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Why Members Are Told to Take the Sacrament with Their Right Hand and Whether or Not It Matters

by | Aug. 06, 2018

Mormon Life

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" (“Field Notes,” Improvement Era 34:7 (May 1931): 417).

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" (Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions Volume 1 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1957), 154).

In a 1983 Ensign article, President Russell M. Nelson 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" (President 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, March 1983). 

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. 

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