The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) encourages its members to participate in special ordinances that are performed only in LDS temples, in addition to regular weekly church services at local meetinghouses. Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, believe that temple worship was an important element of Israelite religion during Solomon's reign and that the Lord restored true temple worship to the earth when the LDS Church was organized in the 1830s. In 1836 Mormons built their first temple, in Kirtland, Ohio, and continued to build or plan a temple in every community as they moved west to escape persecution. Just four days after settling in Salt Lake City in 1847, President Brigham Young set aside a plot of land for the Salt Lake temple, which took nearly forty years to complete.
Who May Enter the Temple
Admission to LDS temples is reserved for those members who can demonstrate their worthiness in annual interviews with their local bishop and regional stake president. Those who receive a "temple recommend" must obey church teachings on tithing (10 percent of income), dietary restrictions (no alcohol, tobacco, nonprescription drugs, or hot or caffeinated drinks), and chastity. Recommend holders must also declare their belief in Jesus Christ, support of the leaders of the LDS Church, and make their own commitments to live honestly and righteously.
The temple is primarily utilized by adult members, although worthy adolescents may perform proxy baptisms (see below) on a "limited recommend" until they are old enough to receive their endowments. Adults entering the temple must have been members for at least a year, and males must be ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood.
Several rituals are performed inside the temple, for both the living and the dead. Living members who are worthy to enter the temple will receive their "endowment" on their first visit. For orthodox Mormons, the endowment is a rite of passage from childhood into adulthood and must occur before a young adult goes forth on a mission (men at age nineteen, women at age twenty-one) or is sealed in a temple marriage. The endowment ritual, which lasts for several hours, begins with washings and anointings to cleanse believers in preparation for the knowledge they will receive. The endowment teaches Mormons about their sacred roles on earth and in the hereafter. Members make solemn covenants to God attesting to their faithfulness and obedience. They also receive a special garment, which they are expected to wear underneath their regular clothing for the rest of their lives, to remind them of the covenants they made in the temple.
Once they have received their endowments, adults may also participate in rituals that seal them to their nuclear families throughout eternity. For example, a man and a woman may take vows that they believe will seal their marriage not just "until death do us part," but forever. Any children born to parents who have been so sealed in the temple are said to be "born in the covenant" and will be automatically linked to their parents in the afterlife.
Other temple rituals are performed by living members on behalf of those who have died. Each temple contains a large baptismal font where such "proxy" baptisms are performed. (Mormons believe that individuals can still make spiritual choices after this life is completed; the dead, like the living, must receive the ordinances of baptism and their endowments before gaining access to the Celestial Kingdom, the highest tier of eternal paradise.) In addition to baptisms, living Mormons will also receive endowments by proxy for the dead and stand in for them as they are sealed to their families for eternity. While proxy baptisms may be performed by Latter-day Saints after age twelve, the endowments for the dead can be performed only by adult Mormons who have received their own temple endowments.
In recent decades, several important developments have occurred regarding Mormon temple worship. As the LDS Church has expanded internationally, temples have been built to accommodate church members around the globe. There are currently LDS temples in every continent except Antarctica. As temple construction has expanded, the ceremony itself has been streamlined to make the rituals available to more Latter-day Saints. For example, key elements of the endowment ritual used to be performed by live actors, who would portray the creation, fall, and redemption of humankind. In the 1950s and 1960s, as the first temples outside North America were opened, these dramas were presented on film rather than through live drama. The medium of film enabled individual temples to hold endowment sessions in different languages, utilizing fewer ordinance workers. By 1990 this practice had become standard for all temples of the LDS Church, and temples today do not use live actors.
Changes in the temple ceremony, announced in 1990, eliminated the traditional pledge of a wife to obey her husband, while he promised to obey God. Today both partners covenant to obey God directly. Also, the endowment ceremony jettisoned some of the graphic "penalties" that templegoers had been warned might befall them if they ever revealed what had transpired during the temple ritual. Even so, Latter-day Saints regard temple worship as the most sacred core of their religious faith, and to preserve this hallowed nature, temple rituals are not discussed outside the temple.
The 1980s and 1990s were decades of vigorous temple-building for the LDS Church, with the 1980s seeing the dedication of twenty-six new temples, more than doubling their overall number worldwide. In April 1998 LDS president Gordon B. Hinckley announced that by the year 2000 there would be one hundred operating temples around the globe. Roughly a third of these would be new "minitemples," servicing a smaller geographical region and fewer members than traditional temples. All temples were to offer full services for baptisms, endowments, and sealings, but minitemples would forgo some additional amenities of larger temples, such as cafeterias.
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Packer, Boyd K. Holy Temple. 1980.
Jana Kathryn Riess