The most well-known Mormon endowment ceremony is that performed by the LDS Church in its temples. This ceremony is open only to members of the church deemed worthy and given a "temple recommend" by their ecclesiastical leaders after one or more personal interviews. It comprises two parts: (1) an initiatory, and (2) an instructional and testing portion.See also Temple (LDS Church) Entrance Requirements
The endowment is open only to Mormons who have a valid "temple recommend." To be eligible to receive a temple recommend, one must be deemed worthy by church leadership and have been a member of the LDS Church for at least one year. A male member of the church must hold the Melchizedek priesthood to participate in the endowment. A temple recommend is signed by the person receiving the recommend, a member of the person's bishopric and a member of the stake presidency, who each perform a personal, one-on-one "worthiness interview." Persons seeking a recommend to attend the temple for the first time and receive their endowment will generally meet with their bishop and stake president.
These interviews cover what the church believes to be the most important factors of personal morality and worthiness, including whether the person has a basic belief in key church doctrines such as the divinity of Jesus and the restoration; whether the person attends church meetings and supports the leadership of the LDS Church; whether the person affiliates with Mormon fundamentalists or other people considered by the church to be apostate; whether the person is honest and lives the law of chastity and the Word of Wisdom; whether the person abuses family members; whether the person pays tithing and any applicable spousal or child support; and whether the person has confessed to serious past sins.
Prior to participating in the endowment, members of the LDS Church frequently participate in a six-part temple preparation class which discusses temple-related topics but does not directly discuss the details of the ceremony.
The "initiatory" is a prelude to the endowment proper, similar to Chrismation, and consists of (1) instruction (2) multiple symbolic washing and anointing ordinances, (3) being clothed in the temple garment, and (4) receiving a "new name" in preparation for the endowment.
Washing and anointing are perhaps the earliest practiced temple ordinances for the living since the organization of the LDS Church. There is evidence that these ordinances have been performed since 1832. They were first practiced in the Whitney Store as part of the School of the Prophets and were part of the Kirtland endowment.
As part of the endowment ceremony, the ordinance of washing and anointing symbolizes the ritual cleansing of priests that took place at Israel's Tabernacle, Solomon's Temple, and the Second Temple, later known as Herod's Temple. The washing symbolizes being "cleansed from the blood of this generation," and being anointed to become "clean from the blood and sins of this generation."
After the washing and anointing, the patron is given the temple garment, formally called the "Garment of the Holy Priesthood". This garment represents the "coats of skins" given to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Similar ordinances are performed for the living and the dead in LDS temples, where men are:Ordained to the priesthood (for the dead only, since a man coming to the temple for his own endowment would have previously received his Melchizedek priesthood ordination)
Washed with water (which only involves a cursory sprinkling of water)
Blessed to have the washing sealed
Anointed with oil
Blessed to have the anointing sealed
Clothed in holy garments
Women receive the same ordinances, except for the ordination.
As the final part of the initiatory, the patron is given a new name, which is a key word used during the ceremony. In general, this name is only known to the person to whom it is given; however, an endowed LDS woman reveals her name to her endowed husband (but not vice versa). The "new name" is supported in part by Book of Revelation 2:17 and 3:12, referring to a "white stone" with "a new name written" thereon. According to some sources, the same male and female names are given to each man and woman participating in the ceremony on a given day, depending on whether they are receiving the endowment for themselves or on behalf of a deceased person. If a new name coincides with their own name, "Adam" or "Eve" is given instead.
Most Latter-day Saints who attend the temple believe that the endowment focuses heavily on the plan of salvation and the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Parts of the plan of salvation explained include:the eternal Nature of God, of Jesus Christ, and their divinity;
the pre-mortal existence and eternal nature of man (mankind lived with God before mortal life);
the reality of Satan, who is Jesus' and Adam's rebellious spirit brother;
the fall of Adam and the reasons for mortality, trials, and blessings;
the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and the need for the Atonement;
the relationship of grace, faith, and works;
death, the literal resurrection, and qualifying for various kingdoms of glory;
the need for personal righteousness, covenant keeping, and love of God and fellow man;
that our Heavenly Father loves us as his children and wants us to become like he is, to receive a fulness of joy;
the sanctity and eternal nature of the family.
The following description is given in an LDS Church publication of what to expect when one enters the temple:
The endowment is often thought of as a series of lectures where Latter-day Saints are taught about the creation of the world, the events in the Garden of Eden, what happened after Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden into the "telestial world", and the progression of righteous individuals through "terrestrial" laws to the celestial kingdom and exaltation.
During the ceremony, Latter-day Saints are dressed in temple clothes or temple robes, are taught about various gospel laws (including obedience, chastity, sacrifice and consecration) and make covenants to obey these laws. They are given various "key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the holy Priesthood", to remind them of these covenants. At the end of the ceremony, the participant is "tested" on their knowledge of what he or she was taught and covenanted to do and then admitted into the celestial room, where he or she may meditate and pray.
B. H. Roberts declared that certain aspects of the endowment ceremony were intended to be "secret from the world". In this regard, Facsimile No. 2 in the Book of Abraham (part of the LDS Church standard works) clarifies that there are things that "cannot be revealed unto the world; but is to be had in the Holy Temple of God." This information includes, in the initiation and instructional/testing phases of the endowment ceremony, certain names and symbolic gestures called tokens and signs. Prior to revisions in 1990, the LDS Church's version of the endowment also included a gesture called a "penalty." The ceremony stated that the "representation of the execution of the penalties indicates different ways in which life may be taken". However, the LDS Church has removed the "penalty" portions of the ceremony, protecting the "names", "tokens," and "signs" by a simple "covenant and promise." Still, such information has been published in various sources, unauthorized by the LDS Church.
Other than the ceremony's signs and tokens (and formerly penalties), which remain a central part of the ceremonies, the remainder of the ceremony carries with it no covenants of secrecy. However, most Latter-day Saints are generally unwilling to discuss the specific details of the ceremony. Latter-day Saints commonly state that the rituals are "sacred" but not "secret," and Latter-day Saint apostle Boyd K. Packer has encouraged members not to "discuss the temple ordinances outside the temples".
In practice, Latter-day Saints keep silent about the ceremony for numerous reasons. Most Latter-day Saints hold the making of these covenants to be highly sacred. Most church members also believe that details of the ceremony should be kept from those who are not properly prepared. Many Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus often taught in parables for the same reason. Other Latter-day Saints remain silent about the ceremony because they believe that its meaning cannot be properly conveyed without the experience in the temple. Brigham Young stated:
In addition, church members are colloquially taught that the only place where the temple ceremonies should be discussed, even amongst faithful members, is within the temple.
Some Mormons have suggested that the Latter-day Saint reluctance to discuss the endowment encourages attacks and unauthorized exposés by evangelical Christians and others, and therefore advocate a more transparent attitude toward the ceremony.
The LDS Church defines a covenant as:
The temple ceremony involves entering into solemn covenants. Critics have expressed concern that a person may be denied access to the specific details of these covenants until that person is faced with making them in the temple, making it impossible to reflect on their meaning or ramifications. The LDS Church does offer a temple preparation seminar and freely publishes both the student booklet, Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple, and the teacher's manual, Endowed from on High: Temple Preparation Seminar, on its website. These books and the seminar which may be held are designed to help prepare members for the temple; attendance at the seminar is often required before a bishop will issue a temple recommend for the first time to a member. In the seminar, it is taught that all of the covenants entered into during the endowment have a basis in Latter-day Saint scripture; however, the specifics of the covenants are not revealed.
Latter-day Saints cite various Old Testament references to temple ordinances such as those found in Exodus 29:4-9 and Exodus 28:2-43 and Leviticus 8:6-13. The words "HOLINESS TO THE LORD" can be found on LDS temples as referenced in Exodus 28:36.
The Latter-day Saint temple is referred to as a "house of learning" since it is a "kind of educational environment teaching by action and educating through ritual." The endowment ordinance, as presented in Latter-day Saint temples, has been referred to as a "ritual drama" that commemorates episodes of sacred history due to its “theatrical setting.” When viewed as a restoration of ancient rites, the ritual drama and aesthetic environment in which the endowment is presented are both rich in Judeo-Christian symbolism. Comparative studies of the art, architecture, and rituals found in Mormonism, such as the endowment, reveal parallels to early Christian, Catholic, and Jewish traditions.
The meaning and scope of the term endowment evolved during the early Latter Day Saint movement, of which Mormonism is a part. The term derives from the Authorized King James Version, referring to the spiritual gifts given the disciples of Jesus on the day of Pentecost, in which they were "endowed with power from on high," Christians generally understand this endowment to refer to the gift of the Holy Spirit, which the Latter Day Saints believe is given at the Confirmation ceremony. In 1831, however, Smith began teaching that the elders of the church needed to be further "endowed with power from on high" in order to be effective proselytizers. He therefore gathered the elders together at a General Conference in June 1831 and "endowed" them with this power by ordaining them to the High Priesthood.
By the mid-1830s, Smith was teaching that a further endowment was necessary, this time requiring the completion of the Kirtland Temple as a house of God where God could pour out his Holy Spirit. Upon the completion of the Kirtland Temple after three years of construction (1833–1836), the elders of the church gathered for this second promised endowment in early 1836. The Kirtland endowment included a ritual ceremony involving preparatory washings and anointings with oil, followed by a gathering in the temple in which many reported spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues and visions.
The Nauvoo endowment consists of two phases: (1) an initiation, and (2) an instructional and testing phase. The initiation consists of a washing and anointing, culminating in the clothing of the patron in a "Garment of the Holy Priesthood", which is thereafter worn as an undergarment.
The instructional and testing phase of the endowment consists of a scripted reenactment of Adam and Eve's experience in the Garden of Eden (performed by live actors—called officiators; in the mid-20th century certain portions were adapted to a film presentation). The instruction is punctuated with oaths, symbolic gestures, and a prayer around an altar, and at the end of instruction, the initiate's knowledge of symbolic gestures and key-words is tested at a "veil."
On May 3, 1842, Joseph Smith prepared the second floor of his Red Brick Store, in Nauvoo, Illinois, to represent "the interior of a temple as circumstances would permit". The next day, May 4, he introduced the Nauvoo endowment ceremony to nine associates: Associate President and Patriarch to the Church Hyrum (Joseph Smith's brother); first counselor in the First Presidency, William Law; three of the Twelve Apostles, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards; Nauvoo stake president, William Marks; two bishops, Newel K. Whitney and George Miller; and a close friend, Judge James Adams of Springfield, Illinois.
Concerning the day's activities, Smith recorded:
Throughout 1843 and 1844 Smith continued to initiate other men, as well as women, into the endowment ceremony. By the time of his death on June 27, 1844, more than 50 persons had been admitted into the Anointed Quorum, the name by which this group called themselves.
There are many similarities between Smith's endowment ceremony and certain rituals of Freemasonry, particularly the Royal Arch degree. These specific similarities included instruction in various signs, tokens, and passwords, and the imposition of various forms of the penalties for revealing them. The original wording of the penalties, for example, closely followed the wording of the Masonic penalties.
According to the predominant view by historians, Smith used and adapted material from the Masonic rituals in creating the endowment ceremony. All of those first initiated by Smith on May 4, 1842, were longstanding or recent Masons: Adams was the Deputy Grand Master of the Masonic Grand Lodge of Illinois; Whitney, Miller and Kimball had previously been Lodge Masters; Smith's brother, Hyrum, had been a Mason since 1827; and the remaining five participants (Law, Marks, Young, Richards, and Smith himself) had been initiated as Freemasons just weeks before the meeting. However, none of these Masons ever charged Smith with breaking any of Masonry's oaths or revealing its secrets. As a matter of fact, one Mormon historian has noted that these Masonic parallels confirmed to these men "the breath of the restoration impulse and was evidence of Smith's divine calling".
The LDS Church has never commented officially on these similarities, although certain features of the two rituals have been called "analogous" by one official Church Historian. The LDS Church apostle John A. Widtsoe downplayed the similarities, arguing that they "do not deal with the basic matters [the endowment] but rather with the mechanism of the ritual." One LDS Church educator, however, was censured in the 1970s by the Church Educational System for arguing that the endowment ceremony had a dependent relationship with the rituals of freemasonry.
Some within the LDS Church, particularly Smith's contemporaries, have expressed the view that the endowment was given anciently by God in its original form at the Temple of Solomon, but that the form of the ritual degenerated into the form used by Freemasons. Heber C. Kimball clearly supported this position: "We have the true Masonry. The Masonry of today is received from the apostasy which took place in the days of Solomon and David. They have now and then a thing that is correct, but we have the real thing"
After Smith officiated in Brigham Young's endowment in 1842 Smith told him, "Brother Brigham, this is not arranged perfectly; however we have done the best we could under the circumstances in which we are placed. I wish you to take this matter in hand: organize and systematize all these ceremonies". Young did as Smith directed, and under Young's direction the Nauvoo endowment ceremony was introduced to the church at large in the Nauvoo Temple during the winter of 1845–46. A spacious hall in the temple's attic was arranged into appropriate ordinance "rooms" using canvas partitions. Potted plants were used in areas representing the Garden of Eden, and other areas were furnished appropriately, including a room representing the celestial kingdom. Over 5,500 persons received their endowments in this temple.
Young introduced the same ceremony in the Utah Territory in the 1850s, first in the Endowment House and then in the St. George Temple. During this period the ceremony had never been written down, but was passed orally from temple worker to worker. Shortly after the dedication of the St. George Temple, and before his death in 1877, Young became concerned about the possibility of variations in the ceremony within the church's temples and so directed the majority of the text of the endowment to be written down. This document became the standard for the ceremony thereafter. Also in 1877, the first endowments for the dead were performed in the St. George Temple.
In 1893, minor alterations in the text were made in an attempt to bring uniformity to the ceremony as administered in the temples. Between 1904 and 1906, the temple ceremony received very public scrutiny during the 1904 Senate investigation of LDS Apostle and U.S. Senator, Reed Smoot. Of particular concern to senators was the ceremony's "law of vengeance", in which, during the hearings, it was revealed that participants promised to pray that God would "avenge the blood of the prophets on this nation". The "prophets" were Joseph and Hyrum Smith, and "this nation" was the United States.
Beginning in 1919, church president Heber J. Grant appointed a committee charged with revising the ceremony, which was done under the direction of Apostle George F. Richards from 1921 to 1927. Richards received permission to write down the previously unwritten portions of the ceremony. Among his revisions was the elimination of the "law of vengeance". The committee also removed the graphically violent language from the "penalty" portions of the ceremony. Prior to 1927, participants made an oath that if they ever revealed the secret gestures of the ceremony, they would be subject to the following:
Each temple president received a "President's Book" with the revised ceremony ensuring uniformity throughout the church's temples.
The first filmed versions of the endowment were introduced in the 1950s, by a committee headed by Gordon B. Hinckley. That change was initiated by church president David O. McKay as a way of providing the instruction simultaneously in different languages, an innovation made necessary by the construction of the Bern Switzerland Temple, the church's first temple in Europe. As of 2005, ceremonies in all but two (Salt Lake Temple and Manti Temple) of the church's 128 operating temples are presented using the filmed version.
In 1990, further changes included the elimination of all blood oaths and penalties. These penalties, representing what the member would rather suffer than reveal the sacred signs given them in the ceremony, were symbolized by gestures for having the throat cut, the breast cut open, and the bowels torn out. Changes also included the elimination of the five points of fellowship, the role of the preacher, and all reference to Lucifer's "popes and priests" were dropped. The ceremony was also changed to lessen the differences in treatment between men and women. Women no longer are required to covenant to obey their husbands, but instead must covenant only to follow their husbands as their husbands follow God. Also, Eve is no longer explicitly blamed for the Fall, and several references to Adam were replaced with references to Adam and Eve. The lecture at the veil was also cut, and some repetition was eliminated.
A 1996 estimate by Richard Cowan states that around 150 million endowments have been performed, most of which were in behalf of deceased persons.