It had been one year since we were baptized as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Several weeks before we were to go to the temple, my wife and I each had an interview with our Mormon bishop (similar to a pastor) to determine our worthiness to attend the temple and receive our “endowments.” The bishop asked us several questions: Have we paid a full tithe (10 percent of our income) to the church? Did we keep the “Word of Wisdom” (did not use alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs, coffee, or tea)? Were we faithful to one another? Did we support and obey the Mormon leadership? Have we been honest and faithful to all promises we had made as members of the Mormon church?
We acknowledged that we had fulfilled all our obligations. We were then referred to a similar interview with our stake president who oversees several Mormon wards or congregations.
After our successful completion of the interview process, and with our temple recommends in hand for our 9:00 a.m. Friday appointment at the Salt Lake Temple, my wife and I eagerly prepared to present ourselves in order to enter the “House of the Lord” for the first time. We carried with us our white clothing, temple robes and garments. We had prayed and fasted. We had invited friends to be with us and had chosen a male and female escort to assist us during the rituals.
With my approved recommend in hand, I walked into the inner lobby of the temple and saw all the workers and patrons dressed completely in white. I felt a sense of awe and mystery never experienced in any of the many Sunday Mormon meetings of the previous year. I felt “special,” since I was one of the elite few, even within the Mormon church, privileged to attend the temple rites.
All was hushed; the workers were smiling and kind. I was directed to the men’s locker room, where I removed all my clothes and put on a shield, an ample white covering like a poncho. I was taken to a small curtained cubicle containing a seat and a small water tap. The temple worker wet his fingers and then touched parts of my body, from head to feet, pronouncing a prayer of blessing. This procedure was repeated, with the temple worker touching each part with oil. Modesty and respect prevailed throughout. There was no hint of indecency. (My wife was undergoing the same rituals, administered by a female worker.)
I was given “temple garments” to wear. These are one- or two-piece white underwear, worn directly against the body at all times and similar to a T-shirt and boxer shorts with legs extending to the knees. On the right breast is embroidered a carpenter’s square, on the left a compass, at the navel and above the right knee are short straight lines).
Returning to my locker, I dressed in white pants, white shirt and tie, and white socks and slippers. This is the basic dress for all workers and patrons in a Mormon temple. Women wear white dresses with high collars, long sleeves, and a floor-length hemline. Once dressed, and carrying a cloth bag containing my temple “robes,” I was taken to a small room where an introductory talk to first-time patrons would be given by one of the temple presidency.
Afterward I proceeded to a plain chapel, where I joined my wife and waited for the endowment proper to begin. We were moved to another room where the actual endowment ceremony would be conducted. Here men and women are required to sit separately, with an aisle dividing them.
We were instructed that “certain special, spiritual blessings given worthy and faithful saints in the temples are called endowments, because in and through them the recipients are endowed with power from on high. They receive an education relative to the Lord’s purposes and plans in the creation and peopling of the earth and are taught the things that must be done by man in order to gain exaltation in the world to come” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 226). In the Salt Lake Temple, the endowments are presented in a series of tableaux with temple workers taking the parts of God the Father, Jesus Christ, Michael, Adam, Eve, Satan, Peter, James, and John. In most temples, however, the presentation is done by means of a video shown on screens in several small theaters.
The “education” offered briefly portrays Elohim’s decision to create a new world, the deputizing of his son, Jehovah, and the angel Michael to perform this deed, the creation of Adam and Eve, their temptation by Lucifer, their subsequent fall and banishment, and the Heavenly Father’s plan to enable Adam, Eve, and all mankind to return to his presence. I found nothing particularly new or shocking up to this point. I had already accepted the Mormon beliefs on the plurality of Gods, the eternity of matter, and the subordination of Christ to his Father. Here the video portion ended, though in all the temples an audio presentation continues, revealing a discussion between Peter and the Gods.
During the presentation patrons are asked to make certain covenants or promises. They are given signs, names, and tokens. These correspond to the two Mormon “priesthoods.” The signs consist of the hands and arms being held in certain positions. The names include the “new name” whispered to each patron at the beginning of the endowment. The tokens are various types of handc.asps. Prior to my Mormon temple experience, I had done some study of Freemasonry. The Mormon temple practices bear a high degree of similarity to the rites of Masonic temples.
Throughout the ceremony, we were instructed to put on specific articles of clothing which make up the temple robes. These consist of a green apron with a fig-leaf embroidery, a white drape that hangs over one shoulder down to the knees, a white sash, a white cap for men and a veil for women. The workers are both vigilant and kind throughout. They oversee that the signs and tokens are made correctly, that the audience makes the precise responses, and that all are correctly attired.
What concerned me most was the emphasis placed on what I considered to be incidentals: all gestures and memorized responses had to be totally accurate. The belief is that, to enter back into the Lord’s presence, and thus be worthy of achieving godhood for oneself, it will be necessary for the Mormon to reproduce exactly these signs, tokens, names, and answers at the designated time in the afterlife. Non-Mormons and Mormons unfit for temple attendance (the vast majority) will never have these signs and tokens; thus, they will never achieve the fullness of salvation.
There were some beautiful.aspects of the endowment, particularly concerning the making of covenants with the Lord. We made promises to sacrifice and consecrate our means and our abilities to the building up of the church. We covenanted obedience to God, to gospel principles, and to Mormon authorities. We affirmed fidelity in marriage.
The culmination of the endowment was our being brought to the “veil.” There, on the other side, male workers representing God the Father stood at designated intervals. The patrons were brought to “God” one by one. Through the veil, the members were asked to give the tokens and names which had been previously presented.
Workers were on hand to assist if the patron had trouble remembering all the responses. With the successful completion of this test, the “Lord” extended his hand through a veil opening and took the patron through, introducing him into the celestial room, the symbolic representation of heaven and eternal exaltation. That concluded the ceremony. The patron was left on his own to sit in a beautifully decorated celestial room, resembling the lobby of a better hotel.
My wife, having herself passed through the veil, rejoined me, and we were met by gushing friends who wanted to know our thoughts and feelings. “We were impressed,” we said. “It will take some time getting familiar with all that went on. We will have to come back again and again. No, we have no questions right now, it’s all so fresh. . . .”
Though we did not speak about it, both my wife and I could sense in the other a feeling of disappointment, a letdown. We had been promised a profound religious event. Mormons told us that participation in the temple endowment would bring us closer to Christ than anything else on earth. When we had become discouraged by the noisy and wordy three-hour Sunday block meetings, we were assured that the temple would be the spiritual antidote.
We gave it our best efforts. My wife and I subsequently attended six different temples for a total of about fifteen times. We fasted and prayed for a right attitude. We paid careful attention to both our preparation and participation. We sincerely lived up to all the commitments we had made as temple Mormons. But our reactions were always the same: “Is that all there is? Where is the spirit of Christ? Where is the worship and adoration of the Lord?”
Beautiful buildings and furnishings, quiet surroundings, special white clothing, professional videos, predictable order, and a sense of distinction do not constitute true spirituality. Perhaps the temple experience seems spiritual when compared with the banal meetings most active members endure Sunday after Sunday. But compared with true Catholic worship, the temple ceremonies are repetitious and mechanical. They focus on the minor and ignore the Master, offering a poor cardboard substitute for the Bread of Life.