Immediately after introducing the sacrament during His visit to the American continent, the Savior gave a warning to the twelve disciples whom He had chosen: they should be careful not to allow people to participate in this sacred ordinance unworthily.
Ye shall not suffer any one knowingly to partake of my flesh and blood unworthily, when ye shall minister it;
For whoso eateth and drinketh my flesh and blood unworthily 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 (3 Nephi 18:28-29).
The apostle Paul gave similar counsel, advising individual members of the church to assess their own worthiness to participate:
Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.
For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body (1 Corinthians 11:27-29).
When the people later distanced themselves from the Savior, the prophet Mormon identified the following symptom of their apostasy: “they…did administer that which was sacred unto him to whom it had been forbidden because of unworthiness” (4 Nephi 1:27). And his son Moroni later counseled us, “See that ye are not baptized unworthily; see that ye partake not of the sacrament of Christ unworthily; but see that ye do all things in worthiness” (Mormon 9:29).
Why is it so important to be worthy to partake of the sacrament, and how do you know if you’re worthy?
The ordinance of the sacrament fulfills an important purpose for a disciple of Jesus Christ. When we partake of the bread and water, we do at least three things:
- Internalize part of the character of our Savior – As we’ve studied this week, the bread and water are sanctified to our souls, so when we take them into our body, we take what they represent into our soul, which is the body and blood of our Savior: the Bread of Life and the Water of Life.
- Remember Him – In taking this bread and water, we memorialize His suffering and death and His resurrection, which have made possible our immortality and eternal life.
- Attest to our obedience – In the act of eating the bread or drinking the water, we “witness” or attest to God that we are willing to take upon ourselves the name of Christ, to always remember Him, and to keep His commandments. We don’t have to be perfect to make this declaration, but we ought to be sincerely trying, which includes correcting mistakes as soon as we are aware of them.
Elder John H. Groberg taught that, if we are continuously repenting and improving, then we are worthy to partake of the sacrament. However, “if…we have no desire to improve, if we have no intention of following the guidance of the Spirit, we must ask: Are we worthy to partake, or are we making a mockery of the very purpose of the sacrament, which is to act as a catalyst for personal repentance and improvement” (“The Beauty and Importance of the Sacrament,” General Conference, April 1989).
Moroni explained the criteria church leaders used to assess the worthiness of individuals to be baptized. They had to be humble. They had to “[witness] unto the church that they had repented of all their sins.” And they had to “[take] upon [themselves] the name of Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end” (Moroni 6:1-3).
Before baptism, we participate in an interview with a church leader to assess our worthiness to receive the ordinance. It would not be practical for church leaders to meet with each member before they partake of the sacrament each week, but as the apostle Paul advises us above, we would be wise to “examine [ourselves]” before participating to determine whether we meet the same criteria.
During that time of self-evaluation, we ought to look for ways we can do better. But we should be careful not to be unreasonably hard on ourselves. As Elder Lynn G. Robbins reminded us:
The sacrament is the Lord’s designated way of providing continual access to His forgiveness. If we partake with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, He proffers us weekly pardon as we progress from failure to failure along the covenant path. (“Until Seventy Times Seven,” General Conference, April 2018).
And President Henry B. Eyring has reminded us that, during our weekly self-examination, we should not focus exclusively on our shortcomings:
As you examine your life during the ordinance of the sacrament, I hope your thoughts center not only on things you have done wrong but also on things you have done right—moments when you have felt that Heavenly Father and the Savior were pleased with you. You may even take a moment during the sacrament to ask God to help you see these things. If you do, I promise you will feel something. You will feel hope (“Always Remember Him,” Ensign, February 2018).
And it’s worth noting that church leaders are available to help us determine our worthiness if we need the help. I appreciate the following advice given by Elder Marvin J. Ashton:
We do not have to be hindered by self-judgment. All of us have the benefit and added wisdom of a bishop and a stake president to help us determine our worthiness and, if necessary, to assist us to begin the process of becoming worthy to accomplish whatever goal we wish to achieve. When we take it upon ourselves to pass self-judgment and simply declare, “I am not worthy,” we build a barrier to progress and erect blockades that prevent our moving forward. We are not being fair when we judge ourselves. A second and third opinion will always be helpful and proper (“On Being Worthy,” General Conference, April 1989).
This week, I will prepare myself to receive the sacrament by examining myself, contemplating my own spiritual progress, and repenting as needed in advance of the ordinance. I will be grateful that this ordinance gives me access to the forgiveness of God. If I partake worthily, I will receive His cleansing and sanctifying power.