Response by John E. MacKay, Gospel Doctrine teacher in the Holladay Fourteenth Ward, Salt Lake Holladay South Stake.
According to our latter-day prophets and leaders, when you partake of the sacrament you renew whatever covenants you have made with the Lord. For example, if you have been baptized only, that is the covenant you renew. If you have received the Melchizedek Priesthood, you also renew that part of the oath and covenant related to your having received that priesthood. If you have received your endowment, you also renew the covenants associated with it. Further, if you have been sealed, you also renew that covenant. In other words, when you partake of the sacrament, you renew all the covenants you have made with the Lord.
President Joseph Fielding Smith taught that the primary reason for attending sacrament meeting is to “renew our covenants by partaking of the sacrament.”1 Further, he taught that “each ordinance and requirement given to man for the purpose of bringing to pass his salvation and exaltation is a covenant.”2
President Spencer W. Kimball elaborated on this theme: “Remembering covenants prevents apostasy. That is the real purpose of the sacrament, to keep us from forgetting, to help us to remember … [that which we have] covenanted at the water’s edge or at the sacrament table and in the temple.”3 President Kimball further said: “The Savior emphasized that the tangible bread and water of the Sacrament were to remind us continually of the sacrifice he made for us and for renewal of our covenants of righteousness. … If a person, not a member of the Church, is in the congregation, we do not forbid him partaking of [the sacrament], but would properly advise that the sacrament is for the renewing of covenants. And, since he has not made the true covenant of baptism or temple covenant, he is exempt.”4
President Brigham Young wrote in 1857 about the sacrament and the members of the Church, “The bread and cup [are for] a renewal of their covenants.”5
Elder James E. Talmage of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote, “Partaking of the sacrament worthily may be regarded … as a means of renewing our avowals before the Lord.”6
Elder Delbert L. Stapley of the Quorum of the Twelve said, “Another important purpose of the sacrament is to renew and keep in force the covenants and obligations which we have entered into with our God.”7
President Ezra Taft Benson’s teachings summarize this entire understanding: “We go to our chapels each week to worship the Lord and renew our covenants by partaking of the sacrament. … Our agreement to keep all the commandments is our covenant with God.”8
These are some of the teachings of the General Authorities on the great ordinance of the sacrament. With this as background, it may be helpful to remind ourselves of some aspects of the sacrament prayer, using the prayer on the bread as a basis for review:
The priesthood holder offering the prayer asks the Father “to bless and sanctify” the bread to “the souls of all those who partake of it”—or to make it a holy experience for us (the word sanctify means to make holy), which can be the case if our attitudes and lives are worthy. All that follows in the prayer is connected to this idea.
The prayer then says that we “eat [this bread] in remembrance of the body of thy Son.” We are thus asked to remember first the great sacrifice of the Lord and the blessings that are available because of the Lord’s atonement in our behalf.
Following this, the individual repeating the prayer says that we “witness” unto the Father that we are “willing to take upon” us “the name of thy Son”—or that we are willing to be known as individuals who by our lives stand for the Lord, for his work, and for his gospel.
Subsequent to this, the priesthood holder offering the prayer asks that we will “always remember him.” Part of this remembering, of course, is reviewing in our minds the ordinances we have received and the covenants we have made with the Lord.
This portion of our remembering is then linked with the words “and keep his commandments which he has given them,” which broadly encompasses all of the commandments and instructions the Lord gives us. The prayer is expressing the same concept as that which the Lord has said elsewhere: “For you shall live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God” (D&C 84:44).
The last part of the prayer points to still another blessing that can come to us as a result of partaking worthily of the sacrament: that we may “always have his Spirit to be with” us. Elder James E. Talmage of the Quorum of the Twelve wrote, “The sacrament has not been established as a specific means of securing remission of sins; nor for any other special blessing aside from that of a continuing endowment of the Holy Spirit, which, however, comprises all needful blessings.”9 Receipt of the Spirit and “all needful blessings” surely will be the case if we apply in our lives the intent and broad meaning of the very succinct and beautiful sacrament prayers.
In summary: The prophets have clearly taught that when we partake of the sacrament worthily, we are doing a number of things, one of which is renewing afresh all of the covenants we have made with the Lord.