As I explained in chapter 5, the young men’s duties concerning the sacrament change as they get older. Once you turn 14 you are no longer a Deacon and become a Teacher. The Teachers are responsible for preparing the sacrament. This entails several of them arriving about 30 minutes or so before church, placing dozens of little plastic or paper cups into trays, filling them each with water, dividing a loaf of bread between several other trays, placing both the water and the bread trays on the sacrament table, and covering them all with a white clothe. In my ward, one boy was assigned to bring the loaf of bread each week. Being the absent minded 14 year olds that we were, it wasn’t rare that the assigned boy forgot and the bread wasn’t in place until minutes before, or even after, the meeting started. For a while, we just started keeping several loaves of bread in the freezer in the church and move one loaf to the refridgerator on Friday or Saturday. One week, that somehow resulted in one of the loaves getting moldy, but the Teachers didn’t notice before it was too late. We got a serious talking to from the bishop that same day.
At 16 you become a Priest and get to bless the sacrament. For many, this was a nerve-racking experience. Imagine sitting in front a group of 300 people, all of them listening to you, knowing what you were going to say, and the bishop reading along with the prayer to make sure you get it right. But to make it even worse, it has to be exactly right. Not even one word can be wrong or else it has to be done again. There are several words and phrases in the prayers that are similar and easily confused. As an example, here’s the prayer for the bread:
O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it, that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them; that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.1
It was very common to accidentally say “that they may eat it” rather than simply “that they may eat”. Or “and always have his Spirit” rather than “that they may always have his Spirit”. In both cases the Priest would have start over and say it again. Once, a kid in my ward had to start over at least five or six times and got more frustrated each time until eventually he asked someone else to do it. I think that was his first time trying to do it too. Talk about scaring.
To add to the pressure, many times we would be lectured on the importance of our tone when reciting the prayers. It wasn’t appropriate to simply read it off quickly like a routine, but we were told to speak slowly, reverently, and thoughtfully. I have memories of members publicly expressing how important it is to them that the Priests said the prayers with conviction and sincerity. I personally prided myself in my ability to do so and was often personally complimented by others for the way in which I performed. Yeah, I was pretty self righteous.
This only added to the culture of comparison and shaming that I mentioned in the previous chapter. It was frustrating to mess up and have to start over not only because everyone was listening, but because it felt like the other Priests were judging you. Granted, not all of them were, but I couldn’t help but wonder.