We can strengthen our families by teaching the rising generation to have proper respect for ordinances and covenants. One of the earliest teaching opportunities comes every Sunday while we partake of the sacrament. We must teach the children the importance of this ordinance because we renew our baptismal covenants by partaking of the sacrament.
A few weeks ago we heard some wonderful talks about the sacrament in our sacrament meeting. While listening to the speakers I remembered being taught to take the sacrament with the right hand. I was taught as a small child to always use the right hand to partake of the bread and water, but I do not remember ever being taught the reason for doing so. This practice was drilled into me with love and patience, and it is still a part of me. I remember trying to teach this practice to my own children even though I did not understand the importance of doing so. I do not know how well they received it and suppose I need to watch as they and their families partake of the sacrament.
While remembering this teaching, I realized that I have not heard anything in recent years about the importance of using the right hand while participating in this ordinance. I wondered if it were just my parents or ward or whether it was a Church-wide practice. I mentioned this to a member of my current ward, and she stated emphatically that she received the same instruction.
I decided to do a little research into the practice and found a wonderful article by Elder Russell M. Nelson, than a Regional Representative and now the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. His July 1983 article was written to answer these questions: “Is it necessary to take the sacrament with one’s right hand? Does it really make any difference which hand is used?”
Elder Nelson used several scriptures to show the importance of the right hand. The first one used was about Rachel. As she lay dying during childbirth, she named her new son Benoni, meaning “son of my sorrow” or “distress.” Her husband changed the boy’s name to Benjamin, which means “son at the right (hand)” and gave his twelfth son a name of great significance. (See Genesis 35:16-19.)
To show that “the right hand suggests symbolic preference or favor,” Elder Nelson told the parable of the sheep and the goats. “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angles with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
“And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
“And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
“Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:31-34).
Elder Nelson continued, “Scriptural accounts give some background and insight into the symbolic significance of the right hand – a symbolism that appears in the language and other cultural features of the Jewish and Christian world. In Latin, for example, dexter (right) and sinister (left) not only indicated right and left but became the roots for adjectives carrying favorable and unfavorable connotations. The use of the right hand as a symbolic gesture was in time extended to the administration of government oaths, and to the courtroom, as witnesses were called to testify under oath.
“With this background understood, we may now focus on the question of which hand we might prefer to use when partaking of the sacrament. The word sacrament comes from two Latin stems: sacr meaning `sacred,’ and ment meaning `mind.’ It implies sacred thoughts of the mind. Even more compelling is the Latin word sacrament, which literally means `oath or solemn obligation.’ Partaking of the sacrament might therefore be thought of as a renewal by oath of the covenant previously made in the waters of baptism. It is a sacred mental moment, including (1) a silent oath manifested by the use of one’s hand, symbolic of the individual’s covenant, and (2) the use of bread and water, symbolic of the great atoning sacrifice of the Savior of the world.”
As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we understand the importance of education, preparation, and training in our lives and the lives of our children. Elder Nelson explained by quoting Elder Bruce R. McConkie that unbaptized children “are offered the sacrament `to prefigure the covenant they will take upon themselves when they arrive at the years of accountability’ [Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., p. 660)] Therefore, it is very important that they develop a good feeling and a sacred mental attitude about the symbolism and significance of the sacrament. Parents who wish to teach the importance of this sacred experience might make the topic a part of family home evening instruction. Then, if a reminder becomes necessary in a meeting, it may be given quietly, in patience and love.”
Using the right hand to partake of the sacrament was drilled into me so strongly that I am greatly surprised – maybe shocked would be a better word – whenever I see people use their left hand. It actually bugs me to see it. Last Sunday I watched a mother and daughter each use their left hands to take the sacrament. What surprised me most was who it was because they are considered to be very knowledgeable in Church doctrine and practices.
As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we make temple covenants using our right hands; we also use our right hand to welcome new members into our wards and to sustain leaders. This emphasis on using the right hand to make covenants and participate in ordinances and business of the Church has nothing to do with whether we are right-handed or left-handed - as stated in some comments I read. “Right hand” signifies our place (the right hand of God), our commitment (in making covenants), and our choice and support (in sustaining and welcoming).
We must teach the rising generation that “partaking of the sacrament is a sacred mental process,” one that should be “very personal” to all of us. We must teach our children and grandchildren that their minds should be on Jesus Christ, His atoning sacrifice, and the fact that He “offered his flesh and blood and designated the bread and water as symbolic emblems”. He instituted the sacrament to help us remember Him and His atoning sacrifice. We must teach our posterity the importance of partaking of the sacrament appropriately and properly. By doing so, we can strengthen them, our families, communities, and nation.