Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Uniqueness of the Sacrament

Friend of the blog Cory, who contributed to our epic election roundtable a while back, has returned with more musings and ponderings for the benefit of all:

Priesthood ordinances are very ceremonial and regimented in the church. Some must be said word-for-word, such as the baptismal ordinance or the sacrament ordinances. Other ordinances like priesthood blessings or confirmation have more freedom of wording, but still specify that certain things must be said in a certain way. Suffice to say, the wording of priesthood ordinances in the church seem to be very carefully considered by church leaders (and by extension, God, since his order comes through His representatives).

The specifics of how to properly carry out ordinances comes up every so often in priesthood lessons, church talks, and sometimes even general conference. One particular point of emphasis is that the priesthood holder authoritatively administers the ordinance rather than ask God for the ordinance’s blessings/effects. For example, in a priesthood blessing of healing or comfort, the person giving the blessing should say “I bless you to…” by virtue of the authority vested in him rather than, “Father, I ask thee to bless…” The priesthood bearer stands in the place of the Savior for the ministration and thus speaks in place of Him. This is distinctly different from a “regular” prayer where an individual asks God for blessings and makes no attempt to speak with authority in calling them out. This does not diminish the power of prayer in the slightest, but it is different. Also, in a priesthood blessing, the priesthood bearer ministers for others and not for himself, which is obviously not always the case in prayer.

Other examples of the proper protocol being to speak in the first person for priesthood blessings include (emphasis added in all of these):

  • Baptism: “Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you…”
  • Confirmation: “I confirm you a member…”
  • Anointing: “I anoint you with this oil…”
  • Consecrating Oil: “I consecrate this oil…”
  • Dedicating Graves: “I dedicate and consecrate this grave…”
  • Temple: I won’t quote it here, but the same thing applies

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. Every single week, we hear the sacrament ordinance during church where a priesthood holder must be the one to bless the bread and water. It should follow the same protocol, right? Wrong. Interestingly, in the sacrament ordinance, the priesthood holder does not say “I bless this bread/water…” in keeping with the pattern of the other ordinances. He says “…we ask thee…to bless this bread/water” (emphasis added). It is very prayer-like in its wording in that the priesthood holder asks God for the blessing rather than bless it himself using the authority of the priesthood. Also, interestingly enough, the sacrament is the only ordinance that a priesthood minister performs for himself since he also partakes of the blessed bread/water. Do I think that this is the reason for the difference in procedure? No; it's likely just another unique trait of the sacrament ordinance.

Now for my non-conclusion: Do I have any idea why it is different? No. Did I think of any reasonable explanation as I pondered it the other day? No. Have I searched extensively for any explanation for this using church resources? No. The answer, if there is one, may lie buried in the discourses of Brigham Young for all I know. Or even somewhere more accessible like a general conference talk from more recent times. I am really curious to see what others think. Does the difference have any significance? Where did this difference in procedure come from? What kind of reasonable/possible explanations can you come up with to explain it? Comment away and hopefully we can bring more insight into the topic!