What Goes on in Mormon Temples?
Many people are curious about what goes on inside Mormon temples. Mormons who are living the commandments are able to go to the temple and receive ordinances there. Once these ordinances are received personally, individuals may return to the temple and do work by proxy for those who are dead. Mormons are encouraged to do their own family history work and to complete temple ordinances for their deceased family members. If they do not have personal names, though, other names have been submitted by individuals for their family members, and proxy work can be done for these people. Mormon doctrine teaches that certain ordinances are essential for salvation, but not everyone had a chance to receive these ordinances during their lifetime. Thus, proxy work can be done for them, and then they will have the opportunity to choose whether or not they accept these ordinances. Free will is always important in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Baptisms and Confirmations for the Dead
The ancient apostle Paul talked about one of these ordinances performed in temples: baptism for the dead, “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 Corinthians 15:29).
Baptisms for the dead are performed in the baptistry of Mormon temples. The baptistry is always located in a lower level of the temple, below ground, to symbolize the burial of the old person and his rebirth as a new creature in Christ, as well as the death and resurrection of the Savior. The baptistry is built following the pattern in Solomon’s temple, as a laver mounted on the backs of twelve oxen, which represent the twelve tribes of Israel.
Worthy Mormons age 12 and older may be baptized for the dead in Mormon temples. After a person is baptized for the dead, he or she is confirmed for the dead. Confirmation is an ordinance performed by the laying on of hands for the conferring of the gift of the Holy Ghost, or the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. These are the two ordinances that youth may do by proxy for the dead. The higher ordinances must be performed by worthy adults.
A symbolic washing and anointing is performed for purification in an ordinance called the initiatory. Mormons perform this ordinance once for themselves and ever after for the dead. This is symbolic of the ritual purification rites in ancient temples, including the tabernacle in the wilderness used by the ancient Israelites during the Exodus from Egypt, as laid forth in the Old Testament.
The next ordinance is called the endowment. An endowment is a gift, and this is a gift from God that includes knowledge, protection, and spiritual power. The endowment is performed in a beautiful, auditorium-like room, with the patrons seated. They hear the story of the creation and God’s Plan of Salvation, and then they covenant to keep God’s commandments. Historically, Latter-day Saint pioneers were eager to receive their own endowments in Nauvoo, Illinois, before setting out to cross the Great Plains to Utah Territory. They desired the spiritual enrichment and extra strength this spiritual endowment would give them. This is why Mormon leaders struggled to complete the Nauvoo Temple, even as mobs were attacking the city. Thousands of ordinances were performed in these adverse circumstances. The endowment takes about an hour and a half to complete and is always the same, word for word. Mormons receive the endowment once for themselves and thereafter for the dead.
At the conclusion of the presentation of the endowment, temple patrons proceed to a room called the Celestial Room, representative of the highest kingdom of heaven where God Himself dwells. Here, patrons may pray or meditate.
Another ordinance performed in Mormon temples is called a sealing. This ordinance seals a bride and groom together in a holy marriage bond that is meant to last for eternity. When they have children, those children are considered “born in the covenant” and are part of their eternal family. For couples who have never been married in the temple and who have children, the children may be sealed to them in the temple after they are eternally sealed to each other.
Temple sealings are performed in sealing rooms. A sealing room has an altar in the middle, and the bride and groom kneel on either side, holding hands across the altar as they pronounce their wedding vows. Family and friends in attendance, all of whom must be temple-worthy, sit on chairs around the periphery of the room. Ornate mirrors adorn the walls, and because they face each other, the effect reproduces infinite reflections, symbolizing the eternal nature of the covenant.
Temples are places of utmost light, joy, and reverence. Mormon patrons arrive in Sunday dress (white shirts and ties and slacks or suits for the men, dresses for the women) and change into white apparel for ordinance work. It is impossible to discern the education or vocational status of the various patrons, or whether one is rich or poor. All are equal in the sight of God. The Church is striving to build temples all over the world, so that they are near to the members who wish to attend and to receive saving ordinances. Some families make great sacrifices and travel long distances to reach a temple, especially to have their families sealed in an eternal covenant.