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Thoughts on the Five Core Sacramental Symbols

There are at least five core elements that are used in the ordinance of the sacrament. Back on June 16th of this year I took down some ideas in my notebook concerning them so here they are. I will also be placing any number that I think is numerically significant next to the title.

1. Altar or Table (4, 1, 2)

  • Used for sacrifices and offerings and for sacred ordinances of the gospel (LDS BD). A place where heaven and earth are bridged via covenants.
  • Altar: Zabach (Hebrew) – “to slaughter an animal”.
  • The life of the animal is represented by its blood. (Leviticus 17:11)
  • Altars are temples in their most simple form, and the covenants made at them can vary.
  • We place things on the altar to be completely consumed, we do not expect to see them again. It is expected that all ungodliness is treated this way.

2. White cloth (1)

  • White cloth might be a substitute for fire, which is often associated with the glory or presence of God.
  • That which is covered with white cloth may be considered to be covered in God’s glory.

3. Bread (4, 5)

  • The bread is divided or “cut” in token of a covenant by the priests during the sacrament hymn; this is part of the ordinance and not just for convenience. (Handbook 2:20.4.2-3)
  • Represents the resurrected body of Christ that we may obtain as God’s gift for keeping our covenants.
  • With our teeth, we crush the bread or “body” of Christ, just as our sins crushed him.
  • The bread is digested and through nutrition, portions are absorbed by our bodies, literally becoming part of us.

4. Cup (1)

  • Represents the will of God, a token of our acceptance of that will as we drink its contents.
  • The cup represents a betrothal, a marriage between Christ and his Church of whom we are a part.
  • As Christ drank a bitter cup of sin, we drink a refreshing cup of pure water, or the fruit of the vine.

5. Wine/Water (8, 2)

Other symbolic elements

Associated with these symbols are also some important things to consider. The Aaronic priesthood and their respective duties in blessing and passing the sacrament, the presiding authority who is given the tokens first, the hymn that is sung, the prayer that is offered and many other subtle elements that we might want to ponder are all there for a reason.

Check out LDSSymbols.com for more insights.

What do you think?

  • What other things regarding the sacrament do you think are symbolic?
  • What factors help enhance your sacrament experience?
  • How does the sacrament influence your life?
  • Mike Batie

    I’ve read that another layer of symbolism we can read into the cloth that covers the emblems of the sacrament can be compared to the burial shroud that covered Christ’s body.

    • oneclimbs

      Yes, that is a way that I used to look at it. With a sad and solemn sacrament hymn, the sacrament used to be a kind of gloomy thing for me. Later, as I studied 3 Nephi 18:7, where Christ says that the bread represents “my body, which I have shown unto you” I realized that during the sacrament we transition from this solemn moment to one of rejoicing as we receive the tokens.

      As you have brought up the symbol of the shroud, another thought entered my mind. It is interesting that before the sacrament hymn begins, everything is covered, much like the burial shroud you mentioned. But as the hymn begins, the shroud comes off, there is a prayer and the emblems are literally lifted off the table to come and dwell within us.

      So it is as if we are witnessing the resurrection each Sabbath day only to have Christ’s atonement enter and purify us, or at least, this is what is being symbolized.

      Thanks for bringing up that point, I just learned something new!

      • Mike Batie

        Mind = blown. Thanks!

  • DaLaina

    I love that the Priests bless the sacrament, which has been prepared by the Teachers, and then they hand the trays to the Deacons to carry to the members. Young men, boys, who hold the Priesthood of God, carry the life and hope of Jesus Christ, first to the Bishop and his counselors who lead the ward family, then to the end of each row, where often times the head of the family (father or mother) sits. The young men hold the tray while the first person partakes, and then the parent holds the tray and offers this same life and hope to their children. We hold it as the person next to us partakes and then that person, in turn, holds it for their neighbor. To me it sybolizes the need for us to strengthen ourselves, to feed our own spirit and testimony, and then to help our family and neighbors to be fed. I watch those boys (3 of which are my own) every Sunday, and I am in awe by the trust that the Lord has in them. By their faith and their devotion to their Priesthood responsibilities. My faith is strengthened not only by the ordinance itself but by the way in which it is administered to each of us.

  • forgetting

    One interesting thing about the symbols of the bread and wine is they both share a common symbol of “community” as well. Both of the sacraments are ferments, or products of fermentation. There are actually five or six ferments mentioned in the word of wisdom, depending upon how you count them, and five of them are listed on what we like to call our ‘no’ list. They are wine, beer (mild barley and grain), tobacco, black tea (hot drink). Hard drink is a distilled ferment, and all of the life is removed in this process. Bread, as pointed to by the staff of life, is not on a ‘no’ list. At least five of these are also used in sacred ritual throughout the world. We use two, bread and wine. Bread, a baked ferment, is dead. New wine will always be alive, meaning some of the yeast is still living. Kinda matches the sacramental prayers. Fermentation can also be used a symbol representing sanctification.

    and … just to add in that bit about community, fermentation agents are always a community of organisms.

    edited to clear up the confusion about bread.

    • oneclimbs

      Wow, awesome insights! I’m really going to have to look into that more these are very astute observations. You mentioned bread on the “no” list, how do you arrive at that conclusion?

      • forgetting

        Sorry about that, it was sloppy writing by me. I performed a little edit to clear that up.

  • Ayden Howie

    Some of these are quite corny and I’m not sure if you are using pure doctrine to support a lot of them. The water does not actually constitute the sacrament in some places in the world as well since Joseph Smith stated that you can use whatever is available to you because its the ordinance that counts and not the substance. For example we once had fruit juice for our sacrament liquid since the tap water in our chapel had been contaminated. But hey maybe i’m being too pessimistic about this and not seeing the correct intentions of this article. I just want to make sure that this is sound doctrine and not opinions of men, especially when it comes to such a sacred covenant as the sacrament. I enjoyed most of it though keep it up!

    • oneclimbs

      Let me know which ones you think are corny and I’ll provide you with more background. Under the water section, it is actually called “wine/water” and I’m focusing more on the fact that whatever is in the cup represents blood.

      The purpose of the article is to simply explore some archetypes that appear to be represented in the ordinance. This blog is a public version of my personal studies which is why it is called “one climbs”. Symbolism can be personally interpreted in many different ways that can benefit us personally.

      I’d be interested in which of the items above you think are corny. I love discussing these topics and usually I give more background and references, but this article was just based on some notes in my notebook. Some of my posts are this way, just some thoughts, and if you find something useful, great, if not, simply discard it.

      I think there is value in sharing even the simplest of ideas. Someone might take an idea and pursue it further and find something new and valuable on their own.

    • Filipe

      In a way I am somewhat in agreement, not so much corny as not material that can be used in say a sacrament meeting or such. Every one has wonderful opinions and creative imaginations but if we would truly lay a foundation of understanding we should do it on the scriptures and words of the apostles. By not tying your thoughts to credible sources they must ever spin into oblivion as just another set of opinions.

      • oneclimbs

        These are simply my thoughts on my personal blog that I am sharing publicly to any who might be interested. Which sources do you not think are credible?