Select Page

Interpreting Interpreter
A Latter-Day Eucharist

This post is a summary of the article “The Eucharist of the Latter-day Saints: The Sacrament in the Broader Christian Context” by Robin Douglas in Volume 61 of Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship. All of the Interpreting Interpreter articles may be seen at An introduction to the Interpreting Interpreter series is available at


The Takeaway

Douglas provides an outsider perspective on the Latter-day Saint sacrament ordinance (otherwise known as the eucharist), comparing it to other Christian eucharist traditions. He concludes that the LDS version of the eucharist is relatively “high-church” in its ritual and formality, and that it is far from a straightforward expression of Joseph Smith’s nineteenth-century context.


The Summary

In this article, Robin Douglas shares a unique view of the Latter-Day Saint ordinance of the sacrament, writing as a non-member with an interest in Latter-Day Saint history, practice, and scripture. Beginning with its origins in early Christian (and early Latter-day Saint) practice, Douglas details the various forms of the sacrament (or eucharist, meaning “thanksgiving” in Greek), first with the familiar Latter-day Saint version (including discussion of its original instructions provided in the 1829 “Articles of the Church of Christ” by Oliver Cowdery). After briefly covering (and ultimately concluding against) arguments that the sacrament prayers in the Book of Mormon were influenced by post-Reformation liturgy (based on the non-distinctive phrases “bless and sanctify” and “in remembrance” used in the Episcopalian tradition), he compares the LDS sacrament with broader Christian forms, concluding that they fall in the mid-high end of the “high church” to “low church” spectrum. The main point of comparison include:

  • General consistency at a basic level with most Nicene-based eucharistic prayers, in that they address the Father in the name of Christ, concluding with “Amen.”
  • A lack of “words of institution” from the Last Supper in the New Testament, which are generally considered necessary for the rite within Christendom (yet are apparently lacking in the oldest early Christian forms of the eucharist).
  • A discussion of whether the consecrated elements represent the real presence of Christ’s flesh and blood, with Douglas concluding that the Book of Mormon and LDS tradition fall between Roman Catholic transubstantiation and the rejection of that presence by some Protestants. He bases this conclusion on Moroni’s description directly referring to the “flesh and blood of Christ,” and the emphasis placed on the term “remembrance”, which is used in descriptions of sacrifices in biblical Greek.
  • The fixed formula of LDS sacrament prayers (set out in scripture) suggesting a high eucharistic theology—no other Christian churches claim a formula that’s scripturally mandated.
  • The requirement that the sacrament be blessed by an ordained priest, in contrast to some churches where the ordinance could be theoretically performed by anyone.
  • The salvific importance of the ordinance, with some LDS leaders emphasizing it as “necessary to our salvation,” relative to some other traditions which regard it as optional.
  • The weekly frequency with which it’s practiced (though frequency varied in the early days of the Restoration), with some low-church Christian traditions celebrating it only on a quarterly basis.
  • The lack of sacred music or elaborate ceremony that defines some high-church forms, discussing the LDS tradition’s silence during the ceremony, and having no formal vestments or artifacts (despite the emphasis on white shirts and ties and aside from silver cups used in some wards in the past). Douglas also notes that Restoration scripture suggests that the whole congregation should kneel during the sacrament—a departure from current practice.

Commenting on this lack of ceremony, when so many other aspects of the ordinance place LDS traditions in the high-church category, Douglas acknowledges that there could be good reasons to avoid potential ceremonial excess. He nevertheless suggests that it could be a missed opportunity—as an outsider, he was struck by the ordinance’s simplicity, particularly its lack of accompanying music. He states:

“Certainly, The Church of Jesus Christ has no objection in principle to ritual and symbolism, as attested by the richness of the temple rituals. Perhaps this is one area in which the Latter-day Saint liturgy of the eucharist can, within the parameters of the Restoration, evolve in the future.”

I also find his entire conclusion worth repeating here:

“The liturgical formulas used by The Church of Jesus Christ to celebrate the sacrament are unique in the Christian world. Latter-day Saints may see this as entirely unsurprising—as testimony, indeed, to the need for Joseph Smith to restore observances that had headed down the wrong path. That said, the sacrament can also usefully be compared with the eucharistic practices of other Christian traditions, and it can be located in the medium-to-high part of the spectrum between high-church and low-church. In this respect as in others, it is wrong to make the common assumption that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is simply an expression of the Protestant tradition. It is much more complex and interesting than that.”


The Reflection

I always find it refreshing to see a friendly and respectful perspective on Latter-day Saint practices from someone outside our faith. Douglas’s consistent reference to “The Church of Jesus Christ” is heartwarming, frankly, in a world that stubbornly clings to familiar but outdated appellations that minimize our connection to Christ. In return, it seems that the least we can do is value what that perspective brings to the table, taking the opportunity to see our own traditions through fresh eyes.

I especially appreciated his emphasis on the term “remembrance.” I have my own little Interpreter article on that topic, one that, so far, I’ve been limited to writing in my own imagination. While we commonly think of the word "remember" as meaning “to recall from memory,” its more basic meaning is “to piece back together.” Given that we have a weekly opportunity to watch priests break Christ’s body into pieces and distribute it to the congregation, the injunction to “remember” or “piece back together” Christ’s body takes on a potential new connotation. It happens to be one that highlights what, in my view, is the ultimate goal of the Atonement: to bring all of us together in Christ. Someday, when I eventually decide to put pen to paper in service of that idea, I’ll have to give Douglas a bit of thinks for helping me see the sacrament in other new and interesting ways, relative to the traditions of our Christian peers.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This