The Development of LDS Temple Worship


The Development of LDS Temple Worship, 1846-2000: A Documentary History

An extensive analysis of changes and adaptations to LDS temple ceremonies and worship.

March, 2011

SKU: 978-1-56085-211-7 Categories: , , Tags: , , , Author: Devery S. AndersonProduct ID: 1313


Over the years, the LDS Church has struggled with how best to convey information about the temple to its members. “We recommend that a definition be given in the temple of the symbolism and significance of the various marks in the garment,” a committee of apostles wrote to the First Presidency in 1936. “We are very concerned that our people [who are] going to the temple for the first time have a better introduction to the temple,” said Apostle Mark E. Petersen to regional representatives in 1969.

In that spirit, historian Devery S. Anderson has brought together a comprehensive collection of official documents on temple ceremonies, limited only by what would be inappropriate to discuss publicly. The documents include rulings by the First Presidency on changes to the ceremonies, letters to temple and stake presidents and bishops reminding them of temple policies, minutes of Quorum of the Twelve meetings, excerpts from sermons and Church publications, and commentary by apostles and temple presidents in diaries, letters, oral histories, and temple scrapbooks.

Yes, the temple ceremonies have changed since their inception in Nauvoo in the 1840s. The liturgy was originally conveyed as a memorized, oral tradition, then in 1877 the leadership committed it to writing to guarantee consistency among several temples and facilitate changes they wanted to make at that time. This was repeated in 1922 when George F. Richards and a committee of apostles was charged with reviewing and rewriting the ceremonies—again in the 1950s when the dramatic presentation was replaced with a motion picture and the script was shortened. One comes away from these documents with a better understanding of what constitutes the essence of the temple and what, by contrast, is malleable: staging, costumes, wording of the dramatic portions, and practical details such as whether marriage proxies should kiss across the altar.

Devery Scott Anderson is co-editor of Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed, 1842-1845 and The Nauvoo Endowment Companies, 1845-1846, which together won the Mormon History Association’s 2006 Best Documentary Book Award. The current volume continues the same theme. Anderson recently completed a book about the murder of the African American teenager Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955 and has now begun a biography of LDS Apostle Willard Richards. He has published in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (Best Article Award, Dialogue Foundation, 1999), the Journal of Mormon History, Southern Quarterly, and elsewhere.

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2 reviews for The Development of LDS Temple Worship

  1. Dr. Mauro Properzi, International Journal of Mormon Studies

    The Development of LDS Temple Worship (DLTW) is the third volume in a remarkable documentary history that focuses on Mormon temple practices from the year 1842 through the end of the last century. The first two volumes, also edited by Devery Anderson with the assistance of Gary J. Bergera, are more narrow in temporal focus as they deal with Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed: 1842–1845 and with The Nauvoo Endowment Companies: 1845–1846 respectively. Conversely, DLTW spans over 150 years of Mormon policies, questions, adjustments, and explanations, which are related to temple admittance, ordinances, clothing, construction, functioning, etc. The wealth of information it contains, collected in almost 500 pages of text, and the focus on primary sources as opposed to their interpretation, combines to create a reference volume which is likely to be widely used and studied for many years to come.

    Yet, this is not a book for scholars only, whether historians, theologians, or Mormon Studies analysts; Latter–day Saints from most walks of life will find its content accessible, enlightening, and highly engaging. Indeed, any initial concern that Church members may experience in approaching this book, given the sensitive and sacred nature of the topic, should soon be resolved through the recognition that the editor’s intention is not to create an expose of LDS temple worship. For example, readers will find no description of signs and tokens, or of specific wording in ordinances like initiatories and sealings, which “temple–endowed” Mormons would not discuss publicly. At the same time, the editor does not shy away from including excerpts from personal diaries and correspondence of individuals who have since passed on, omitting full names when the nature of the issue is considered to be sensitive. In other words, Anderson has tackled the difficult task of navigating the fuzzy realm of the “permissible” in Mormon discussions of temples. Although it is inevitable that both skeptics and believers will take issue on his specific setting of boundaries I believe that he has largely succeeded by showing both courage and sensitivity in espousing a reasonable middle ground which will not alienate either dispassionate scholars or faithful Latter–day Saints.

  2. Stephen C. Taysom, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought

    Although we may not know it, we live our lives immersed in ritual. Many of our daily exchanges with other human beings are ritualized. We often categorize and compare religions by referencing how highly structured, or not, their liturgical worlds are. I grew up being told that Mormons avoided ritual because it connoted empty practice and vulgar symbolism. The truth is, however, that Mormon temple worship is among the richest symbolic systems of worship in Christianity.

    Within the temple rituals, one can, for example, identify almost all of Catherine Bell’s six genres of ritual action. Bell was, before her untimely death from cancer in 2008, among the most prominent scholars of ritual theory in the world. A specialist in Chinese religion, Bell not only studied rituals but also produced important work on the history of the study of ritual. Bell’s work has allowed a new generation of scholars to apply ritual studies theory to a strikingly broad range of specific religious traditions.

    Given the strength of the theoretical framework available, it is time that the Mormon temple ritual receives serious study as ritual. Unfortunately, it has not received as much of this attention as it should have.1 Since Joseph Smith introduced the temple endowment in 1842, it has been a source of curiosity, contempt, and even fantasy for those outside of the faith. Even for insiders, the temple has always been somewhat perplexing. Because Mormon tradition holds that matters of any specificity regarding the temple ceremonies must not be discussed outside the temple itself, those who are preparing to attend for the first time are understandably nervous. Adding to this tension is the fact that the temple is simultaneously the heart of Mormon piety and the least “Mormon” thing that most Mormons do.

    In a Church where the sacramental elements are bread and water, there is no local professional clergy, and many Church buildings are centered around an indoor basketball court, the temple ceremonies represent a different sort of devotional mode altogether. They are liturgically rich and involve ritual vestment changes and symbolic body posturing, sacred words and the enactment of a holy and comprehensive mythology. No other Christian church in America comes close to the level of individual involvement in the abstract ritual performance of a sacred story that is found in LDS temples.

    Most Mormons know very little about the history of the temple endowment. Signature Books, in its three-volume documentary history of LDS temple worship, has given a great gift to scholars and believers who wish to understand the historical development of these rituals through a study of the documents that believers have produced. This review looks at these three volumes, focusing on how the documents collected in each volume illuminate the possible future study of LDS temple worship, as well as what the documents tell us about using the history of temple worship as a lens through which to view LDS history more generally.

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