What exactly do we do in the Temple? (Done)

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I can’t tell you exactly what we do in the Temple, because I have made a covenant not to discuss certain things. However, General Authorities and published LDS sources from the Church give a pretty good outline. All of what I’m saying here has been publicly stated by General Authorities, and I will provide sources so people don’t feel that I’m discussing things I shouldn’t. (See What parts of the Temple can I talk about outside the Temple?)

There are several parts to the Temple ordinances.

When Joseph first introduced the Temple ordinances to nine associates on May 4, 1842, he

instruct[ed] them in the principles and order of the Priesthood, attending to washings, anointings, endowments and communication of keys pertaining to the Aaronic Priesthood, and so on to the highest order of the Melchizedek Priesthood, setting forth the order pertaining to the Ancient of Days [that is, Adam], and all those plans and principles by which any one is enabled to secure the fullness of those blessings which have been prepared for the Church. . . .The communications I made to this council were of things spiritual, and to be received only by the spiritual minded: and there was nothing made known to these men but will be made known to all the Saints of the last days, so soon as they are prepared to receive, and a proper place [i.e. a Temple] is prepared to communicate them, even to the weakest of the Saints; therefore let the Saints be diligent in building the Temple, and all houses which they have been, or shall hereafter be, commanded of God to build; and wait their time with patience in all meekness, faith, perseverance unto the end, knowing assuredly that all these things referred to in this council are always governed by the principle of revelation.

(From History of the Church 5:2 and Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 237. Also quoted by Elder Packer in The Holy Temple, 32-33.)

Some important things to note from the above quotation-

  1. There are both Melchizedek and Aaronic portions of the Temple ceremonies.
  2. The Temple ordinances include “washings, anointings, endowments, and [Priesthood] keys.” Cf. D&C 124:39-40
  3. Joseph Smith was teaching “the order pertaining to the Ancient of Days” who is Adam, according to D&C 138:38,.
  4. The Temple ordinances are the means by which we obtain “the fulness of blessings” that God has prepared for us.
  5. The Temple ordinances are spiritual, and cannot be understood except by the spiritual-minded. (Cf. 1 Co. 2:14 “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”)
  6. Temple ordinances do not exist for making an elite club, or class distinctions. Rather, they are given to anyone who is prepared to receive them.
  7. The proper place for Temple ordinances is in a building made holy or set apart for that purpose, ie. a Temple. If absolutely necessary, temple ordinances can be performed in other places, such as the upper room of Joseph’s Red Brick Store, or on a mountain (e.g. Moses on Sinai or various missionaries on Ensign Peak in Utah.)
  8. The elements of our Temple ceremony are governed by revelation. They came by revelation and may be modified by revelation. (See Can the Temple Ordinances Change?)

As to the Temple ordinances themselves, Elder John A. Widtsoe characterized them this way.

The endowment and the Temple work as revealed by the Lord to the Prophet Joseph Smith fall clearly into four distinct parts: The preparatory ordinances; the giving of instruction by lectures and representations; covenants; and, finally, tests of knowledge.

(From “Temple Worship,” The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine 12 (April 1921): 58. As quoted by Elder Packer in The Holy Temple, 37-38.)

The Temple ordinances for the living include the following-

Initiatory ordinances-

The ordinances of washing and anointing are referred to often in the Temple as initiatory ordinances. It will be sufficient for our purposes to say only the following: Associated with the endowment are washings and anointings- mostly symbolic in nature, but promising definite, immediate blessings as well as future blessings.

-Elder Packer, The Holy Temple, 154

As they come into the sacrosanct washing and anointing rooms and are washed, they will be spiritually cleansed. As they are anointed, they will be renewed and regenerated in soul and spirit.

-President James E. Faust, To Reach Even Unto You (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1980), 82.

In setting forth as much as can, with propriety, be spoken outside of the Temple, the Lord says that ‘the fulness of the priesthood’ is received only in the Temple itself. This fulness is received through washings, anointings, solemn assemblies, oracles in holy places, conversations, ordinances, endowments, and sealings. (D&C 124:40)

- Elder Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 315

After baptism and prior to making further covenants and receiving an endowment of knowledge and blessings, each person receives initiatory ordinances called washings and anointings. The men and women go to separate areas in the Temple where men administer these ordinances to men and women administer them to women. Somewhat like baptism, the washings are symbolic acts of purification, followed by anointings that give the recipient certain powers and blessings—some immediate, and some to be fulfilled later, even in the next life. As the ancient priests in Israel were purified and anointed prior to their standing as representatives of the Lord, we today are similarly prepared in the Temple to become spiritually begotten sons and daughters of the Savior.

The ancient priests also put on special clothing symbolic of the Lord’s covenants with Israel. Today, symbolic of our transformation into “new creatures in Christ,” we also put on sacred clothing, a new garment, after the initiatory washing and anointing ordinances. We wear this special white underclothing afterward throughout our lives as a reminder of our covenants and as protection through our close association with the Holy Spirit Since the initiatory ordinances prepare us to become truly begotten sons and daughters of Christ, we begin to assume a new spiritual identity, symbolized with a new name, before proceeding to the endowment session itself. (See Rev. 2:13-17)

-Victor L. Ludlow, Principles and Practices of the Restored Gospel (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992) Longer excerpt here.

Washings and anointings are listed among other temple ordinances in D&C 124: 37-39. The practice of washing and anointing is also found among the Israelites in the Old Testament as well as among the early Christian Church.

According to Exodus 29 and Leviticus 8, Aaron and his sons became priests by a multipart initiation (simplified here).

1) They were taken into the Tabernacle/Temple courtyard,

2) washed with water,

3) anointed with oil,

4) clothed in priestly clothing, and

5) their hands were filled. (The KJV translates this as “thou shalt consacrate” in Exo. 29:9, but the Hebrew reads “you will fill his hand.” See the Bible Dictionary Priests, as well as the article “The Hand as a Cup in Ancient Temple Worship“)

For further references, see “Washings and Anointings” in The Encyclopedia of Mormonism and the references under Ritual on the Temple Index.


The Temple Endowment, as administered in modern Temples, comprises instruction relating to the significance and sequence of past dispensations, and the importance of the present as the greatest and grandest era in human history. This course of instruction 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.

As will be shown, the Temples erected by the Latter-day Saints provide for the giving of these instructions in separate rooms, each devoted to a particular part of the course; and by this provision it is possible to have several classes under instruction at one time.

-Elder Packer, The Holy Temple, 83-84.

As Elder Packer says, the Endowment ceremony begins at creation, and progresses through the Fall of Adam. As we follow Adam and Eve, we symbolically participate with them in the Fall and go through a “step-by-step ascent into the Eternal Presence.” (President David O. McKay.)

In some Temples, such as the Salt Lake Temple, each particular stage has its own room.

For the instructions and ordinances within [the Salt Lake Temple], a processional plan is followed through several rooms, each signifying a stage in man’s path of eternal progression. Each room is decorated with murals depicting that stage of the journey. First is the Creation Room, where the creative periods of the earth are considered. Next, the events of Eden are the subject in the Garden Room. The World (or Telestial) Room depicts conditions following the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, providing a background for the Atonement of Christ, the great apostasy, and the restoration of the gospel. In the Terrestrial Room, the requirements of the pure life and of complete commitment to the work of the Lord are taught. The path then leads through the veil of the Temple to the Celestial Room, representing the “heaven of heavens,” the glorious kingdom of God. – From “Salt Lake Temple,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1254.

The Ensign (March, 1993) has pictures of parts of these rooms in the Salt Lake Temple. Not all Temples have so many separate rooms or decorative murals in each room. Another difference in presentation is that most temples present the Endowment via film, but in a few Temples, such as Salt Lake and Manti, Temple workers present the ordinances live, without a film. As with all aspects of the Temple, these differences and any changes that are made are governed by revelation. (See Can the Temple Ordinances Change?)

President Hinckley played a large role in adapting film as a medium for the Temples, which allows temple-goers who speak different languages to attend the same session. The story is found in Go Forward with Faith: The Biography of Gordon B. Hinckley by Sheri L. Dew. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996): 176-184. Gospelink (subscription required) (Cf. Richard O. Cowan, Temples to Dot the Earth: 158-160.)

It is well known that we make covenants in the process of receiving our Endowment. (See What is a Covenant? )

Elder James E. Talmage wrote that

The ordinances of the endowment embody certain obligations on the part of the individual, such as covenant and promise to observe the law of strict virtue and chastity, to be charitable, benevolent, tolerant and pure; to devote both talent and material means to the spread of truth and the uplifting of the race; to maintain devotion to the cause of truth; and to seek in every way to contribute to the great preparation that the earth may be made ready to receive her King,-the Lord Jesus Christ. With the taking of each covenant and the assuming of each obligation a promised blessing is pronounced, contingent upon the faithful observance of the conditions…. In every detail the endowment ceremony contributes to covenants of morality of life, consecration of person to high ideals, devotion to truth, patriotism to nation, and allegiance to God.

-The House of the Lord, p.100. Also quoted in The Holy Temple, 163.

Besides a place of covenants, the Temple is a “house of prayer” (D&C 88:119) and therein we have opportunity to pray. Elder Maxwell once noted that “among the transcendent things restored as a part of the ‘restitution of all things’ were… the initiatory ordinances, the holy endowment, the true order of prayer, baptism for the dead, [and] the sealing power.” -A Wonderful Flood of Light (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1990): 23.

In the temple, we may offer group prayer, called a “prayer circle.” The Encyclopedia of Mormonism states, “The prayer circle is a part of Latter-day Saint temple worship, usually associated with the Endowment ceremony. Participants, an equal number of men and women dressed in temple clothing, surround an altar in a circle formation to participate unitedly in prayer.” (George S. Tate. “Prayer Circle.” –EM: 1120-21. See also the list of articles on prayer.)

Since the Endowment is a symbolic return to God’s presence, or to use President McKay’s phrase, a “step-by-step ascent into the Eternal Presence,” the endowment concludes in the Celestial Room.

Sealing- Most members know that the ordinance of sealing families together takes place in the Temple. This may be either the sealing together of a man and woman in marriage, sealing a convert family together as parents and children, or sealing adopted children to a previously sealed couple. This ordinance takes place in special “sealing rooms.”

“Temple marriage, that sealing ordinance, is a crowning blessing that you may claim in the holy Temple.” (Elder Packer, The Holy Temple, 8.) This ordinance can only be performed by a “sealer.” Sealers are different from Temple workers, in that they are called and set apart directly by Apostles. Since this sealing takes place within the Temple, only those who hold a Temple Recommend attend. This can cause friction when there are family members and friends who wish to attend the sealing and are not able. However, exchanging rings is not part of the sealing, though a couple may exchange rings inside if they wish. Holding a ring exchange “ceremony” outside the Temple can help other family members feel included.

For those who are being sealed and have not been previously endowed, try to arrange things so that you are not being endowed and married on the same day. A week or even a month, if possible, would be good. In making your endowment and your sealing two different experiences, you can focus on each one separately. Being endowed and sealed on the same day usually means a very high level of stress and emotion due to the presence of extended family and friends, schedules, the emotion of getting married, etc. Go through with your fiancé beforehand, and make your endowment its own special experience.

Once you have gone through the Temple for yourself, you may go back and perform any of these ordinances- baptisms and confirmations, initiatory, an endowment session, or sealings- on behalf of those who have already died without the opportunity to receive them.

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