Before a Mormon can complete the ordinances and rituals conducted inside the temple that are required for exaltation to a god, the person first must be a Mormon member for one year and receive certified and authorized permission to have regular access inside. Although it is generally known that a non-Mormon can enter an LDS temple only during specially designated times, it is a significant surprise to those outside the LDS Church when they discover that Mormons themselves cannot enter the temple without official annual examination and authorization.
Before a Mormon can enter the temple to experience and perform its sacred and secret ordinances, he or she must first be examined and be authorized a "temple-worthy" Mormon by an LDS ward bishop. This temple interview contains a prescribed set of probing questions into the lifestyle and beliefs of a Mormon to verify that the person has good standing within the LDS Church and is qualified or worthy to enter the sacred temple. The deeply personal and inquiring obedience questions asked of Mormons relate to moral cleanliness and purity, living by the Word of Wisdom revelation, ensuring that they are paying their tithes in full, confessing basic LDS doctrine, and several others.A Card-Carrying Mormon
Once interviewed by an LDS bishop and determined to be in good standing and worthy, the Mormon is then issued a "temple recommend" identification card about the dimensions of a wallet-sized driver's license that authorizes the person to go in and out of the temple for one year only. A temple-worthy Mormon must be interviewed by a ward bishop annually in order to ensure that he or she has remained a faithful and worthy LDS member.
Card-carrying Mormons show their signed authorization at the recommend desk located in an area just inside the temple door. Mormons will show their recommend cards each time they enter the temple. In fact, Mormonism has now added a bar code to their recommend cards so that they simply need to be swiped for approval.
Since the temple ordinances are absolute requirements for Mormons to eventually enter eternal exaltation, to be denied access to the Mormon temple generally assures that they will experience only a partial or incomplete salvation after they die. They will be found worthy to enter only a lower level of the heavenly kingdom outside of the presence of God the Father.
The Internal Design of Mormon Temples
For Mormons, their temples are considered the most sacred structures on earth, and are carefully and strategically designed with certain floors, sections, and rooms to accommodate LDS ordinances and ceremonies. Most of the LDS temple interiors are similar to those of luxury hotels.
The ground floor of a Mormon temple has administration office spaces and locker rooms where temple-worthy Mormons change into all-white clothing to perform various sacraments. Men wear white shirts and pants, and women wear long white dresses. Although Mormons can rent their temple clothes, many bring their own. The lower floor is where the large baptistries-surrounded by twelve carved oxen representing the tribes of Israel-are located. Mormons are baptized for the dead in these ornate baptistries.
The most sacred rooms within the temple, however, are located on the upper floor, where one finds the "ordinance rooms" for endowments and the "sealing rooms" for Celestial marriages and family sealings. The top floor also contains the one and only "Celestial Room," which symbolizes the highest level of the Celestial heaven. The Celestial Room represents the holy of holies in the LDS temple.
The Sacred and Secretive Temple Ordinances
All Mormon temples are closed on Sundays as the Latter-day Saints worship at their local church meetinghouses. In contrast to the "low church" simple worship services held weekly at Mormon meetinghouses, the LDS temple ordinances or sacraments are extremely ritualistic, ceremonial, and symbolic.
Mormons consider these ordinances very sacred. Great secrecy accompanies these sacred temple rituals. In fact, Mormons make a covenant not to discuss the details of the LDS temple or its ordinances to anyone else-inside or outside Mormonism.
The two types of secret ordinances and rituals practiced in the Mormon temples are those for the living (described below) and those done by proxy for the dead. The temple ordinances performed for the dead will be explored further.
The Temple Washing and Anointing
A Mormon who enters the LDS temple for the first time is called a patron. The initial ordinance that a patron is required to participate in is called washing and anointing. The patron enters the men's or women's locker room, where he or she exchanges street clothes for a poncho-like robe that is slipped on over the head and that is open on both sides. Mormons call this their "shield." Wearing the shield over his or her naked body, the patron enters the men's or women's washing and anointing room. Here an authorized temple worker ceremonially washes and blesses the individual's body. Following this body washing, the patron is then anointed with olive oil. After each washing and anointing, two temple workers lay their hands on the patron's head and confirm him or her.
After this ritual washing and anointing, the patron is taken to a curtained room where the temple worker takes off the shield and puts temple garments on the patron. Sewn into the temple garments are markings, similar to those used in Freemasonry, resembling a backward L over the right breast and a capital V over the left breast. When the temple garments are placed on the new temple patron, the person is given a new sacred name that is never to be told to anyone.
The Temple Endowment
The temple endowment is a totally extrabiblical ritual institutionalized by Joseph Smith in 1842 only a few months after becoming a Freemason. The temple endowment is considered to be a very sacred spiritual blessing given only to worthy and faithful LDS members. It is an in-depth and complex experience that prepares Mormons to return someday to the presence of Father God in the highest Celestial heaven. Mormons receiving this ordinance receive secret information that will be relevant to their lives in the Celestial world. They are also given special handshakes called tokens and secret signs and words during the endowment ordinance. Richard and Joan Ostling's well-researched book Mormon America provides a concise description of the endowment ordinance:
The endowment ceremony, today, as described publicly by the church, has four main segments: (1) a drama, formerly by live actors but since the 1950s presented on film, which presents the story of salvation and redemption as a human journey moving from pre-earthly beginnings, through the Creation and Fall, and Christ's life and death (2) progression to a brighter room, where believers learn about God's blessings (3) an exchange of promises from God, then moving through an opening in a curtain or veil to represent the passage from this life into immortality (4) and entrance into the Celestial Room, representing the highest level of heaven.
When Mormons experience their endowment ritual, they wear special ceremonial clothing and sacred white underclothing called temple garments. Before they leave the temple, they take off the ceremonial outer clothes, but continue to wear the undergarments beneath their normal clothes. Mormons make a covenant to wear these undergarments for the rest of their lives, at all times. Wearing these special undergarments day and night is to remind them of the sacred covenants that they have made in the temple.
The Temple Celestial Marriages of Exaltation
An individual's hope of becoming a god in the highest Celestial heaven of glory can be achieved only through participating in an eternal marriage ceremony inside a Mormon temple. As a result, Celestial temple marriage is the most important requirement in Mormonism's Celestial salvation plan.
Marriage partners sealed in a temple ceremony will be together forever and will have a family of spirit-children. Any Mormon who is not married in the temple or remains single will not return to Father God in the highest Celestial heaven. In Mormonism, eternal salvation in the highest Celestial kingdom is a family affair. So the familiar LDS saying "Families Are Forever" is much more than a public-relations slogan; it is deeply rooted in Mormonism's theology of being exalted into godhood. Those eternally married in the temple can apply to have their Celestial marriage unsealed-meaning a Mormon divorce-by the authority of the Mormon priesthood.
The Temple Family Sealings
Mormonism declares that children who are born to a couple married in the temple are automatically "sealed" to their parents for eternity. Parents who had their children before their Celestial temple marriage must have their families "sealed" to them in a separate ceremony performed in a special family sealing room in the temple.
Mormons who believe their eternal temple marriages and family sealings will automatically guarantee that their families will dwell together in the Celestial kingdom are badly misguided. Although marriage and family sealings are prerequi sites for Celestial salvation, each Mormon family member will enter only the eternal kingdom level that he or she merits. So if a spouse or child, even if sealed in the temple, is not found worthy to enter the highest level in the Celestial kingdom, then that person will be eternally separated from his or her family unit. In other words, personal worthiness, not temple sealing ordinances alone, is what determines whether families will be together for eternity.