New Book Shows Changes to LDS Temple Rites

The Development of LDS Temple WorshipSalt Lake City—There was a time when Mormons said their temple ceremonies were a pure form of ancient Freemasonry. Contemporary Masonic rituals, said church founder Joseph Smith, were a corruption of what was practiced in Solomon’s temple. While it is not possible to resolve the question of what temple secrets were practiced anciently, it is possible to document the changes that have occurred in modern Latter-day Saint temples since their inception in the 1840s.

That is exactly what historian Devery S. Anderson has done in a new compilation, The Development of LDS Temple Worship, 1846-2000: A Documentary History. Neither an exposé nor a critique of the temple, Anderson’s book is a documentary collection that avoids mentioning parts of the ceremonies that Mormons are asked not to discuss. A compilation of primary source materials that are in the public domain, the documents were written or produced by LDS presidents and apostles. In them, the LDS leaders discuss their work of revising the ceremonies at various times to meet changing needs. As such, they are official statements and authoritative rather than speculative.

According to Anderson’s research, little has gone unchanged. For instance, there was a time when an initiate’s first experience in the temple was to be rebaptized prior to receiving the “endowment ceremony.” Temple baptismal fonts were used to baptize the sick to improve their health and to purify young men leaving on missions. “No person will be eligible to receive these [temple] blessings except they have been rebaptized,” Church President John Taylor wrote in November 1877. The Church no longer practices rebaptism.

In earlier times, the crowning ceremony of the LDS temple was the so-called “second anointing,” an assurance of one’s admittance into heaven. This rite was later discontinued. Although apparently never realized, a place was also reserved in the St. George, Utah, temple for Old Testament-like animal sacrifice. According to the Church’s 1857 “Journal History,” rooms were planned for “attending to the second anointings,” and “there will be an altar prepared, so that when any sacrifices are to be offered, they should be offered there.”

A so-called “oath of vengeance” was once administered to temple-goers. The St. George Temple Minute Book gave instructions that, in praying for “retribution” against Church enemies (those who killed Joseph and Hyrum Smith in 1844, for instance), officiators should remember that “we importune our heavenly Father, not that we may, but that He, our Father, will avenge the blood of martyrs shed for the testimony of Jesus.”

Originally temple patrons were bathed in water and whiskey and anointed in perfumed oil. A sample entry from the Church Historian’s Office Journal for December 1866 reads: “President Brigham Young procured the perfumed oil which was consecrated at the prayer circle on Sunday evening.” One of Young’s family said he was “washed in saleratus (baking soda) and water from head to foot, afterward in spirits.”

In addition to changes in the ordinances, policies have changed. “Men and women should have no sexual connection for a week or more previous to their going to the temple to receive endowments,” Brigham Young wrote to bishops in January 1877. “A man should not touch a woman for 10 days before getting their Endowments,” Church President Wilford Woodruff agreed in another letter. Those attending the temple had to be “firm believers in plural marriage,” bishops were told in November 1885.

While the endowment ceremony today is intended for adults only, in the nineteenth century the Manti Temple Historical Record stated that “if of a naturally ripe and early development, of mind and body, children may receive endowments at the age of twelve years; but as a rule, fifteen years old is sufficiently early.”

In addition, if people were too busy to attend the temple, they were encouraged to pay someone to go in their place. “It is customary to pay such proxies a small sum, to partly remunerate them for personal expenses; usually a man receives 75 cents, and a woman 50 cents,” President Joseph F. Smith wrote in Instructions Concerning Temple Ordinance Work in 1905.

A committee of Church apostles led by Elder George F. Richards was commissioned in 1922 to re-word portions of the ceremonies to remove problematic parts. “All the temple ordinances have been considered and many changes have been made,” Richards summarized at the end of the year.

Anderson thinks it is normal and good that there have been so many changes. “There is a plethora of theology associated with temple worship,” he writes, “which often intersects with volatile social issues such as race, gender, and marriage. As social norms evolved on the American frontier and into the modern age, so did the policies regarding the temple.” From the beginning of temple practices until 1978, blacks were prohibited from participating. An early African American Mormon, Jane Manning James, was sealed to Joseph Smith as a “servitor” (servant) throughout the eternities but was not able to participate in the temple herself.

Women too were originally treated differently than men. Women were once required to get their husband’s permission to attend an endowment ceremony, for instance, whereas men did not need their wife’s permission. This policy ended in the mid-1980s.

The Development of Temple Worship is the third, and last, in a series of documentary works on LDS temple worship. Anderson’s two other compilations, which he co-edited with Gary James Bergera, Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed, 1842-1845 and The Nauvoo Endowment Companies, 1845-1846, together won the Mormon History Association’s 2006 Best Documentary Award and the John Whitmer Historical Association’s Best Book Award.

Other books on Mormon temple worship:
The House of the Lord, by James E. Talmage
Mysteries of Godliness by David John Buerger