Question: Why do Latter-day Saints often partake of the sacrament with their right hand?

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Question: Why do Latter-day Saints often partake of the sacrament with their right hand?

Introduction to Question

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ceremonially eat bread and drink water each week in remembrance of the atonement of Jesus Christ and as a renewal of sacred covenants that they have made with him and God. This ceremony (or “ordinance” in the preferred vernacular of Latter-day Saints) is called the sacrament. For much time, Church members have insisted on grasping the small bread strips and cups that hold the water with their right hand before being consumed.

Why is this such a common practice among Latter-day Saints? This article will reproduce another written on this subject in the Latter-day Saint magazine LDS Living by author Katie Lambert. Lambert very adequately addresses the history and significance of this practice and how Latter-day Saints might view it today.

Katie Lambert, “Why Members Are Told to Take the Sacrament with Their Right Hand and Whether or Not it Matters

As a Sun Beam in sacrament meeting, eyeing the bread tray as it made its way closer and closer to you, you probably didn't notice what hand most members were using to take the sacrament.

Brimming with the false sense of independence only a 4-year-old can possess, you reach eagerly for the bread once it comes to you with your left hand only to have your mom or dad whisper in your ear, "Use your other hand."

You obey without a second thought. But after a while, you begin to wonder: why do we as members take the sacrament with our right hands?

In The Church Handbook 2, there is no indication that members should take or pass the sacrament with their right hands. In fact, there's nothing in the handbook that says the Deacons should pass it with their right hands, either. However, some members firmly believe that the left hand should never be used to partake of the sacrament.

This could be because of the symbolism of the right and left hands. Scripturally, the right hand is a place of honor and a symbol of covenant keeping, as seen in Mosiah 5:8–9: "therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.

"And it shall come to pass that whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God."

On the other hand, the word "left" comes from the Latin word "sinister," meaning unfavorable or unlucky. These meanings are sometimes used in the scriptures, like in the case of Matthew 25:33: "And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left." The sheep, in this case, are seen as preferred to the goats.

But this symbolism of left and right didn't translate to the passing of sacrament until the 1930s when the Great Depression was in full swing. According to an Intermountain West Journal of Religious Studies article by Justin R. Bray, "Excessive Formalities in the Mormon Sacrament, 1928–1940," the preference was popularized after the Granite Stake published a directive in the Improvement Era magazine.

In the article, deacons were told to keep their left hands behind their backs "at all times" and "it is not proper to have a boy handling the sacrament with the left hand.[1]

In 1946, President Joseph Fielding Smith spoke out against having Deacons keep their left hands behind their backs but later clarified, "It is a well-established practice in the church to partake of the sacrament with the right hand and also to anoint with the right hand, according to the custom which the scriptures indicate is, and always was, approved by divine injunction."[2]

In a 1983 Ensign article, [Russell M. Nelson, then one of the Church's Regional Representatives and former Sunday School President] said:

"The hand used in partaking of the sacrament would logically be the same hand used in making any other sacred oath. For most of us, that would be the right hand. However, sacramental covenants—and other eternal covenants as well—can be and are made by those who have lost the use of the right hand, or who have no hands at all. Much more important than concern over which hand is used in partaking of the sacrament is that the sacrament be partaken with a deep realization of the atoning sacrifice that the sacrament represents."[3]

So although using the right hand to receive the sacrament does add symbolic meaning to the ordinance, it is not required by members. As President Nelson says, it is more important to focus on the Atonement and what the sacrament represents than which hand we take it with.

Other Scriptures that Might Support this Practice

Lambert’s article does not offer every scripture that might support this practice. Other scriptural reasons that one might want to follow this custom might be to be peculiar people so as to encourage interest in the Church and thus success in missionary work,[4] to keep unspotted from the world,[5] and to be anxiously engaged in a good cause without God compelling you to do something by explicit revelation.[6]

Conclusion

While this may be a cultural vestige that we can roll our eyes at, it can still have delayed, beneficial consequences for Latter-day Saints as a people in their continued efforts to build the Kingdom of God and to express their deepest love and devotion to Jesus Christ.

Notes

  1. Field Notes,” Improvement Era 34, no. 7 (May 1931): 417.
  2. Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1957), 1:158.
  3. Russell M. Nelson, "Is it necessary to take the sacrament with one’s right hand? Does it really make any difference which hand is used?" Ensign 13, no. 3 (March 1983): 68.
  4. Deuteronomy 14:2; 26:18; Psalms 135:4; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9
  5. James 1:27; Doctrine and Covenants 59:9
  6. Doctrine and Covenants 58:27–29