I often wonder what it would be like to partake of the sacrament during the times of the early apostles or during the times of the early LDS church with Joseph Smith. I often sit in our sacrament meetings waiting for the little tiny pieces of bread and sip of water to pass my way. And I think of the large pieces of bread and wine that the Savior blessed for His disciples. Even during the early days of the LDS church, the members of the church treated the sacrament as more of a supper. Like the Lord’s last supper. It was not a token piece of bread and small paper thimble-full of tap water. I sit in my pew at sacrament meeting and try to envision the water as wine and the warmth that it must have created in the bodies of those who ate and drank in that sacrament supper. It was a supper — the Lord’s supper.
I first heard about the early LDS sacrament meetings from someone who loved studying about the life of Jospeh Smith. Just recently I searched for some of these historical accounts and found an article that shared this journal entry from Joseph:
June 22.  — My father and Uncle John Smith started on a mission to visit the branches of the Church in the Eastern States, to set them in order, and confer on the brethren their patriarchal blessings. I took my mother and Aunt Clarissa (my Uncle John’s wife,) in a carriage, and accompanied them to Painsville, where we procured a bottle of wine, broke bread, ate and drank, and parted after the ancient order, with the blessings of God. [History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, (2:31) Pg. 447]
People ate and drank until they were filled — until their appetites were satisfied. (ref) Of course, if you ate the sacrament more as a supper it would be much more symbolic — to be filled as with the light of Christ and the memory of His sacrifice — his broken body and blood which he willingly sacrificed.
George Q Cannon was a member of the First Presidency and was an editor of the early church newspaper called the Juvenile Instructor. He explained:
“At the Last Supper, at which the Savior Himself was present, the bread and the wine were not passed as is the custom now among us. In our church numerous instances have occurred where the Sacrament has been administered, in certain places, in the same way—that is, bread and wine (or water) have been partaken of as a meal, and not, as is usual when the Sacrament is passed in our general meetings, in the shape of small pieces of bread and a little sip of water.
The Savior as recorded in the Book of Mormon (III Nephi, 18,) after breaking the bread, “gave unto the disciples, and commanded that they should give unto the multitude.” Afterwards “he commanded his disciples that they should take of the wine of the cup, and drink of it, and that they should also give unto the multitude, that they might drink of it. And it came to pass that they did so, and did drink of it, and were filled; and they gave unto the multitude and they did drink and they were filled.”
In partaking of the sacrament ordinance they satisfied their physical appetites—that is, they ate and drank until they were filled. George Q. Cannon continues:
This would be the proper manner to administer this ordinance now if circumstances permitted; but situated as the Church is, it is not convenient to administer the Sacrament in this manner, and therefore our present mode is the one that is sanctioned by usage and by permission of the Lord through His inspired servants. (George Q. Cannon, “Editorial Thoughts,” Juvenile Instructor, January 15, 1897, 52–53.)
I think we miss the full meaning of the sacrament with our need to pass it to our large congregations. I understand the need, but I also understand the loss of the full symbolic meaning of being filled to that point when you are not hungry, but at peace and thankful.
I also understand that the church as a whole is trying to help it’s members take the Sabbath more seriously, and that includes the sacrament. Our bishopric reads a few lines of scripture before the priests bless the bread. I’m not sure that really helps everyone get the feeling of the sacrament. Sometimes the formality and routine of it all distracts us from the purpose. In the early days the prayer was not verbatim, which is something that is strictly enforced today. If a priest makes a mistake, he does not get the nod from the Bishop that they can go forward and he must repeat the prayer.
However, there’s reason to believe the prayers given in section 20 to bless the bread and wine were not initially recited verbatim.
This idea of an unscripted sacrament prayer was reflected in one of Brigham Young’s sermons after the migration to Utah. In his address, President Young stressed the importance of using the prescribed blessings in the Doctrine and Covenants, saying, “Take this book and read this prayer.” (ref)
I also found it interesting to realize that we all pass the sacrament — not just the deacons. We receive it from the person sitting next to us and pass it to the next person.
I’m not sure if serving up the Lord’s Supper for sacrament would help us better understand the concept of the meaning. But initially I think it would. I’m pretty sure having wine only with the sacrament would be meaningful. It’s like these raining dark days I’ve been experiencing. When the sun breaks through I move into it’s light so I can feel the sun on my face. I am then so thankful for the light. One day we will be able to experience the sacrament that way too. But for now we must pretend the tap water is wine and a crumble of bread a large portion that would fill our souls, as the light of Christ fills and warms our heart.