Thursday, December 22, 2011

Mormon Temples: What Happens in a Temple?

(This is part of a series of posts on Mormon temples)

In my last post, I talked about how temples are special, sacred spaces, and how special preparation is required to enter the temple. Because the general population may not enter the temple and because Mormons don’t talk a lot about the temple out of reverence for it, people outside of the church are left to speculate about what goes on there. In this post, I want to give a picture of what the temple experience is like. This is a unique aspect of being a Mormon and plays a significant role in what we think about God and the purpose of our life.

The first thing that Mormons do when entering the temple is change into white clothing. White clothing is worn for all temple ordinances, white being a symbol of purity, light, heaven, etc. The clothing is uniform in appearance, so there is an increased feeling of equality and unity. In the temple, there are no social strata – everyone is equal regardless of wealth, status, or even position in the church. Once in the temple, by chance, I sat next to an apostle (a top authority in the church), and it was interesting for me to observe him dressed the same as I was and going through the same rituals. It would have been impossible for anyone to distinguish us if they didn’t already know who he was. Wearing white clothing also lends to a feeling of the special holiness of the temple, a place apart from the world.

All communications in the temple are in hushed tones. The closest thing I can compare it to is a library. Young children are generally not found there, so the quietness of the place is another thing that sets it apart from other places we might be.

The primary purpose of the temple is to provide a sacred place for special ordinances, or rites. Mormons believe these ordinances are needed to enter heaven, so there is a great importance attached to them. Each ordinance has a covenant associated with it; that is, there is a promise that the participant makes in connection with the ordinance. The covenant is a two-way promise, God promising certain blessings to the people who make and keep their end of the covenant. The substance of these covenants is essentially that the individual will do their very best to follow God all the time, and to devote themselves completely to the cause of building up his kingdom. Initially, Mormons perform these ordinances for themselves, then they return to the temple and perform them on behalf of others who have died without the benefit of receiving the same ordinances.

Ordinances performed in the temple are: Baptisms (on behalf of deceased ancestors), Washing and Anointing (symbolic), the Endowment, and Sealing (Marriage). Everyone is clothed for these ordinances (some people ask about that) and each one is a set ritual that is the same every time. When a Mormon attends the temple to receive ordinances for the first time, the ordinance of washing and anointing and the Endowment are typically performed in succession on the same visit to the temple. The brief ordinance of Washing and Anointing is symbolic and emphasizes the idea that a person is setting themselves apart from the world to be a follower of God. The Endowment is about 90 minutes of instruction, teaching about the purpose of life, the commandments one must live by, and the specific things a person must know to return to the presence of God. The Sealing (or marriage) ordinance is a brief marriage ceremony performed as a capstone of all the previous ordinances.

The sealing ordinance itself is special in that it must be performed by a person known as a “sealer” who has been given the power to “seal on earth and in heaven”. The significance of this is that marriages performed by a sealer may extend beyond death into eternity. The number of sealers in the church is not published, but I estimate there is one sealer for every 10,000 members of the church. Their duties are relegated to the temple and performing ordinances there. Leaders of congregations (bishops) do not have the sealing power. They may perform civil marriages in a church, but they do not have the authority to perform sealings (or “Eternal Marriages”) in the temple.

There are special rooms in the temples for each one of the ordinances. Here are some examples:

Baptismal Font

Endowment Room

Sealing Room

The central room of the temple is the “Celestial Room”, which exists there as a symbol of heaven:

Celestial Room

No ordinances are performed in the celestial room. Instead, Mormons come here to pray and to meditate, often after finishing and endowment. These rooms are completely quiet and peaceful. For myself, I can say it is a delight to have a place like this to come to and be away from worldly cares and to draw my mind to spiritual things.

In addition to ordinances rooms, temples have offices in them for administering the daily workings of the temple. There are also meeting rooms which are occasionally used by a congregation to meet for a special event. These meetings are similar to church meetings, where there are prayers, hymns, and sermons. Large temples may also have laundries and even a place for temple patrons to eat. (Sometimes temples are not only filled with a reverent atmosphere, but also the wonderful aromas of cooking food. J)

As I hope you can see, temples and temple activities are unique, sacred and special to Mormons. In my next post, I will talk about how the temple and its activities affect the daily life of a Mormon. As always, please feel free to send me questions about Mormons or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and I will try to put up some thoughtful answers in my blog.

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