Thursday, October 27, 2016

Doctrine and Covenants 59: Oblations and Sacraments on the Lord's Day

My father would often speak about how present generations likely do not understand the wording used in the Doctrine and Covenants in the same way our forbears did. He did not. So do we understand the 19th century Scriptural wording or not? Just how much of it escapes us today? Twenty-five percent? Forty?

I've often also noted how many college students struggle in coming to grips with 19th century American usage--a single paragraph can overwhelm, even one word throw them off the tracks. So I'm grateful for exposure to such usage through much reading and reflection at a very young age. That reading included the seven volume History of the Church, which, in its turn, contains the sections of the Doctrine and Covenants.

Yet there are many things in the Doctrine and Covenants, both in language and doctrine, which I don't even pretend to understand. There may be some Saints who understand all these words, phrases, and nuances, but I'm not one of them.

I've never understood why the Doctrine and Covenants speaks of paying and offering our devotions, oblations, and sacraments--and note the troubling plural--on the Lord's day. Why sacraments, instead of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper?

"Pay thy devotions" seems straightforward enough--but read the very next verse. "Pay thy devotions," in this case, apparently means "Make vows to God," "Vouch and commit to a more saintly life."

Why oblations?

Today, after a simple dictionary search--something we all resist because of an ingrained superiority to such things--I see an answer.

Laying aside what oblations may mean broadly, or what the word may generally connote, the denotation we should be looking for in Doctrine and Covenants 59, appears in Merriam-Websters as Oblations (specifically capitalized): the act of offering the eucharistic elements to God."

Now that's so simple and so clear that I'm stunned I never knew it before. It's common knowledge which I haven't had any share in whatsoever.

So should I be embarrassed or just grateful to learn technical English usage? Gratitude best fits the subject.

The early Saints, at the time the revelation was received, would have taken the phrase "oblations and sacraments," "or Oblations and Sacraments," as being specifically the "offering [of] the eucharistic elements--note the plural--to God." Our Latter-day Saint Sunday School and Institute Manuals veer off in every direction--to every connotative nuance--and miss the simplicity of the specific Oblations in question.

We ought to weigh both the denotative and the connotative in reading Scripture. And we can take an occasional peek at etymology. (The etymology of oblation has little to tell us--it's just an offering.)

Yet it's wonderful to realize a simple truth: We do not understand the meaning of the words and phrases in the Doctrine and Covenants in the purity with which the early Saints would have understood them.

Clarity comes for me a word at a time: the phrase "oblations and sacraments" ought to be capitalized "Oblations and Sacraments," and it ought, first, to be understood as a precise, technical term (however poetic) for the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, the elements of which we offer up to God. That's the key: the elements of which we offer up to God.

There may be many ordinances in the Gospel we preach, thus many sacraments, but Oblations and Sacraments speaks to the Eucharist. And this last term? Latter-day Saints don't use it in its English form, but nothing stops any Latter-day Saint from picking up a Greek Testament or asking Greek brothers and sisters about it. The simplicity of the language of the Gospels in Greek recalls the purity and the simplicity of Spanish for English speakers. Get the knack of it, and you breeze right through. Never let anyone tell you that it is difficult or for the "scholarly" alone. The Prophet Joseph studied his Greek Testament and pondered long over the meaning of words and phrases. We can do the same--one word at a time.

Meanwhile, let's not neglect our lessons in Nineteenth Century American and British English nor put aside the tomes of the Oxford English Dictionary. There are many plain and simple words yet to learn.

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