Bread and Water

In my previous two posts, I discussed questions relating to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Another question my friend asked was: “If you miss the bread do you take the water? … Obviously the best answer for the first is to make sure to take both but what is proper procedure?” I think many of us have been in this situation before, for one reason or another. When you are, do you just take the water? Do you ask that they bring the bread out to you before you take the water? Or do you just let it pass and try again next time? The short answer, after doing a bit of research, is that there are no unambiguous answers to the question available from the Church. Ultimately, it depends on how your view the ordinance and can be argued either way (to take only the water or that both bread and water must be taken). Both sides of the argument can summon scriptures and the words of prophets in support of their point of view. Today, I’ll be discussing some of the arguments in favor of needing both the bread and water every time. Next time, I’ll discuss the idea of only partaking of the water.

The New Testament accounts of the sacrament being instituted have the bread and wine being served in short succession, with similar statements attending each. For example, the earliest account has Jesus breaking bread, then stating: “Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24). Then, “after the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:25). All New Testament accounts of the sacrament being instituted by Jesus include both tokens (bread and wine). Usually in these accounts, bread is served and then wine: Paul, Mark, and Matthew all have the bread before the wine. Luke has wine both before and after bread. As a side note, one of the earliest Christian documents to discuss the sacrament (a document known as the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles or Didache) indicates that when the Eucharist is performed, wine is to be blessed and distributed before bread.[1] Further complicating things, the book of Acts only references the ordinance as “breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42, see also Acts 20:7) without even mentioning wine. Thus, there is a small amount of wiggle room based on the New Testament and early Christian documents when discussing the order and presence of both tokens, but the majority opinion is that bread and wine are served, in that order.

There has been some variation in how the ordinance is performed among Christian churches over the years. The Eastern Orthodox churches have consistently used both bread and wine, viewing the sacrament as incomplete without both. In the Roman Catholic churches, however, it gradually became common practice to use only bread. This was because it was thought that Christ is equally present in each species (bread or wine) and nothing is lacking if only one is partaken. Thus, from early middle ages onwards, it became very rare for Christians in western Europe to use wine in their observances of the Eucharist. In fifteenth century Bohemia, however, a group of proto-Protestants known as the Hussites began teaching that both the consecrated bread and wine are necessary for salvation and started offering both in the Eucharists. Later Protestant reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli also challenged use of only bread.[2] As a result of this focus on the restoration of “both kinds” among Protestant reformers, almost (if not) all Protestant churches practice communion with both bread and wine.

In the early days of the Latter Day Saint movement, use of both bread and wine in the sacrament was standard. This was at least partly based on the Book of Mormon, wherein the resurrected Christ visits the Nephites and instituted the sacrament, telling his disciples to bring bread and wine. The bread was broken and blessed first, and Jesus explained that it symbolized his body. The wine was then blessed and distributed. After each was distributed, he stated that: “This shall ye always observe to do, even as I have done” (3 Nephi 18:6, see also 3 Nephi 18:11). The revelations of Joseph Smith, Jr. generally refer to the bread and wine together, reinforcing the notion that both are to be used.[3] This was the pattern followed whenever the sacrament happened in the early Church, sometimes in quantities comparable to a full meal. Thus, it is standard in our Church, like most Christians other than the Roman Catholics, to use both the bread and wine (or water).

That being stated, what arguments can be used to state that both bread and water must be partaken in order to participate in the sacrament? The foremost argument is that it is a matter of obedience. This was the approach taken in the closest thing to a direct stance on the issue that I could find on the Church’s website. However, since the discussion there was written by a bishop (E. Kent Pulsipher) and published in the question and answer section of a youth magazine (The Friend or Liahona), it does not carry the authority of an official statement by the Church. Also, the question Bishop Pulsipher was answering was slightly different (“is there some particular significance in the order of bread and water?”) but is still close enough to weigh his answer here.

After discussing the how sacred the sacrament is in his view, Pulsipher turned to 3 Nephi 18, where Jesus institutes the sacrament among the Nephites. He stated that this chapter shows the procedure for the ordinance, then noted that: “Though emphasis is placed on the renewing of our souls and covenant making, the order and procedure as outlined by the Lord should be followed.” He then turned to Doctrine and Covenants section 20, stating that “the perfect order of the ordinance is emphasized by the Prophet Joseph Smith” in placing the wording and order of the sacrament prayers the way he did. In addition, “perhaps the slight difference in wording between the two prayers suggests a progressive commitment,” from willingness to doing.[4] Thus, at the core, Bishop Pulsipher’s argument is that the bread and water should be administered in that order because the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants do it in that order. Extrapolating out from this to the question I am concerned with at the moment, the argument is that both the tokens are absolutely necessary because that’s how it’s demonstrated in the scriptures.

For this argument to truly work, however, it must be established that the ordinance needs to be done according to a strict procedure to benefit from it. As Bishop Pulsipher mentioned, there is a “perfect order of the ordinance” based on Moroni and Doctrine and Covenants 20 that is required to be followed. The fact that the sacrament prayers are to be recited with strict wording indicates that a specific procedure must be followed when participating in the ordinance for it to be considered acceptable. As referenced above, Jesus told the Nephites: “This shall ye always observe to do, even as I have done” (3 Nephi 18:6), indicating that he wanted them to do the ordinance in a specific way. Further, President Brigham Young once stated the following about the sacrament: “In what consists the benefit we derive from this ordinance? It is in obeying the commands of the Lord. When we obey the commandments of our Heavenly Father, if we have a correct understanding of the ordinances of the house of God, we receive all the promises attached to the obedience rendered to his commandments.”[5] Thus, to President Young, obedience and understanding are the basis of receiving blessings from the sacrament.

President Joseph Fielding Smith elaborated on the necessity of obedience when he discussed the sacrament prayers He noted that “there are four very important things we covenant to do each time we partake of these emblems, and in partaking, there is the token that we subscribe fully to the obligations, and thus they become binding upon us.” The four covenants he had in mind were as follows: 1) Eat bread to promise that we remember of the dying body of Christ. 2) Drink to promise that we remember the blood of Christ that was shed for our salvation. 3) Covenant to take upon us the name of the Son and always remember Him. 4) Covenant to keep all His commandments. Then he stated that “if we will do these things then we are promised the continual guidance of the Holy Ghost, and if we will not do these things we will not have that guidance.”[6] The full sacrament (including both the bread and water) is where we make those covenants, and the covenants must be agreed to and observed in order to have the promised blessing of the Holy Ghost in our lives.

Furthering this argument is the belief that the sacrament and its covenants must be made frequently. President Joseph Fielding Smith taught that, “this covenant we are called upon to renew each week, and we cannot retain the Spirit of the Lord if we do not consistently comply with this commandment.”[7] The person who does not do this on a regular basis “is not loyal to the truth. He does not love it. If he did, he would be present to partake of these emblems… to show his love for the truth and his loyal service to the Son of God.”[8] Frequency in the ordinance is necessary: “We have been called upon to commemorate this great event [the Atonement of Jesus Christ] and to keep it in mind constantly. For this purpose we are called to together once each week to partake of these emblems.”[9] Thus, not only must the covenants be made through partaking both the tokens of bread and water, but they must be refreshed on a regular basis to keep them in our minds.

Since the purpose of the sacrament is to remember the Atonement of Jesus Christ and make or renew sacred covenants, preparation is necessary to fully benefit from the ordinance. As Elder Vaughan J. Featherstone taught: “Simply eating the bread and drinking the water will not bring that forgiveness. We must prepare and then partake with a broken heart and contrite spirit. The spiritual preparation we make to partake of the sacrament is essential to receiving a remission of our sins.”[10] For this reason, Church leaders suggest that we arrive before the meeting even starts to mentally prepare for the sacrament. [11] Not only do we need to partake of the full ordinance on a regular basis, but we must really make a conscious effort to prepare for the sacrament prior to partaking of it to reap the benefits of participating.

Thus, the main arguments in favor of needing to partake of both the bread and water is that it is necessary to follow the full procedure exactly and frequently to benefit from the sacrament. According to this side of the argument, if you arrive just as the water is being passed, you should either ask for the bread or just try again next time you attend sacrament meeting. In my next post, however, I will be discussing arguments for the other side of the issue—that it is permissible to take only the water when the sacrament is being passed.



[1] Didache, Hoole translation, 9:3-4,

[2] John Calvin, for example, wrote that: “For Christ not only gave the cup, but appointed that the apostles should do so in future. For his words contain the command, ‘Drink ye all of it.’ And Paul relates, that it was so done, and recommends it as a fixed institution. (Institutes of the Christian Religion, a New Translation, by Henry Beveridge, Esq, Book IV (Chapter 17, Section 48)” The Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics (CRTA). Retrieved 21 February 2015.)

[3] See D&C 20:40 and D&C 27:2.

[4] E. Kent Pulsipher, “Questions and Answers: Is there some particular significance in the order of bread and water in the sacrament,” Liahona Oct. 1985,

[5] Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1997), 151.

[6] Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith (SLC: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2013), 100.

[7] Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, 96-97.

[8] Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, 96.

[9] Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, 96.


[11] Russell M. Nelson, “Worshiping at Sacrament Meeting,” Ensign August 2004,; Dallin H. Oaks, “Sacrament Meeting and the Sacrament,” CR October 2008,; Peter F. Meurs, “The Sacrament Can Help Us Become Holy,” CR October 2016,

4 comments for “Bread and Water

  1. It’s interesting when you consider the social and technological structures around the ordinance that create this dynamic. I’m not sure how often in the distant past people would regularly “be late” for something by a matter of mere minutes like this that would make taking only half of it possible.

    Butt we can’t imagine someone going into the temple and just skipping to the part at the veil because they slept in, were delayed in traffic, etc. and saying, well, that’s good enough. I’m equally certain, someone can point out legitimate reasons for being late to the sacrament (infinitively creative and charitable possibilities), but the typical one that operates in our lives is we didn’t manage our time and choices wisely.

    We also can’t imagine someone skipping the baptism by water and going straight to the Holy Ghost confirmation because they didn’t have the time. They’d need the whole ordinance. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and you might as well baptize a bag of sand right?

    However, with all of that in mind, I don’t think we need to stress over telling someone their half an ordinance is worthless — because it’s most certainly not if they do what the ordinance says: witness to God that they want to take his name upon themselves, and remember his Son in order to always have the Spirit.

    I’d guess that most of the time we receive both halves of the ordinance, going through the motions without living up to the blessing and commandments. So focusing on the dozen or so times in our lives when we only receive half of it, is by far much less important.

    From that perspective, only half the ordinance it has personal efficacy because of what we bring to it.

    How about this — what if we combined the two ordinances into one. People who are late would then miss everything. But those who show up in the hall at the last moment would get both immediately. Problem solved!

    Here’s the combined prayer, after which you’d take a piece of bread and eat it, immediately followed by a cup of water on the 2nd tray coming down the aisle. Deacons and teachers have two hands after all.

    Combined prayer:

    O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread and water to the souls of all those who partake of them; that they may eat and in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and drink in remembrance of of His blood, which was shed for them; and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and also witness unto they that they do always remember him, and keep his commandments which he hath given them, that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.

  2. Notes to self about things to study about sacrament.

    Sacrament as instance of table fellowship. Not just eating Jesus, but eating WITH Jesus, eating in remembrance of eating with Jesus, and eating in anticipation of eating with Jesus in the future kingdom of God.

    Meaningful difference in festive spirit of feasting and solemn sprit of sacrament? Feasts in honor of a departed friend can be both solemn and celebratory.

    Multiple instances of eating sacrament until filled. Zebdee Coltrin. 3 Nephi. Corinthians.

    They say multiple instances of table fellowship and feasting mentioned in Luke but not other gospels. Study these.

    Sacrament as instance of Shabbat meal, not just the extended version found in the Passover meal. Wine first then bread.

    The Lord’s Prayer as an extension of the sacrament prayer into our daily lives. Praises God. Mentions kingdom and “supersubstanial” bread. Luke shortly after mentions asking for fish but receiving Holy Spirit. Bread means nourishment by spirit?

    Do we miss nourishment metaphor to focus on recommitment?

  3. Thanks so much, Chad. Really appreciate your insights.

    Especially looking forward to the second coming, D&C 27, etc.

  4. jpv, I don’t think that I’ve covered what you’re looking forward to in what I’ve written so far. Could you elaborate on what you’re interested in so I might be able to write something up in the future?

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