Inside Mormon Temples
Temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (referred to as the “Mormon Church” by some unknowingly) now dot the earth. Some accuse Latter-day Saints of untoward behavior in temples, and say temple worship is secretive, because vows are not discussed outside the temple, not even between people who have made temple covenants. However, these rumors about Mormon temple worship are unfounded. In fact, the opposite is true. Everything that transpires in holy temples is pure and full of light; the temple is a House of God.
Temple covenants are not secret, but sacred, and there is a place and time set aside for these very pure and exalted covenants to be discussed. That place is not on the street or social chat rooms or TV. Just as in ancient times, the temple had a “holy of holies” more sacred than any other place in the temple, so modern temples have a celestial room where all things can be freely discussed.
It is hoped that a detailed tour through a Mormon temple will help readers understand what goes on inside, in order to dispel rumors, speculation, and misperceptions about Mormon temple worship, and Mormon temple ritual. This will be such a tour, room by room. Of much more benefit, however, is a real tour of a temple at a Mormon temple open house. Such open houses are scheduled whenever a new temple is built, or whenever an existing temple is remodeled. Before the temple is “dedicated” to the Lord’s service, it is opened to the public.
Mormon Temple Exterior and Gardens
All Mormon temples are Houses of God, and there is an engraving on temples that says “House of the Lord,” and “Holiness to the Lord.” The temple is a place set apart from the world, a place of purity, where Christ can visit, and patrons can meditate, pray, read the scriptures, and receive personal revelation for their own journey through life. “Temple work” consists of partaking of higher ordinances of the gospel for oneself and for ones’ ancestors (these are conditional upon the deceased ancestors’ choice — they can choose whether to accept ordinances performed in their behalf). Work for the dead is a fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy of the spirit of Elijah to come forth in the last days, turning the heart of the children to their fathers and the heart of the fathers to the children. This work takes place in all temples of the LDS Church, so whether a temple is large or small, rooms for higher ordinances exist in all of them.
The architecture of temples is meant to compliment the beauty of the areas where they are built, and they rely for their exterior design on the traditions and building styles of various countries and settings. Native materials are often used. Many temples have a gold-plated statue atop their steeples of Moroni, the last prophet to write in the Book of Mormon. He heralds the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the last days in preparation for His Second Coming.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does its best to accommodate community concerns about traffic patterns and building codes, steeple height, lighting, etc., so that the Mormon Temple will grace the area and bring joy to its neighbors. Many temples have visitors’ centers, and many sponsor programs and presentations with uplifting messages. The gardens of Mormon Temples are always tranquil and lovely, and anyone can visit the temple grounds at any time, as long as they are respectful of the spirit there.
Temple Rooms and Their Functions
Upon entering the front door of an LDS temple, one will find a waiting room. From here, you can descend to the basement to the baptistry, or enter and go to the “recommend desk.”
Christ was our example for baptism. He was baptized by immersion in symbolism of His death and resurrection, and to symbolize the death of the old person and rebirth of a “new creature in Christ.” Because baptism by immersion represents death and rebirth, baptismal fonts in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are always below ground. Everyone who is baptized into the Church is baptized elsewhere — not inside a temple. People may be baptized in a church meetinghouse where a font is present. In this case, the font’s top is at ground level, and the person descends a few stairs into the water. Swimming pools, lakes, rivers, and oceans may also served for normal baptisms, as long as it’s safe, and as long as it’s possible for the person to be fully immersed.
The baptistry in a Mormon Temple is only used for baptism for the dead. Modeled after the laver in the ancient temple of Solomon, the font stands symbolically upon the backs of twelve sculpted oxen, representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Included in the baptistry area of the temple are dressing rooms, an administrative desk, and a room where ensuing “confirmations” for the dead may be performed. “Confirmation” is the bestowal of the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. Christ said we are to be baptized by water and by fire. Confirmation is the baptism by fire, the conferring of the Spirit. Worthy members of the LDS Church ages 12 and over may be baptized for the dead, and a temporary (or “conditional”) recommend is issued by their bishops (who head individual congregations). A recommend attests to individual worthiness to enter the temple of God. Patrons who are baptized for the dead, and those who perform the rite, wear all white jumpsuits that completely cover the body and which are thick enough not to become immodest when they get wet.
Regular baptisms in the Church may be performed by a holder of the lesser, or Aaronic Priesthood in the office of Priest, but temple baptisms must be performed by men who hold the higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood, the same priesthood held by Jesus Christ.
A conditional recommend is not enough for entering other parts of a Mormon temple. One must obtain a temple recommend by interviewing with one’s bishop and stake president (who presides over a group of congregations). Temple recommends are good for two years, unless a person loses the right to have a recommend, due to transgression.
Once past the recommend desk of a temple, there is usually another waiting room, sometimes a room where temple clothing may be rented, a “family file” office (where genealogical records are handled for patrons), and other small meeting rooms or offices. From the recommend desk, most patrons head directly to the dressing rooms, and where they go next is determined by what ordinances they wish to participate in.
The “initiatory” is a symbolic ritual reminiscent of washings and anointings performed historically in holy temples. These washings are symbolic of purification rights, and symbolic in that they employ only a drop of water and a drop of oil. An initiatory is meant to cleanse and purify the supplicant in order to be worthy to enter the presence of the Lord. Since this is a preparatory ordinance, it hearkens back to the purification of Aaron to serve in the tabernacle in the wilderness during the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. Patrons who participate in “initiatories” in Mormon temples do so fully dressed in white.
An “endowment” is a gift, and the Mormon endowment ritual can lead to the gift of eternal life by bestowing upon the worthy temple patron an endowment of knowledge and spiritual power. For this reason, the Latter-day Saint pioneers who were driven from Nauvoo, Illinois, hurried to complete the Nauvoo Temple and receive their endowments there, before setting out for the west. That temple was open day and night for that purpose.
An endowment room is like a pristine auditorium. During the endowment ceremony, a movie is shown that recounts the creation and the fall of Adam, and teaches God’s plan of salvation. Women who participate in the endowment ritual wear long white dresses of their own choosing, and men wear white suits and ties. This standard of dress not only represents purity, but it makes it impossible to tell who is rich and who is poor — all are equal before the Lord. After the movie, patrons participate in a series of covenants that commit them to be servants of Jesus Christ and to keep His commandments. Love is central to these covenants, as is purity. In their temples, Mormons covenant to be chaste and charitable and to love the Lord with all their might, mind, and strength.
At the conclusion of the endowment session, which is always the same, and which lasts about 90 minutes, patrons proceed to the “celestial room,” where they can read the scriptures, meditate, and pray. The celestial room is the most beautiful in the temple and represents the highest kingdom in heaven, where God Himself dwells. The potential exists to be joined in eternal families there, and often one can see happy family groups in the celestial room. It is the goal of every active LDS family to have all family members be “temple-worthy” and able to be together in the celestial room, and later in the Celestial Kingdom of heaven.
Sealing rooms in Mormon temples are for the sealing of marriages and families together for eternity. There are mirrors facing each other on the walls, so the couple may see repeated reflections into eternity. A sealing room is almost square, with an altar in the middle and chairs around the periphery for guests. All guests at a temple sealing must have temple recommends. Guests wear Sunday best clothing, while those participating in the ordinance wear all white. For a marriage, the bride may wear an all-white modest wedding gown or a simpler white temple dress. Those who wear a temple dress normally change into a wedding gown after the sealing for photographs outside in the temple gardens.
Bride and groom kneel on both sides of the altar and hold hands across the altar to say their vows. Sometimes, a couple has already been married civilly and may even have children. In such cases, the husband and wife are sealed to each other and then each child holds their hands upon the altar to be sealed to them for eternity. In Mormon temples, both endowments and sealings are also performed for the dead. Again, these covenants are only binding if they are accepted by the dead, and also only binding upon living couples, if they remain committed to their covenants and continue in worthiness. So a temple sealing is not an end goal, but the beginning of a life in a relationship defined by charity and forgiveness.
Other rooms in Mormon temples may include a cafeteria, a laundry for rented clothing, and offices. Nothing untoward or unseemly occurs in Mormon temples.