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Temples: A Catholic view and an LDS perspective

Updated: Oct 13, 2021

The following story appeared in the October 8 Idaho Catholic Register.

The Pocatello Latter-day Saints Temple is the sixth temple in Idaho, with two more planned in Burley and Rexburg. Temples, unlike chapels, are closed only to members of the LDS faith after they are dedicated. (Photo courtesy/Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)


by Gene Fadness

and Thomas Smith

for the Idaho Catholic Register


POCATELLO – Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are celebrating the opening of their latest Idaho temple in Pocatello by welcoming the public to tour the unique structure. This is the sixth temple to be built by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Idaho, with one planned for Burley and a second one announced just last week for Rexburg, home to BYU-Idaho.


The Pocatello Temple will be dedicated on Nov. 7. Tours for the general public will continue every day through Oct. 23 except for Sundays. After Oct. 23, the temple is closed to anyone not possessing a “temple recommend” granted by ward bishops and stake presidents.


Catholics in southeastern Idaho prepared for the temple opening by offering a parish presentation on “Temples: Old and New” at Holy Spirit Catholic Community in Pocatello. The lecture surveyed temples in the Judeo-Christian tradition, their connection to Catholic architecture, and how they differ from modern LDS temples and their rituals. A similar presentation was also offered at St. John’s on the Idaho State University campus as part of an interfaith discussion between LDS and Catholic students.


“This class was so informative, and even if we had not been going on the tour, it was very educational. Just understanding the history and purpose of [Biblical] temples and the tabernacle was enlightening,” said Mary Spinner, a member of Our Lady of Lourdes in Lava Hot Springs.


Holy Spirit Catholic Community also arranged with regional LDS leadership to host four private, guided tours that preceded the unguided public tours. Two of the Catholic tours were led by members of the LDS Quorum of Seventy, a select group of global leaders from Salt Lake City. More than 65 Catholic leaders from the Eastern Deanery attended these guided tours. “Everyone there seemed very excited and proud of their new temple. They were very welcoming and, at the same time, very respectful of our Catholic heritage and beliefs,” said Barbara Peterson, a parishioner at Holy Spirit Catholic Community.


Catholics are naturally curious about LDS friends and neighbors, who comprise the state’s largest religious faith, with 460,000 adherents, according to the LDS Church. It is important for Catholics to understand the Catholic view of temples and why temples are so important to our LDS friends.


Who may enter an LDS temple? Unlike LDS chapels, which are open to anyone, a temple, after dedication, is open only to members with a temple recommend. To be considered worthy to hold a temple recommend, Latter-day Saints must regularly attend church, observe the church’s moral laws regarding chastity and faithfulness in marriage, pay a 10 percent tithe of gross income; observe the church’s dietary laws which include abstaining from alcohol, tobacco products and some caffeinated products; and sustain the church’s leadership including their prophet and other General Authorities. After being interviewed by their bishop and stake president to ensure they are in compliance with these and other requirements, members are issued a “temple recommend” which is valid for two years, after which members must be interviewed once again to have the recommend renewed. Given these high standards, many LDS Church members do not qualify to enter the temple.


Why do the LDS believe temples are necessary?

To get an overview of the LDS view of temples, the church provides this internet link:


In the temple, many ordinances, which their church considers sacred, are performed. The first time an LDS member goes through the temple, he or she is going through the temple rites on his or her own behalf. Every time afterward, the LDS member is performing the rites on behalf of someone who has died. The LDS believe that, in order to attain the highest of three heavens, a number of ordinances must be completed and officiated by some-one holding the LDS priesthood. These ordinances include: baptism, an “endowment,” and, if married, a temple “sealing” or “celestial marriage” that continues the marital relationship in heaven.


These ordinances, necessary to enter the highest heaven, must be performed on earth. Thus, if someone has died without having been baptized or having their marriage “sealed” for eternity, faithful LDS members perform them “vicariously” for the deceased in the hope that the deceased person accepts the LDS faith during a probationary state after death. While believing all faiths possess some truth, the LDS believe theirs is the “fullness of the gospel,” and the only means by which one may attain the highest heaven – thus, the necessity of performing the temple ritual for those who did not have an opportunity to accept the LDS faith during his or her earthly life. As a result of this belief, LDS Church members are avid genealogists who research their family trees and submit names to the temple so that baptisms, endowments and sealings for the dead can be performed.


Will I hear about the temple ceremonies on my temple tour? Not in detail. The temple rituals are so sacred to members of the faith that they are not discussed even among members of the church outside the temple. Consequently, even many church-attending LDS, especially those not old enough to enter the temple, are unaware of what happens in the temple until they make their first temple visit, usually right before starting a church mission or when getting married.


On your tour, you will likely be able to see the baptismal font resting on 12 oxen, an “endowment” room, a marriage sealing room and the Celestial Room, representing the highest heaven. The church website provides this video of the Pocatello temple:


What can be said about the temple ceremony? The ceremony has undergone several modifications with some of the more controversial portions of the ceremony removed in 1990. This occurred partly because former members of the church were secretly videotaping the ceremony and posting it online.


When an LDS member enters the temple for the first time, the men and women are separated. They receive a washing and anointing with water and oil applied to the forehead. After the washing and anointing, members are given a sacred undergarment. The temple garment has certain markings on it as a daily reminder to the faithful LDS member of the vows sworn in the temple.


After the washing and anointing, temple attendees attend instructional sessions in rooms marking the LDS concept of the lower degrees of heaven: the telestial and terrestrial. This begins the “endowment” portion of the ceremony. This includes a series of instructions given in a video about the creation of the world, the role of Adam and Eve (which is quite different than the traditional Christian understanding) and humankind’s role in the plan of salvation. During this endowment portion, members make a number of vows to uphold the Law of Obedience, the Law of Sacrifice, the Law of the Gospel, and the Law of Chastity. Each vow is marked by a sacred handshake to be given in order to qualify to enter the highest heaven.


After receiving the instruction and making the necessary vows and handgrips, temple attendees enter through a veil into the “celestial room,” which is an earthly representation of the celestial kingdom, the highest heaven.


What are some of the other ceremonies? Other than the endowment ceremony, the other ordinances are primarily marriages and baptisms.


Latter-day Saints believe that they remain in a married state to their spouses in heaven and may even bear children in heaven. But this marriage sealing can happen only in the temple. The fact that family members and friends who do not have temple recommends cannot attend a loved one’s temple wedding is difficult for non-members of the faith to understand.


Another ceremony performed in the temple is baptisms for the dead, performed in an elaborate baptismal font built over 12 oxen, representing the 12 tribes of Israel. People doing these baptisms (usually teenagers and young adults) are immersed several times, each time for an individual who has died.


What does the Bible say about temples? Under the Old Covenant, the temple was used by priests and the high priest to atone for sins, usually through ritual that included the sacrificing of an animal. The most prominent of the Old Testament temples was built by Solomon, King David’s son. The temple was built on Mount Moriah, believed to be the spot where Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac, and the location of David’s altar upon which holocausts and peace offerings were made. Now it is the location

of the Dome of the Rock, the site on which Muslims believe Muhammad made his ascent to heaven. Solomon’s Temple was designed according to the specifications of the original Meeting Tent erected in the desert by Moses. (Wisdom 9:8)


There were three main areas of the temple: the vestibule, the Holy Place or Sanctuary, and the Holy of Holies. The sanctuary, which could be entered only by those holding the Levitical priesthood, included an Altar of Incense, the Table of Showbreads and ten lamp stands. Here various rituals and animal sacrifices were performed by priests. At the end of the sanctuary, was a smaller staircase that rose to the Holy of Holies, which contained the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant contained a gold jar of manna (bread from heaven); Aaron’s staff and the stone tablets of the covenant. It was separated from the sanctuary by a heavily embroidered veil. Only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies, where he would atone for the sins of the nation once a year.

Solomon’s Temple was destroyed in 587 B.C. by Babylonian forces. Work to rebuild the temple began again in 520 B.C., but this temple was plundered in about 169 B.C. In 20 B.C, Herod commenced reconstruction of the temple to win the favor of the Jewish people. He extended the Temple Mount to twice its size and built an enormous wall around it. It was here that Simeon and the prophetess Anna met the infant Jesus. This is where Jesus and the apostles visited, prayed and preached during the Lord’s public ministry.


The New Testament makes clear that the temple was not used for Christian worship because Gentiles were not allowed to enter past the outer part of the compound. This is vividly shown in Acts 21:28 where Paul was accused of denigrating the temple by bringing a Gentile into the temple. Christians did not worship in the temple, but met secretly in homes to avoid persecution.


Following the Jewish revolt against Roman rule, the Temple and the sur-rounding enclosure wall were destroyed in about 70 A.D. The Western Wall is the “wailing wall,” at which faithful Jews and others pray to this day.


Is there any evidence that the ceremonies performed in the Temple of Solomon or Herod’s Temple are the same as those performed by Latter-day Saints today? None. Under the Old Covenant, there was only one primary temple. The animal sacrifices and other sacrifices were always done for the living, not the dead. There was no endowment ceremony, nor were there any marriages or baptisms.


Do we still need temples today?

No. On your temple tour, you will be told that the people of God have always been a temple-building people. But the purpose of the Old Testament temple — to atone for the sins of the people — prefigured the ultimate sacrifice of the Lamb of God on Calvary. Today the Sacrifice of the Mass, brings into present time the once and final sacrifice of the eternal high priest, Jesus Christ, on the cross for our behalf. Thus, Old Testament sacrifices are no longer necessary. In fact, at the moment of Jesus’ death, the temple veil is torn from top to bottom (Matt 27:50-51) exposing the once-secret Holy

of Holies and signifying in dramatic fashion that all God’s children now have access to God through Christ, the one mediator between God and Man. Scriptures teach that baptized Chris-tians are temples of the living God (I Cor 6:5 and II Cor 6:16).


I’ve seen the LDS bumper stickers, “Families Are Forever.” Why don’t we believe “families are forever,” as our LDS friends do?

As Catholic Christians, we would say it differently. Instead of “families are forever,” we would say, “family is forever” – the one family of God. Of course, we will be with loved ones in heaven. But the married state, as we now know it, changes. Jesus taught that in the resurrection, we will neither marry nor be given in marriage. (Matt 22:30) Instead, the nuptial union of heaven is one between the Church, as the bride of Christ, and God Himself. Our eternal union is with the Blessed Trinity where will celebrate the “wedding feast of the Lamb.” (Rev 19:7-9)


It might be instructive to ask your LDS friends, “If I am be sealed to my family forever and live as a family unit with them, which family will I be with? Will I be a child with my parents or will I be a parent with my children? Or will be a great grandparent with my great- grandchildren or a great-grand-child with my great-grandparents?” It would be logistically impossible to separate families in the hereafter into separate family units because, ultimately, if one goes back far enough, we are one family with one father. That family of God will dwell eternally with Him forever.

 

Fadness and Smith are both former members of the LDS Church, having served LDS missions in Australia and Alabama, respectively. Fadness, a deacon, is editor of the Idaho Catholic Register. Smith is pastoral associate for evangelization and faith formation at Holy Spirit Catholic Community in Pocatello and is a noted Catholic speaker and author. His website is gen215.org.

 

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