Firstly, there is a difference between a temple and a regular meeting house. In a meeting house we meet weekly for worship and to take the sacrament. Temples are set aside for special ordinances that are not open for public viewing.
Mormons do not generally discuss temple worship among non-Mormons. Even among ourselves, there are aspects of temple worship we do not discuss outside the temple. At most they are referred to indirectly.
The temple ceremonies are very specific about what must not be revealed. And I intend to adhere to this. But in practice some degree of secrecy is extended to most of what goes on in the temple. And this attitude is very strong. In writing this post I am slightly pushing the boundaries of what is socially acceptable for a Mormon to discuss with outsiders. But not too much.
Why temple work?
For a non-Mormon what goes on in the temple probably looks like worship. But we commonly refer to it as “temple work.” Only occasionally is it referred to as worship.
So why do Mormons do temple work? The following quote sums it up nicely.
Our labors in the temple cover us with a shield and a protection, both individually and as a people.
It is in the ordinances of the temple that we are placed under covenant to Him—it is there we become the covenant people. (lds.org, Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple, p. 37)
Except for baptisms for the dead and confirmations for the dead active temple attendance is available only to worthy adults—baptisms and confirmations are open to youth and adults. To participate in temple ceremonies an adult must get a temple recommend. To get a temple recommend he/she must go through two interviews: first with their Bishop, then with their Stake President (a stake is similar to a Diocese). The recommend must be renewed every two years. The temple recommend must be presented at the temple annex before entering the temple.
The clothing worn inside the temple is white. For a man, white slacks, white long-sleeve shirt and a tie, white socks and slippers. For a woman, white dress, white socks and slippers. During certain ceremonies temple robes will be placed over these clothes.
Ordinances for a dead male must be performed by a man; ordinances for a dead female must be performed by a woman.
There is an important narrative that relates to temple worship. This is especially relevant to the endowment.
[The Endowment] includes a recital of the most prominent events of the creative period, the condition of our first parents in the Garden of Eden, their disobedience and consequent expulsion from that blissful abode, their condition in the lone and dreary world when doomed to live by labor and sweat, the plan of redemption by which the great transgression may be atoned, the period of the great apostasy, the restoration of the Gospel with all its ancient powers and privileges, the absolute and indispensable condition of personal purity and devotion to the right in present life, and a strict compliance with Gospel requirements. (Talmage, The House of the Lord, pp. 99-100)
Many aspects of temple worship reflect parts of this narrative. For example, the Mormon underwear (we refer to them as “garments”) represents the coat of skins that God made Adam and Even when they were expelled from Eden (Genesis 3:21)—A Mormon may not wear the garment without first going through certain temple ceremonies; the garment may not be purchased without a temple recommend (see Mormon Temple Garments).
What we do in a temple
The temple ordinances performed for both the living and the dead are: first, washings and anointings; second, the endowment; and third, marriages (technically referred to as sealings). The ordinances must be done in this order. A person cannot get married until he takes out his endowment, he cannot take out his endowment until he receives his washings and anointings.
Temple ordinances restricted to dead persons are baptism, confirmation, and priesthood ordination of men (see Encyclopedia of Mormonism, “Temple Ordinances”).
All ordinances performed in behalf of a dead person are identical to those performed for a living person, except a phrase is added to indicate the ordinance is for so-and-so who is dead.
I will briefly talk about each of these ordinances.
Baptisms for the dead, confirmation, priesthood ordination
The Apostle Paul said,
Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead? (1 Cor. 15:29).
Baptisms for the dead are conducted in nearly the same way as baptisms for the living. To perform a baptism for a living person the officiator states the person’s full name and says:
“Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen” (D&C 20:73).
The person is then immersed in the water. To perform a baptism for the dead the officiator states the living person’s full name and says,
“Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you for and in behalf of [dead persons’ name], who is dead, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
The living person is then immersed in the water.
The baptismal font for performing baptisms for the dead is shown above. It is always on the back of 12 oxen, representing the 12 tribes of Israel.
After a baptism for the dead a living person may be confirmed a member of the church “for and in behalf of” the dead individual. Also, if the dead person is a man, he is ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood.
Most temple ordinances are restricted to adults. Baptisms for the dead and confirmations are open to the youth. To do this they get a special recommend from their bishop. They will typically do 10 to 20 names in a row.
I will add that performing this ordinance does not make the dead person a member of the church. It is commonly taught that the dead person has the opportunity to accept or reject the ordinance done in their behalf—this is true for all ordinances done in behalf of the dead.
“The validity of a baptism for the dead depends on the deceased person accepting it and choosing to accept and follow the Savior while residing in the spirit world. The names of deceased persons are not added to the membership records of the Church.” (lds.org, Gospel Topics, “Baptisms for the Dead.”)
Washings and Anointings
Washings and anointings are also known as preparatory or initiatory ordinances. That is, they must be performed before a person receives his endowment or is married in the temple. In this ceremony the person receiving the ordinance has different parts his/her body anointed with sacred oil. Washings and anointings for women are performed by women who are set apart to perform this priesthood ordinance. Washings and anointings for men are performed by men. (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, “Temple Ordinances“).
Originally, the person receiving their washings and anointings was naked. Eventually, some overclothing was added. Currently the person receiving the ordinance may keep their underclothing on.
After an individual has received this ordinance he/she is authorized to wear “the garment,” or temple garment. This is what some people call Mormon underwear. (See Mormon Temple Garments.)
Temple marriage is considered the “ultimate ordinance of the temple” (Boyd K. Packer, “The Holy Temple,” Ensign, October 2010).
Mormons believe that marriages can last beyond this life. In the temple you don’t get married “till death do you part,” but for “time and all eternity.” Thus, the proper term is sealing. A husband and wife are sealed for “time and all eternity” to each other. When they have children they are automatically sealed as a family. Thus the family is tied together generationally for time and all eternity: parents to each other and their children, parents to their parents, grandparents to their parents etc.
Sealings are done in special rooms dedicated to that purpose.
A sealing room has an altar its the center. There is a mirror on each side of the room giving an infinite reflection effect. There are chairs on each side of the altar for the family and friends.
The bride and groom kneel on the altar facing each other. The officiator usually gives them some marital advice prior to performing the ordinance. The actual ceremony takes about a minute.
The exchange of rings may take place after the ceremony, but it is not part of the ordinance.
When I got sealed to my wife I was wearing white slacks, white long-sleeved shirt, white tie, and white slippers. My wife was wearing her wedding dress, which looks like a typical wedding dress—the bridal dress must be approved for modesty. Over these clothes we wore our ceremonial temple robes.
If a married couple converts to Mormonism they may be sealed to each other in the temple, as well as their children sealed to them.
Sealing of dead couples and their children are done with living persons standing in proxy for the couple and the children. The ceremony is identical to that for the living, with an alteration to indicate it is being performed for so-and-so who is dead.
In the case of divorce a sealing is usually not cancelled right away, though in the eyes of the church they are no longer married to each other. Consequently, divorced persons may date other people but any conjugal relations between them and their former spouse would be considered a sin. A sealing is usually only canceled when one of the persons is getting remarried, and consequently must be sealed to someone else.
A man may be sealed to only one living woman. If she passes away he is free to be sealed to a second wife—this is the case with my father; he is sealed to my late mother and his current wife. If a woman is sealed to a man and he dies, she is free to remarry but she may not be sealed to more than one man. If she wishes to be sealed to another man her current sealing must be cancelled.
In the case of my own parents, I am sealed to my father and my mother. I am not sealed to my sep-mother.
While most other temple ordinances are done individually, the endowment ceremony is performed for groups of people. The participants are either there to perform an endowment for a dead person, or to “take out” their own endowment. It is the longest of all the temple ordinances–about 2 hrs from the time you enter the temple to the time you leave.
The endowment is one of the ordinances where the narrative of creation, fall, and redemption are important. In this ceremony the audience watches a narrative account of the creation, the temptation and fall of Adam and Eve, their expulsion from the garden of Eden, and their redemption. Most temples use a movie format which has professional actors, music, and special effects. At important places the movie will stop and the temple workers will administer to the audience. Originally, temple workers would recite the entire endowment from memory (a “live session”). Currently, I believe there are only two temples that do live sessions.
In more traditional temples each part of the endowment took place in a different room: creation room, garden room, world room, terrestrial room. The parts about creation take place in the creation room, the parts about Adam and Eve and their temptation take place in the garden room, their life after being expelled from Eden in the world room. The terrestrial room represents the world during the millennium. And lastly, the participants enter the celestial room, symbolically reentering God’s presence. (See The Mormon concept of Heaven(s).)
Thus, each participant goes through a symbolic journey. They are created as innocent children, not knowing good from evil. They fall, are expelled from Eden, and enter the “lone and dreary world” where they must work and toil. They continue to progress until they reenter God’s presence.
The walls of each room are painted with murals appropriate to its description.
In the newer, smaller temples the entire session is done in a single “ordinance room,” with participants eventually entering a separate celestial room. Every temple will have its own celestial room.
Just to dispel any rumors, the officiators and participants are fully clothed at all times. This is true for both the move format and live sessions. In the movie format, Adam and Eve are portrayed as naked while in the garden of Eden; but this consists of head and shoulder shots, and ankle shots. Nothing else.
The Mormons and the Masons
My first exposure to Freemasonry was on my mission. My companion and I met a retired gentleman who was a member of the Knights Templar (he eventually was baptized). He was very open about it. He took us on a tour of their temple. He let me read through their ritual book. We saw the initiation room (I remember something about a stork piercing its breast). He even let me put on his Knight suit, which consisted of Medieval overalls with a big red cross on the front, and a sword. I thought the whole thing was very cool.
Occasionally, inferences are made about the similarities between Mormon temple worship and Masonic ritual. The similarities relate to the endowment. There are many parts of the endowment that are identical to Masonic ritual–and I mean exactly identical. Though, overall, the differences are far greater than the similarities.
The mythological explanation of the origin of Freemasonry goes back to Solomon’s temple, or even back to Adam and Eve. The historical origins of Freemasonry cannot be traced earlier than the 1400s (Wikipedia, “History of Freemasonry”). Most Mormons believe that the ceremonies of Freemasonry are a corrupted form of the endowment. It is generally believed among Mormons that the endowment is very ancient (see Encyclopedia of Mormonism, “Freemasonry and the Temple”).
The first prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was Joseph Smith, who became a Freemason in 1842. Many other early Mormon leaders were also Freemasons: Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Sydney Rigdon, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, Orson Pratt, and Parley P. Pratt (Homer, 1992). Four of these would become President of the church: John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Brigham Young, and Lorenzo Snow. Many were Freemasons before converting. Some became Freemasons after.
As time went on the relationship between the Mormons and the Masons soured. As early as 1866 the Grand Lodge of Utah prohibited all Mormons from becoming Masons or attending meetings, even if they had become a Mason in a different state.
The LDS church has always tolerated Freemasons among its membership. Generally it does not forbid members from joining secret organizations, but they are “advised to withdraw from such organizations,” because it “tends to lessen their interest in the church of which they are members, which requires their undivided devotion and fealty” (Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, vol. 4, p. 252). But the church does not normally bring such members under church discipline. So it is possible for a good Mormon to also be a Freemason.
An interesting side note, until 1984 the policy of the Grand Lodge of Utah prohibited all Mormons from becoming Masons. It had been an unwritten policy since 1866, but in 1925 it was written into the Code of the Grand Lodge of Utah. This was the only Masonic jurisdiction in the United States to preclude membership based on religious affiliation (Homer, 1992). In 2008 Glen Cook was the first Mormon to be elected grand master in Utah (Deseret News, March 19, 2008, “A Mormon Mason”).
Changes in Temple Ceremony
There have been several changes to the endowment ceremony over the decades. Critics argue that changes to this sacred ordinance indicate it is not inspired, or that the Church is not God’s Church, or that the Church has apostatized. However, each generation will respond to symbolism differently. What might have been a very powerful symbol in the early 20th century might not have the same impact today. So changes in how ordinances are administered are not surprising.
A distinction should also be made between the covenant ordinance (the ritual part) and the covenant itself. God establishes a covenant. If a person wants to be part of His covenant then she must go through the ordinance. For example, to enter into the covenant of baptism she must go through the ritual of baptism. The symbolism of baptism is meaningful and ancient. But God could, in theory, change the ordinance while keeping the covenant the same.
In the temple we covenant to do things like to obey God, obey the law of chastity, and follow the teachings of the Gospel. These covenants haven’t changed, though some of the ritual surrounding them has. And, as long as the ordinance is performed in the authorized way, by authorized persons, then God will recognize the covenant as binding (see Why Covenants).
For a list of some changes in the endowment see David Buerger, “The Development of the Mormon Temple Endowment Ceremony” (link below).
Buerger, David John, “The Development of the Mormon Temple Endowment Ceremony,” Dialog, vol. 34, no. 1/2, 2001, pp. 75-122, University of Utah, Sep. 5, 2014 < https://www.dialoguejournal.com/archive/issue-details/?in=134>
Boyd K. Packer, “The Holy Temple,” Ensign, October 2010, lds.org Sep. 7, 2014 < https://www.lds.org/ensign/2010/10/the-holy-temple?lang=eng>
Homer, Michael W., “Masonary and Mormonism in Utah, 1847-1984,” Journal of Mormon History, vol. 18, no. 2, 1992, pp. 57-96. USU Digital Commons, Sep. 1, 2014 < http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1019&context=mormonhistory>
Homer, Michael W., “Similarity of Priesthood in Masonry”: The Relationship between Freemasonry and Mormonism, Dialog, vol. 27, no. 3, 1994, pp. 1-113. University of Utah, Sep. 1, 2014 < https://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V27N03_15.pdf>
“Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple,” Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2002, lds.org, Sep. 7 2014 < https://www.lds.org/bc/content/shared/content/english/pdf/language-materials/36793_eng.pdf?lang=eng>
Rozsa, Allen Claire, “Temple Ordinances,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1992, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Sep. 5, 2014 < http://eom.byu.edu/index.php?title=Temple_Ordinances&oldid=4964>
Talmage, James E. , “The House of the Lord,” Deseret News, 1912, Mormon Church, Google Books, Sep. 5, 2014 < http://books.google.com/books?id=XcAUAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false>