactness.

    Exactness in the prayers can serve a purpose to communicate a moral example of humility without being humiliating. It also does not have to signify a belief in the magical power of the prayer. Asking for the prayer to be reread or rereading it can be seen as meekness in striving for admission and participation with something beyond the veil.

  48. ideasnstuff says:

    As one of the commenters mentioned, the most common error is to insert the word “to” in the phrase “that they may eat [it] in remembrance of”. The Spanish version of the prayer requires the insertion of this pronoun: “para que [lo] coman en memoria…”. This is undoubtedly the case as well in other languages. Which all goes to point out an important distinction: some (actually most) slip-ups have to do with minor issues that don’t affect the meaning of the ordinance at all. My bishop always, and wisely, lets these go. The same applies in the temple. As ordinance workers we don’t ask a patron to repeat because they left out a “the” or replaced “in” with “of”. If a major part of the ordinance is omitted or a completely wrong word or token is given, we gently help the patron to correct, but even that has its limits – we seek never to push a patron to a point of frustration or embarrassment. The same could well apply to the sacrament prayers – the bishop exercises his discretion by deciding what is major and what is minor (small stuff) – and as the saying goes, it’s (almost) all small stuff.

  49. ideasnstuff says:

    Correction to my last comment: The word inserted in error is “it” after “eat”. The Spanish “lo” is the masculine direct object pronoun, perfectly analogous to the extra “it” that gets inserted all the time.

  50. stephen hardy says:

    Another point to ponder: Moroni gives us various counsel about how to do certain priesthood things. For example in Moroni 2, the process of giving the gift of the Holy Ghost is explained. In Chapter 3, the manner of ordination of priests and teachers is given:

    1 The manner which the disciples, who were called the elders of the church, ordained priests and teachers—

    2 After they had prayed unto the Father in the name of Christ, they laid their hands upon them, and said:

    3 In the name of Jesus Christ I ordain you to be a priest (or if he be a teacher, I ordain you to be a teacher) to preach repentance and remission of sins through Jesus Christ, by the endurance of faith on his name to the end. Amen.

    4 And after this manner did they ordain priests and teachers, according to the gifts and callings of God unto men; and they ordained them by the power of the Holy Ghost, which was in them.

    Back to me now. Why are we so picky about the prayers for the sacrament, and then we ignore the explicit wording that is given here for Aaronic priesthood ordination?

    I am not lobbying to have specific memorized prayers for ordaining people to priesthood offices. But I am observing that we take one chapter as a guideline, and another as a specific blueprint. I have always been confused about why we value the different instructions so differently.

  51. I agree stephen. I don’t understand the logic behind this guideline/blueprint dichotomy that you point out.

  52. I think I know Sara’s bishop. Anyhow… I wonder how many people, esp bishops know the latest language in the handbook. I didn’t.

  53. Good stuff. I have received instruction from apostles to “let it go” and “the second prayer is good no matter what.” Instruction I appreciated.

    Remembering a baptism where a recently re-fellowshipped man beautifully baptized his grand-daughter. Extremely nervous, and with the prayer taped to the glass in front of him, his prayer resembled not a word on the printed sheet.

    But the spirit confirmed the ordinance. All went home pleased, except for a few who challenged me about “the Handbook.” I simply offered to take that bullet at the pearly gates.

    I think the Pharisees were called out by Jesus for a reason.

  54. There was a kid in the ward who had trouble often. I told him to use his finger to guide his eyes as he read. His problem stopped immediately. And for quite a while no one missed the prayer. It should be mandatory instruction to all priests.

  55. Gary Mills says:

    It was not until I was cleaning the chapel one time that I recognized how I made multiple mistakes in the eyes/ears of the bishop. As one who wears the progressive style lenses for eyeglasses, being able to clearly see the printed prayers that are plastered on that pull out microphone are extremely difficult. On that day is when I learned that printed cards that can be positioned properly, are still located under the table. The irritating thing was that after the meeting, the bishop singled me out and said, “I am not sure what you said wrong, but after the third time, I figured I would let it go.” This was in the middle of a crowded foyer.

  56. Maple Mom says:

    About ten years ago, our ward had a nightmarish Sunday when a priest took eight tries to get through the sacrament prayer. The Bishop was so concerned that he started a new ward practice: when a priest makes a mistake the first time around, the Bishop kneels down with him and keeps him on track the second try. This has eliminated multiple efforts and made the ordinance less stressful.

  57. Jarlath Brophy says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful article, especially for highlighting the need to be kind. However, I would like to point out a flaw which is to build your argument on a false premise and interpretation.

    The handbook states: “The bishop uses discretion when asking for the prayer to be repeated. He ensures that doing so does not cause undue embarrassment or detract from the ordinance. Another person at the sacrament table can help as needed.”

    The English here makes it clear that the sentence refers to what the Bishop must do AFTER deciding to make a correction, “when asking for the prayer to be repeated. . .”. The manual is giving counsel about what to do while giving correction.

    You state: “it provides the bishop with explicit discretion to not ask that the prayer be repeated, even if the person blessing the sacrament errs.”

    I disagree. I read no such conclusion from this wording. Your arguments are well taken but use interpretative language.

  58. Imagine That says:

    I was sadden to witness the requirement to repeat the blessing of the sacrament 5 times. It became clearly evident as distracting, demeaning and even a hinderance of what’s to be a moment of great atoning power. All lost in the notion that perfection is the measure of faith and reverence sought and determined by the Bishop, otherwise less than perfect in numbered deeds of inflicting unkind acts of embarrassment for sake of perfection, lost in the distraction of all.

    As a member I sit quietly murmuring within my own head the words that I likely will never be asked to speak aloud, while anguished at the repetitive abuse of power against a contrite heart all the ready to recall best they can, yet fail again to deliver perfection sought.

    It broke my heart and I actually yelled out in my head, ENOUGH! Tempering my ego’s need to be heard for fear of further distractions and a meeting with a Bishop I wouldn’t want; yet I’m challenged within my own silenced voice that I’ll never be asked, and to think what was worse, the deafening moment we all said those words in our heads, hoping some how that brother would speak them aloud or trusting a Bishop to display a moment of compassion for the sake of humanity and grace over perfection, all yielding the Atoning Power of acceptance and forgiveness that we all seek and need.

  59. Jarlath, I’ve already dealt with that argument both in the OP and in the comments. In short, the language of the handbook unequivocally gives bishops the ability to not require someone blessing the sacrament to repeat the prayer if they err. And that reading is backed up both by history and by the language of scripture.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: