Teachings of Presidents
Chapter 4: Elements of Worship

“Chapter 4: Elements of Worship,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay (2011), 29–37

“Chapter 4,” Teachings: David O. McKay, 29–37

Chapter 4

Elements of Worship

I pray we may have the strength so to live that we may merit divine guidance and inspiration; that through worship, meditation, communion, and reverence we may sense the reality of being able to have a close relationship with our Father in heaven. I bear you my testimony that it is real; that we can commune with our Heavenly Father.1


Early in his life, David O. McKay experienced the peace that comes through communion with God. “I remember lying [in bed] one night,” he recalled, “trembling with fear. As a child I was naturally, or unnaturally afraid of the darkness, and would frequently lie wondering about burglars, ‘bug-a-boos,’ and unseen influences. So I lay this night completely unnerved; but I had been taught that God would answer prayer. Summoning strength I arose from the bed, knelt down in the darkness, and prayed to God to remove that feeling of fear; and I heard as plainly as you hear my voice this afternoon, ‘Don’t be afraid; nothing will hurt you.’ Oh, yes, some may say—‘simply the imagination.’ Say what you will, I know that to my soul came the sweet peace of a child’s prayer answered. That is the faith which is inculcated into the minds of the [children] in every Latter-day Saint home throughout the land. I submit that where children are brought up in close communion with our Eternal Father that there can not be much sin or much evil in that home.”2

In addition to seeking “communion with the infinite”3 when he was alone, President McKay rejoiced in worshiping with other Latter-day Saints. He told of a memorable experience he once had at a Church meeting:

“One of the most impressive services I have ever attended was in a group of over eight hundred people to whom the sacrament was administered, and during that administration not a sound could be heard excepting the ticking of the clock—eight hundred souls, each of whom at least had the opportunity of communion with the Lord. There was no distraction, no orchestra, no singing, no speaking. Each one had an opportunity to search himself introspectively and to consider his worthiness or unworthiness to partake of the sacrament. His was the privilege of getting closer to his Father in heaven. That is ideal!”4

President McKay encouraged all Latter-day Saints to pursue this ideal in their worship services and in their personal lives. He said, “To have communion with God, through his Holy Spirit, is one of the noblest aspirations of life.”5

Teachings of David O. McKay

Reverence is profound respect mingled with love.

Inseparable from the acceptance of the existence of God is an attitude of reverence, to which I wish now to call attention most earnestly to the entire Church. The greatest manifestation of spirituality is reverence; indeed, reverence is spirituality. Reverence is profound respect mingled with love. It is “a complex emotion made up of mingled feelings of the soul.” [One writer] says it is “the highest of human feelings.” I have said elsewhere that if reverence is the highest, then irreverence is the lowest state in which a man can live in the world. …

Reverence embraces regard, deference, honor, and esteem. Without some degree of it, therefore, there would be no courtesy, no gentility, no consideration of others’ feelings, or of others’ rights. Reverence is the fundamental virtue in religion. It is “one of the signs of strength; irreverence, one of the surest indications of weakness. No man will rise high,” says one man, “who jeers at sacred things. The fine loyalties of life,” he continues, “must be reverenced or they will be foresworn [or rejected] in the day of trial.”

Parents, Reverence, as charity, begins at home. In early childhood children should be trained to be respectful, deferential—respectful to one another, to strangers and visitors—deferential to the aged and infirm—reverential to things sacred, to parents and parental love.

Three influences in home life awaken reverence in children and contribute to its development in their souls. These are: first, firm but Gentle Guidance; second, Courtesy shown by parents to each other, and to children; and third, Prayer in which children participate. In every home in this Church parents should strive to act intelligently in impressing children with those three fundamentals.6

Reverence directs thought toward God. Without it there is no religion.7

I look upon reverence as one of the highest qualities of the soul. An irreverent man is not a believing man. …

Reverence indicates high culture, and true faith in deity and in his righteousness.8

I am prompted to place reverence next to love. Jesus mentioned it first in the Lord’s prayer: “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. …” [Matthew 6:9.] Hallow—to make holy—to hold in reverence.9

If there were more reverence in human hearts, there would be less room for sin and sorrow and more increased capacity for joy and gladness. To make more cherished, more adaptable, more attractive, this gem among brilliant virtues is a project worthy of the most united and prayerful efforts of every officer, every parent, and every member of the Church.10

Meditation leads to spiritual communion with God through the Holy Spirit.

We pay too little attention to the value of meditation, a principle of devotion. In our worship there are two elements: One is spiritual communion arising from our own meditation; the other, instruction from others, particularly from those who have authority to guide and instruct us. Of the two, the more profitable introspectively is the meditation. Meditation is the language of the soul. It is defined as “a form of private devotion, or spiritual exercise, consisting in deep, continued reflection on some religious theme.” Meditation is a form of prayer. …

Meditation is one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord. Jesus set the example for us. As soon as he was baptized and received the Father’s approval, “This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” [Matthew 3:17] Jesus [went] to what is now known as the mount of temptation. I like to think of it as the mount of meditation where, during the forty days of fasting, he communed with himself and his Father, and contemplated upon the responsibility of his great mission. One result of this spiritual communion was such strength as enabled him to say to the tempter:

“… Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” (Matt. 4:10.)

Before he gave … the beautiful sermon on the mount, he was in solitude, in communion. He did the same thing after that busy Sabbath day, when he arose early in the morning, after having been the guest of Peter. Peter undoubtedly found the guest chamber empty, and when they sought [Jesus] they found him alone. It was on that morning that Peter said:

“… All men seek for thee.” (Mark 1:37.)

Again, after Jesus had fed the five thousand he told the Twelve to dismiss the multitude, but Jesus went to the mountain for solitude. The historian says, “when the evening was come, he was there alone.” (Matt. 14:23.) Meditation! Prayer!11

Let us make God the center of our lives. … To have communion with God, through his Holy Spirit, is one of the noblest aspirations of life. It is when the peace and love of God have entered the soul, when serving him becomes the motivating factor in one’s life and existence.12

We go to the Lord’s house to commune with Him in spirit.

We enter a chapel to worship the Lord. We want to partake of his Spirit, and by partaking of his Spirit we build up our own spiritual strength.13

Churches are dedicated and set apart as houses of worship. This means, of course, that all who enter do so, or at least pretend to do so, with an intent to get nearer the presence of the Lord than they can in the street or amidst the worries of a workaday life. In other words, we go to the Lord’s house to meet him and to commune with him in spirit. Such a meeting place, then, should first of all be fitting and appropriate in all respects, whether God is considered as the invited guest, or the worshipers as his guests.

Whether the place of meeting is a humble chapel or a “poem in architecture” built of white marble and inlaid with precious stones makes little or no difference in our approach and attitude toward the Infinite Presence. To know God is there should be sufficient to impel us to conduct ourselves orderly, reverently.

In this regard, as members of the Church in our worshiping assemblies, we have much room for improvement. Presiding authorities in stake, ward, and quorum meetings, and especially teachers in classes, should make special effort to maintain better order and more reverence during hours of worship and of study. Less talking behind the pulpit will have a salutary effect upon those who face it. By example and precept, children should be impressed with the inappropriateness of confusion and disorder in a worshiping congregation. They should be impressed in childhood, and have it emphasized in youth, that it is disrespectful to talk or even to whisper during a sermon, and that it is the height of rudeness, except in an emergency, to leave a worshiping assembly before dismissal.14

There are two purposes for which each chapel is constructed: first, that it might be the place where all may be trained in the ways of God, and second, that in it all might glorify our Father in heaven, who asks for nothing more of his children than that they might be men and women of such noble character as to come back into his presence.15

When you enter a church building, you are coming into the presence of our Father in heaven; and that thought should be sufficient incentive for you to prepare your hearts, your minds, and even your attire, that you might appropriately and properly sit in his presence.16

Let us not make Sunday a holiday. It is a holy day, and on that day we should go to the house of worship and seek our God. If we seek him on the Sabbath day, get into his presence on that day, we shall find it less difficult to be in his presence the following days of the week.17

The sacrament provides an opportunity to commune with the Lord.

The greatest comfort in this life is the assurance of having close relationship with God. … The sacrament period should be a factor in awakening this sense of relationship.

“… the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:

“And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.

“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.

“For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.

“Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.

“But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup.” [1 Corinthians 11:23–28.]

No more sacred ordinance is administered in the Church of Christ than the administration of the sacrament. …

There are three things fundamentally important associated with the administration of the sacrament. The first is self-discernment. It is introspection. “This do in remembrance of me,” but we should partake worthily, each one examining himself with respect to his worthiness.

Secondly, there is a covenant made; a covenant even more than a promise. … There is nothing more important in life than that. … A covenant, a promise, should be as sacred as life. That principle is involved every Sunday when we partake of the sacrament.

girl partaking of the sacrament

“I believe the short period of administering the sacrament is one of the best opportunities we have for . . . meditation.”

Thirdly, there is another blessing, and that is a sense of close relationship with the Lord. There is an opportunity to commune with oneself and to commune with the Lord. We meet in the house that is dedicated to him; we have turned it over to him; we call it his house. Well, you may rest assured that he will be there to inspire us if we come in proper attune to meet him. We are not prepared to meet him if we bring into that room our thoughts regarding our business affairs, and especially if we bring into the house of worship feelings of hatred toward our neighbor, or enmity and jealousy towards the Authorities of the Church. Most certainly no individual can hope to come into communion with the Father if that individual entertain any such feelings. They are so foreign to worship, and so foreign, particularly, to the partaking of the sacrament. …

I believe the short period of administering the sacrament is one of the best opportunities we have for … meditation, and there should be nothing during that sacred period to distract our attention from the purpose of that ordinance. …

… We [must] surround this sacred ordinance with more reverence, with perfect order, that each one who comes to the house of God may meditate upon his goodness and silently and prayerfully express appreciation for God’s goodness. Let the sacrament hour be one experience of the day in which the worshiper tries at least to realize within himself that it is possible for him to commune with his God.

Great events have happened in this Church because of such communion, because of the responsiveness of the soul to the inspiration of the Almighty. I know it is real. President Wilford Woodruff had that gift to a great extent. He could respond; he knew the “still small voice” to which some are still strangers. You will find that when these most inspirational moments come to you that you are alone with yourself and your God. They come to you probably when you are facing a great trial, when the wall is across your pathway, and it seems that you are facing an insurmountable obstacle, or when your heart is heavy because of some tragedy in your life. I repeat, the greatest comfort that can come to us in this life is to sense the realization of communion with God. Great testimonies have come in those moments. …

… When you stop to consider the matter, you realize that there is nothing during the administration of the sacrament of an extraneous nature so important as remembering our Lord and Savior, nothing so worthy of attention as considering the value of the promise we are making. Why should anything distract us? Is there anything more sublime? We are witnessing there, in the presence of one another, and before him, our Father, that we are willing to take upon ourselves the name of Christ, that we will always remember him, always, that we will keep his commandments that he has given us. Can you, can anybody living, who thinks for a moment, place before us anything which is more sacred or more far-reaching in our lives? If we partake of it mechanically, we are not honest, or let us say, we are permitting our thoughts to be distracted from a very sacred ordinance. …

… Let us make that sacrament hour one of the most impressive means of coming in contact with God’s spirit. Let the Holy Ghost, to which we are entitled, lead us into his presence, and may we sense that nearness, and have a prayer offered in our hearts which he will hear.18

Suggestions for Study and Discussion

  • What does it mean to have “an attitude of reverence”? (See pages 30–31.) In what ways is reverence more than just being quiet? How can we develop this “profound respect mingled with love”?

  • How can we teach the principle of reverence in our homes and at church? (See pages 31, 33.)

  • Why is it sometimes difficult to find time to meditate upon the things of God? What can we do to make time for meditation? What blessings can we receive as a result of our meditation? (See pages 31–32, 35–36.)

  • What can we do to prepare ourselves to “go to the Lord’s house … [and] commune with him in spirit”? (See pages 32–36.) How can we prepare ourselves to partake of the sacrament? (See pages 32–36.)

  • In what ways can we help our children and others be more reverent in the temple, during sacrament meeting, and in other Church meetings? (See pages 31, 33.) How does coming to a meeting late or leaving early disrupt reverence?

  • What is the significance of the sacrament in your life?

Related Scriptures: Psalm 89:5–7; D&C 20:75–79; 63:64; 76:19–24; 109:21; 138:1–11


  1. In Conference Report, Apr. 1967, 88.

  2. In Conference Report, Apr. 1912, 52.

  3. In Conference Report, Oct. 1936, 103.

  4. In Conference Report, Apr. 1946, 114.

  5. In Conference Report, Apr. 1967, 133.

  6. In Conference Report, Oct. 1956, 6–7.

  7. In Conference Report, Apr. 1929, 102.

  8. In Conference Report, Oct. 1951, 179–80.

  9. In Conference Report, Oct. 1950, 163.

  10. In Conference Report, Oct. 1955, 5–6.

  11. In Conference Report, Apr. 1946, 113.

  12. In Conference Report, Apr. 1967, 133.

  13. “Reverence,” Improvement Era, July 1962, 508.

  14. In Conference Report, Oct. 1956, 7.

  15. “Our Places of Worship,” Improvement Era, Sept. 1969, 2.

  16. “Reverence,” Improvement Era, July 1962, 509.

  17. In Conference Report, Apr. 1929, 102.

  18. In Conference Report, Apr. 1946, 111–12, 114–16; paragraphing altered.