Drop it! Who’s Worthy to Take the Sacrament?

Hawkgrrrlbook of mormon, church, LDS, Mormon, mormon, Mormons, religion, sacrament, scripture 64 Comments

Is it ever appropriate to intervene when someone “unworthy” is going to take the sacrament?  What level of “unworthiness” makes such intervention justified?

There was a big disagreement about this on my mission.  An investigator who had been given a chapel card showed up for church just as the sacrament service was beginning.  When the bread tray came to him, he was unsure what to do, so he took a piece of the bread.  Just then, an older missionary who was serving in a branch leadership role jumped up from his seat on the stand and commanded the man (in Spanish) to “Drop it!” which he did.  sacrament.jpgNeedless to say, the investigator never returned.  To explain his actions, the missionary referred to the following scriptures:

3 Ne. 18: 28-29 28 And now behold, this is the commandment which I give unto you, that ye shall not suffer any one knowingly to apartake of my flesh and blood bunworthily, when ye shall minister it;

29 For whoso eateth and drinketh my flesh and ablood bunworthily eateth and drinketh damnation to his soul; therefore if ye know that a man is unworthy to eat and drink of my flesh and blood ye shall forbid him.

While this missionary was perhaps alone in his strict interpretation of these scriptures in this specific situation, there is clearly a scriptural prohibition to prevent someone taking the sacrament unworthily.

Should non-members be asked not to partake?  The current mormon.org provides a description of our services for visitors:

A typical meeting would consist of the following:
Hymns: Religious songs sung by the congregation (hymn books are provided).
Prayers: Offered by local Church members.
Partaking of the sacrament (communion):The sacrament consists of prepared bread and water, which is blessed and passed to members of the congregation by priesthood holders .
Speakers: Typically a meeting will have two or three assigned speakers.
We do not pass a plate to request donations as part of our worship services.

There is no specific prohibition made here instructing visitors to not partake.  Does that omission imply non-members are welcome to partake in the spirit of worship although it is not a renewal of their baptismal covenants?

Children and the mentally disabled frequently partake because they are considered innocent and in no way unworthy.  What about ex-Mormons who are not returning to the church but attending due to familial obligation?  What about crazy people (there are lots of brands of crazy)?  What about ex-Mormons who are crazy?

If intervention is desired, who should intervene?  How and when should this take place?  Isn’t a lay member intervening kind of like a citizen’s arrest?  This is one area where I agree with Elizabeth I:  I have “no desire to make windows into men’s souls.”  Nor have I seen anyone burst into flames for touching the sacrament or keel over dead like Uzzah the ark-steadier.  My tendency would be to leave it up to the individual, but perhaps I am being remiss.

And when do you feel you should recuse yourself from taking the sacrament?  For major infractions only?  If you are yelling at the kids to hurry in the morning?

Comments 64

  1. Elder Oaks has addressed this specifically, and you are right to do nothing:

    “to be righteous, an intermediate judgment must be within our stewardship. We should not presume to exercise and act upon judgments that are outside our personal responsibilities. Some time ago I attended an adult Sunday School class in a small town in Utah. The subject was the sacrament, and the class was being taught by the bishop. During class discussion a member asked, “What if you see an unworthy person partaking of the sacrament? What do you do?” The bishop answered, “You do nothing. I may need to do something.” That wise answer illustrates my point about stewardship in judging.”

      1. Ditto, re who the Savior was addressing at the time. His disciples. In our day, and in the situation in question, perhaps not disciples/apostles personally but may be leaders in the ward who represent the apostles, who hold keys ie bishop/bishopric, who, if a matter such as someone thinking another is partaking of the sacrament unworthily is brought to his/their attention, will deal with it as only they will be inspired to do. I also agree with others that it is up to the individual, LDS or non-LDS, active or less active, whoever, to chose for themselves whether they take the sacrament or not, and for the rest of us to hopefully use such an opportunity to perhaps work on ridding ourselves of the sin of being judgmental. ‘He who is without sin ….’ Just saying.

  2. m&m – vindication! Glad to know I’m not the only one who’s browser locks up when posting comments!

    I agree 100%. This sometimes came up when I was on my mission. But even Elder Oak’s comment doesn’t answer the root of the problem: should a non-member take the sacrament?

  3. The only persons affected by partaking unworthily are the unworthy themselves. I am not worried about who does and does not partake. It is none of my business.

    1. who cares? why are we so quick to want to judge others. I haven’t read all the answers, but to me, this type of thing is between the Lord and the person … especially a non LDS. Let us all worry about ourselves and leave the rest up to Bishop and the Lord.

  4. It is a our responsibility to explain the promises we make when we partake to those who are visiting. It is their decision whether or not to partake, based on their willingness to make those commitments.

    We sometimes forget that the sacrament is a renewal of OUR baptismal covenants, but it also is accessible to those who have NOT been baptized (like our children) – and, therefore, for them it is NOT a renewal. For our children, it functions more as a preparatory promise. The sacrament is NOT limited to us, as if it was something only for the “righteous” children’s club. It is a sign of commitment, for us to baptismal covenants already made and for others non-baptismal promises already or willing to be made. If I allow my 5-year-old to partake and not my 40-year-old, devout Christian friend, I think that says more about me than about them.

    Should a non-member partake? Let me ask a different question:

    If they are willing to make the promises inherent in it, and if they are living their best to the extent of their knowledge, why should they not partake?

    1. The Sacrament is under the stewardship of the Bishop or presiding authority of the ward/branch, so that person/persons has the authority and responsibility to ask someone to refrain from taking the sacrament.
      Because the sacrament represents a “renewal” of a covenant, then someone of the age of accountability has no reason to take the sacrament if they have not yet made such covenants; and should not take it as doing so disrespects its meaning and purpose. It’s a matter of responsible respect toward a sacred religious ceremony. Missionaries have, then, the responsibility to discuss the meaning of and importance of the sacrament to non-members before they attend church and let them know that not until they have been baptized and made such covenants will they partake of the sacrament. To take it prior to having made the covenant professed would be a defiling and disregard for it. Most adults will understand such importance and want to regard the ceremony with respect by not partaking.
      I joined the join at age 23, and was that non-member. By waiting until I was baptized to take the sacrament gave the taking of it the meaning it deserved. The sacrament is an intimate covenant with God, and unless you’ve made the commitment to Him/Them then you don’t deserve what the ceremony represents. Like unto having a too intimate relationship with a woman/man before getting married.
      A child taking the sacrament before the age of 8 without baptism is of no worry, since that person is considered innocent and has no place for making a covenant with God yet.
      In short, the Sacrament represents a covenant (which many on this site don’t seem to understand the significance of) and if someone of accountability has not made the covenant/s corresponding to, or not keeping the covenants corresponding to, the Sacrament then they should not take it. It is irresponsible and disrespectful to do so.

      1. Thank you very clear I am an ex member returning for investigation with my husband ( a non member ) I guess I don’t partake either.

  5. Ray, Im with you on this one. My partner is Catholic but takes LDS sacrament when we attend my parents ward – I’m a non-believing LDS Buhdist and don’t take the sacrament. My parents agree as well, for my partner he is making his own commitments with the sacrament as he is able to see it. I’m sure its odd for my parents to see there gay son pass on the sacrament but his partner who is not LDS take it. In the end I doubt any loving God would deny the sencerity of any one, member or not, partaking the sacrament.

  6. I’m not sure for long it lasted, but for years the leader conducting sacrament used to say right before the sacrament prayers: “We will now pass the sacrament to the “members” of the church. I think sometime during Spencer Kimball’s Presidency they stopped specifically saying that.

    I believe I read that in the book Ed Kimball wrote about his father, Pres. Kimball.

  7. I agree with Elder Oaks.

    Heh. That was easy.

    When I was still a relatively new member (late 60s/early 70s), this was more of an issue than it is today, and it was common to instruct visiting non-members (ahead of time! not in the act, thank you!) not to partake of the Sacrament. But that has largely, though not completely, vanished. Interestingly, just in the past few months we had a Catholic investigator in our ward who on her own refused to take the Sacrament until she was baptized (which she was). She said that it made it very special for her. ..bruce..

  8. I think the KNOWINGLY part is key. If a non member innocently takes the sacrament, then that is like a child taking it. They aren’t trying to do something wrong.

    I mean, I had my name removed, but we attend sacrament meetings occasionally for blessings, baptisms, ect. I don’t take the sacrament. But if my five year old or two year old reaches, I’m not going to stop them, even though they were never even blessed in the church. I honestly can’t remember if i took the sacrament before I was baptized, but it wouldn’t surprise me if I did, not understanding the rules. and if I was going to ‘rebuke’ someone for it, I would do it in private after the meeting, not call them out in front of a room full of very quiet people.

    and shouldn’t members being contemplating the sacrament while it’s being passed, not paying attention to who else is partaking? 😛

  9. Here’s how I see it–there are times when as a member you are supposed to recognize your own spiritual state as being unworthy. There are also times when, if you have been involved in speaking with a bishop because of a transgression where he will direct you not to partake. Finally, if you are excommunicated or have your name removed from the church records [or disfellowshipped] you are, as I understand these things, instructed not to partake.

    Non-members visitors should be told the nature of the sacrament, what the promises are, and the significance of it, and given to understand that if they have no trouble with that promise, then they should be equally willing to be be baptized and join their names to ours. Either that or simply told that we have a ceremony as a part of our meetings that we use to remind us of the sacrifice Christ made for us. It is unwise, I think, to simply bring them in unprepared to our meetings.

  10. Honestly, I think LDS members thinking they’re not worthy enough to take the sacrament is a much more common problem than LDS members thinking someone else is unworthy to take it. I have had several LDS friends and relatives, who were faitful, active individuals, decline the sacrament for a year or more, not because they were under any discipline, and not because they had any major sins in their live—just because they didn’t think they were “worthy enough.”

  11. Yeah, Nick, that always gets me. If you are worthy to be baptized again, you are worthy to partake of the sacrament. Jane and John Doe Mormon are worthy every single week; abstaining as a result of unrealistic expectations is as detrimental, imho, as partaking unworthily – since both result in a loss of spiritual guidance and, in a very real way, even if only to a small degree, deny the power of the Atonement.

    Are you there each week – or each week you can be? (Yes.) Have you done something that requires confession to the Bishop? (No) Take the sacrament! Leave the self-flagellation to others.

  12. I had a YW teacher who told the YW she admired those who abstained from taking the sacrament, assuming they were taking matters more seriously than she was. Suddenly, there was peer pressure about it. After that, the YW would sometimes take it, sometimes not. I always wondered how much what she said influenced that.

  13. ‘m&m’ is right here.

    It’s only the Bishop who judges people in church and it is his responsibility to tell someone during an interview, a private interview and delicately, to not take the sacrament because they are unworthy.

    Ah, and if people decide not to take it on their own they are only telling the bishopric that something is wrong with their morality since Bishops are usually looking at the congregation as the sacrament goes around -unless they’re sick of the job and want a release.

  14. I think it would behoove a family member or missionary to instruct a non-member on partaking the sacrament in a loving and kind manner. You don’t have to be a policeman about it. An for the exmo, damu type, they know better to take it and if they do, let the bishop deal with it. Not your problem.

  15. The sacrament is meaningful to members who understand the significance of what is represents to us members. For non-members, not fully informed, it is nothing but bread and water, unless they also attach significance to it as the emblems of the Lord’s Supper.

    For members who do not partake on any given week, it is a personal choice to abstain if they do not feel that they have fully repented of some particular sin. After all, it is in remembrance of our baptism, where we received a remission of our sins to that point.

    No one, other than the Bishop/Branch President has the right to tell another not to partake of the sacrament. Except a parent, perhaps as a teaching moment to an unrepentant child.

  16. anon – we used to give out chapel cards with the name of the church, address, phone number and when services were held, usually on a street contact. We usually gave these out with a Book of Mormon, but sometimes you just gave the card if you had already given away all the Books of Mormon you had with you or if you felt the person was not very interested in reading the Book of Mormon. I don’t know if these are still used or not or if they were done everywhere.

  17. I got some instruction on my mission (which seemed to be from some official Church manual- maybe the CHI) that missionaries should explain to non-members/investigators that the sacrament was for baptized members of the Church only (+ children of course). However, if the missionaries clearly failed in that duty, or if the investigators simply ignored them, that nothing further should be done to stop them, especially as it might detract from their ultimately joining the Church, which, in the ham-handed way in which Hawkgrrl’s fellow missionary handled that situation, was precisely what occurred.

  18. AHLDuke, I also remembered some instruction like that. So I searched in my digital version of Preach My Gospel, but any such instruction is notably absent, despite several sections that talk about the sacrament. I think the absense of such instruction speaks volumes.

    1. While in the mission we explained to investigators that they should not take the sacrament until after they were baptized. It’s been 15 years since I completed my mission and not until today did this idea that we invite non-members to take the sacrament if they would like is totally new to me. In fact, in my 28 years of church membership, this is the first time I have heard something in church that was contrary to what I have taught. Was there any policing in the mission field – “no.” It was a simple explanation that the sacrament was for individuals who had made already baptismal covenants, and that it is a privilege available to all that desire to be baptized. Nobody is forbidden to be baptized, and therefore nobody is forbidden to take the sacrament. In my mind – “worthiness” – is a separate conversation, and would agree that is none of our business – this is between an individual and God; and it clearly makes sense that a Bishop under the guidance of the spirit and with love could say something as well. As I think about following the spirit, I wouldn’t as a missionary go as far as inviting non-members to take the sacrament – I think I would continue to, with as much tact as possible invite them to be baptized before they take. With that said, I feel a missionary is vested with the ability to say that, unlike I friend who invited a non-member friend to church. In that situation, I would explain to the friend what the sacrament is, and let them know that they should feel o.k. taking it, and equally o.k. in not taking it. I guess I’m not black and white.

  19. I agree with Elder Oaks. I also think his advice is consitent with a contextual reading of 3 Ne. 18:28-29, which was a directive given to his “disciples” whom he had ordained to adminster church affiars, not to the multitude generally.

  20. If I didn’t feel comfortable taking the sacrament, I wouldn’t feel very comfortable attending the sacrament meetings, because I would feel like people might be judging me. “I wonder what big sin he committed that is keeping him from taking the sacrament”

    on a side note- my wife makes a big deal about people not taking the sacrament with the right hand. I think this is silly.

    1. I doubt anyone will read this, since this article is 6 years old, but as a left-handed kid, I would obviously reach for the sacrament with my left hand. My dad would then pull the tray away from me, until I used my right hand. I always found that really annoying, especially since he never explained to my why I was supposed to take it with my right hand. In fact, I still don’t know.

        1. Tony, Trish, and Jake: concerning the question about whether to take the sacrament with your right hand, I believe that it is strongly encouraged, in order to maintain the symbolism of the promise that you make as you partake of the sacrament. However, as long as you are taking the sacrament with the desire to follow Christ and the promise to remember Him and keep His commandments, the outcome should be the same whichever hand you use. For example, a worthy member who does not have a functional right hand, but who is prayerfully partaking of the sacrament with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, will still obtain the same blessings using their left hand as a worthy member who uses their right. Just remember to listen to the Spirit if you are unsure. And remember that those who are insistent that you use your right hand are only trying to help 🙂

  21. Sacrament is a renewal of the baptismal covenant. It is only to be taken by baptized members (this excludes all children under 8, even though I see self-righteous mothers every Sunday trying to feed their 1-year-old granddaughter a tiny cup of water, such exclusion has nothing to with “innocence”), and baptism is the only test of worthiness to be used for taking the sacrament (excepting personal choices while going through a repentant process, as I know my mother has declined sacrament while repentant).

    There are verses in D&C and the Book of Mormon that expound upon this connection of baptism being the (only) prerequisite to sacramental “worthiness” — I will leave finding these references as an exercise for the reader.

    Back to your story, however, certainly the missionary was out-of-line to disrupt the reverence of the passing of the sacrament in such an absurd manner. Certainly they were both unworthy to partake of the sacrament that day!

    1. “Self-righteous mothers trying to feed their granddaughters tiny cups if water”??? Very strange, rude attitude towards mothers there. We are teaching our children about the gospel the best we know how. And I would hardly call that “self righteous”. Wow.

  22. …role jumped up from his seat on the stand and commanded the man (in Spanish) to “Drop it!” which he did.

    It is this type of arrogance that turns so many people off from the Church (I am assuming this man did not know the investigator or have personal knowledge of some grievous sin he had committed). IMO it amounts to unrighteous dominion.

  23. Tony R. – I have heard that the right hand/left hand issue is a throwback to cultures in which the left hand is considered unholy because it is the hand you use to wipe your bottom. Sorry if I’ve ruined it for your lefties out there!

  24. People will get out of taking the sacrament exactly what they think they will or won’t get out of it. It’s a ritual of personal nature. No one will be struck down by lightning nor will the heavens open and pore out pennies based on one’s partaking of the sacrament. If you listen to the instructions given when it is blessed, it’s about remembrance.

  25. Derek,

    Ummm, I see where you’re coming from, but Church leaders have repeatedly stressed that it’s OK for little children to partake of the sacrament. They can learn to love and remember Jesus Christ and his sacrifice as well as someone who has been baptized.

  26. As evidence of the above, here is an excerpt from Elder Haight’s April 1988 Ensign article “Remembering the Savior’s Atonement”:

    “Inviting Children to Participate. On 11 July 1877, the First Presidency issued one of the most important documents in our Church history to set in order the priesthood. This letter was the culmination of President Brigham Young’s administration, for he died a little over a month later. In this historic letter, the First Presidency said that children should be given the sacrament during Sunday School so they could “be taught the value and importance of that ordinance.” The First Presidency noted that “the proper observance of the Lord’s day would be greatly increased among the rising generation if this were to become a custom in all our settlements.” (James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965–75, 2:289.) The sacrament did become a part of Sunday School opening exercises and continues to be given to children during weekly sacrament meetings. Many have been blessed because of that practice.”

  27. Sure, it is one thing to allow toddlers to partake of the sacrament so as not to feel left out (as in the Catholic Church were children do not partake until Confirmation and First Communion). Toddlers can at least begin to be taught the meaning of sacrament, and they can thereby begin to derive something from it (even if it’s not much), but they can at least understand something of what they’re doing.

    But parents force-feeding their infants a sip of water and morsel of bread is a blatantly self-righteous act, and it is treating the consecrated bread and water as though it were some sort of magic potion that will protect the baby.

  28. I think the ordinance most closely related to the sacrament is the ancient animal sacrifice, not baptism. I guess in a way it could be thought of as “renewing” the baptismal covenant, since we promise similar things in both, so I don’t think that’s a false teaching per se, but I wouldn’t restrict children from taking it just because they haven’t been baptized yet.

  29. Joe, I don’t think there is ANY harm in you taking it, as long as you understand the promises entailed and are willing to make them. Politely passing on it is a fine option, but if it were me I would take it – unless I was attending a ward where people knew I was attending another church. To avoid offending them, I would pass.

    I have no doubt the Lord knows your heart and will not judge either choice as sin, especially if made in a spirit of worship and respect.

  30. I grew up in church all my life, and being milatary we traveled all over the world and attended many churches. My Bible teaches me that , we call it taking communion, is a very personal thing and the Bible instructs us to make sure we are spiritually ready to partake. No one has the right to stand guard over the plates as they are passed. We are to be focused on our Lord and not on those around us, bringing our own thoughts in line with God and His will. Do this in remebrance of Him, not judging the worthines of anyone but my own self.

  31. Joe – I think Jeff was asking whether your statement that you left LDS to become “Christian” was a dig (implying that LDS are not Christian). Jeff converted to LDS from Judaism. I assume you meant non-denominational Christian or a mega-church, for example, which are commonly just referred to as “Christian” vs. Methodist, Baptist, Episcopalian, etc. I assume as an ex-Mo you do not consider us non-Christian.

  32. I don’t know if this constitutes a threadjack; if so, I’m sorry, but maybe it could be duly noted by the permas here and we could address it at another time. I wonder what makes people decide whether to take the sacrament or not on a personal level. The renewal of covenants is part of the sacrament, but isn’t the sacrament also a part of retaining a remission of one’s sins? If we choose not to partake, aren’t we catching ourselves in a catch-22, willingly abstaining from the ordinance designed to redirect our devotions and actions toward HF and Christ? Aren’t sinners the very people the sacrament is designed to help? Perhaps I don’t understand the doctrines and principles of sacrament and its relationship to repentance. Would anyone like to take a stab at it?

  33. Church handbook of instruction page 29 under the heading of “Sacrament General Guidelines”

    “Although the sacrament is for Church members, the bishopric should not announce that it will be passed to members only, and nothing should be done to prevent nonmembers from partaking of the sacrament.”

    This, along with Dallin H. Oaks’ comments, should put to bed who can and cannot take the sacrament.

  34. Obviously that missionary felt strongly about worthiness and the sacrament. So he should have explained the significance before the actual meeting. There is no reverence, humility, or love in ordering someone not fully knowledgeable of the gospel to drop a piece of bread….. and isn’t that what we as members and examples of the gospel strive for? Reverence, meekness and love?

  35. The fact that it was done so irreverantly, in front of everyone declaring that persons supposed “unworthiness” is not something Jesus would do, I don’t think. That is simply ridiculous, and if I had been there, I would have been ashamed of that.

  36. Sorry to keep posting, but I have never heard of a Bishop (the common judge in israel) stand up and shout at someone in the congregation to not take the sacrament.

  37. Adrianne – this incident was in a pretty small branch in the Canary Islands. The missionary was acting as a branch president. The investigator came in during the opening hymn and sat alone. Sort of a “perfect storm” situation. On a positive note, though, this was 20 years ago.

  38. Is there a thread about what SteveS said? It seems like a person would have to repent of their baptismal covenants fully, before they take the sacrament. However, they can still be a sinner, everyone is a sinner. However, the baptismal covenants are still very hard to live by. If someone tells a lie, should this keep them from taking the sacrament?

  39. I think the Mormon church grossly uses the sacrament as a tool for guilt and control. Jesus loves us all. He didint tell judas to abstain from the original sacrament, or Peter for that matter. We are not to judge anyone.

    1. agreed! well for the most part. Fortunately the LDS church does not teach to use the sacrament as a tool for guilt and control. However, as you have obviously read above, there are misconceptions as to who can and cannot take the sacrament and for what reasons etc etc. 

      I appreciate your post for a few reasons, one is that this does need to be cleared up, and another is that you are right in saying that we are to not judge anyone. It’s not our duty and responsibility. The sacrament is between the one taking it, and God.

      You can read the official word here,


      Thanks again Morgan, and I hope this has helped clear that point up.

  40. Hi my name is Will and I’ve been a member of the LDS church since I was 12 years old. I’m currently 15 years old today. I’m having troubles with sexual sins and I was doing some research on what will happen if I passed/ate the sacrament with serious sins. I know I did a bad thing. I need some serious help, but I need some questions answered. Will the bishop tell my mom about my sins? Please answer me, my email is parkbill62@yahoo.com

  41. I want to know what are the rules? Married living a good life I do smoke cigarettes and once in a while enjoy a beer and coffee is that unworthy?

  42. I was reading this to help with a Sunday School lesson and was shocked and appalled at the writer’s use of the word “crazy” repeatedly. I had thought the writer was intelligent and face a fair review of the topic until that paragraph. Mental illness is as real and medical and universal as any other health condition. How can this actually be a published work in 2008? That term “crazy” is so offensive it negates any value the rest of the article may have had.

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