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Endowment (Mormonism)

In Mormonism, the Endowment, also known historically as the Holy Order, is a sacred ritual usually performed in temples. The ceremony is considered very sacred and confidential by Mormons, and it consists of highly symbolic acts and covenants relating to what Mormons view as humanity's relation to God and God's creation.

The Endowment consists of two phases: (1) an initiatory phase, and (2) an instructional phase. The initiatory phase consists of washings and anointings by a male or female officiator (depending on the sex of the patron), culminating in the clothing of the patron in a "Garment of the Holy Priesthood." In addition, as part of the initiatory phase, the patron is given a "new name" which signifies their new life as a disciple of Christ.

The instructional phase of the Endowment consists of an instructional script(usually recorded but sometimes performed by live actors), punctuated with covenants between the patron and God, and highly symbolic acts. The instruction and the acts relate to what Mormons view as humanity's relation to God and God's creation, and the role of Jesus Christ.

Table of contents
1 Secret, Sacred and Symbolic
2 Washing and Anointing
3 The instructional portion of the Endowment
4 History of the Endowment

Secret, Sacred and Symbolic

According to an LDS church manual called Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple, Latter-day Saints "do not discuss the temple ordinances outside the temples. It was never intended that knowledge of these temple ceremonies would be limited to a select few who would be obliged to ensure that others never learn of them. It is quite the opposite, in fact. With great effort we urge every soul to qualify and prepare for the temple experience."

However, the teachings of the temple are kept "confidential" from those who are not properly prepared or worthy, as temple teachings are highly symbolic and personal. In addition, Latter-day Saints believe that an individual is held more accountable for any additional knowledge he may have.

President Brigham Young taught that "there are but few, very few of the Elders of Israel, [and members of the church] now on earth, who know the meaning of the word endowment [the primary temple ordinance]. To know, they must experience...." —Discourses of Brigham Young, page 416.

Therefore, many members believe that a reading of the ceremony will not give the reader a complete understanding of the what takes place within a temple.

As temple rituals are highly symbolic, and Latter-day Saints believe that God reveals truth only to those who are properly prepared and spiritually ready to receive certain knowledge. They believe that they, themselves learn "line upon line, precept upon precept" and those who are more faithful and righteous will receive more and more truth as they are ready. In this way, they believe that they may not fully understand teachings of the temple until they are spiritually mature enough to receive that knowledge. This is similar to most views about why Jesus taught in parables, and is one reason why Church leaders including Church President Howard W. Hunter encouraged Latter-day saints to return to the temple "as often as circumstances allow."

Nearly everything in the temple is symbolic, from the clothing worn (those who attend the temple dress in white, a symbol of purity), to the building and rooms, to the signs given and the ceremonies themselves.

Another LDS Church President, Harold B. Lee, stated that the teachings of the temple are "designed by a wise Heavenly Father who has revealed them to us in these last days as a guide and a protection throughout our lives, that you and I might not fail to merit exaltation in the celestial kingdom where God and Christ dwell" (Improvement Era, June 1967, page 144).

Because of their design, a temple attendee or 'patron' will seek God’s aid in understanding His will for that person at that time through personal revelation.

President Ezra Taft Benson taught that "When I have been weighed down by a problem or a difficulty, I have gone to the House of the Lord with a prayer in my heart for answers. These answers have come in clear and unmistakable ways" (Ensign, August 1985, page 8). Most Latter-day Saints agree that they understand something different from attending the temple each time they attend.

Washing and Anointing

Washing and annointings (also referred to as initiatory ordinances) are perhaps the earliest practiced temple ordinances for the living since the organization of the LDS Church. There is evidence that these ordinances were performed in part since 1832. They were first practiced in the Whitney Store as part of the School of the Prophets.

The initiatory ordinances are often considered part of the endowment. The term Endowment comes from the Greek language word enduein, meaning "dress", "clothe", or "put on a garment". The name is fitting, because it is in the course of the Endowment ceremony (during the initatory ordinances discussed above) a patron receives the "Garment of the Holy Priesthood."

These ordinances are similar to the cleansing of priests that took place at Israel's Tabernacle, the temple of Solomon, and later temples in Jerusalem (See Exodus 28:40-42, Exodus 29:4-9, 20-21 29-30, 30:18-21).

Similar ordinances are performed for the living and the dead in LDS temples where priesthood holders are:

Simliar to other religions, each patron is given a "new name" as part of covenants as they begin a new life as a disciple of Christ. This name is only known to the person to whom it is given.

The instructional portion of the Endowment

The LDS church does not publish information about the Endowment, and members do not discuss it openly. Many feel that the most important ceremony performed by members of the church is the Temple Endowment. Those who receive the endowment are said to have the "fullness of the priesthood" (see D&C 124:25-28).

Due to the controversial nature of publishing accounts of the endwoment and the availability of these accounts on the Internet, in addition to the symbolic nature of the endowment, the descriptions on this page have been taken from Church publications to steer clear of copyright laws and avoid other controversy, offense and disputed items (see history of this entry and it's talk page for additional information).

If one searches any search engine for "Temple Endowment" or related terms to find many of these firsthand accounts. Please make your own judgement as to the reliability of the sources as many items are disputed. Some accounts are from disaffected former church members, but others seem quite objective.

It is important to note that the endowment has been changed several times (or shortened) after it was standardized (see below).

Brigham Young taught that “Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation" (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe [1954], 416).

Most Latter-day Saints that 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:

Many who do not experience the Endowment do not see these doctrines or points taught in second hand accounts published on the Internet.

The following description is given in a Church publication of what to expect when one enters the temple:

"[During the endowment] you will receive instructions and learn the important events of our eternal journey. You'll learn about the creation of this world and about our first parents being placed in the Garden of Eden. You'll learn how Satan tempted Adam and Eve and how they were cast out of the garden and out of the presence of God into our world, with its opposition in all things. Here they learned about the joys as well as the discomforts of life.

"After Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden and placed in the world where we now live, they were taught the gospel, and they entered into covenants of obedience with God, just as you will in the temple. How we keep these covenants determines the nature of the life we will enjoy after this mortal experience.

"In the eternal world there are kingdoms of glory. You will inherit one of these, depending on your performance in this life. The aim of the gospel and the purpose of temple marriage are not only to keep us together, but also to make us eligible for Heavenly Father's highest reward for us-exaltation in the celestial kingdom. This kingdom is symbolized by the celestial room." -- New Era, June 1975 page 20.

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 Even were cast out of the Garden into the Telestrial 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 robes, are taught about various gospel laws (including obedience, chastity, sacrifice and consecration) and covenant to keep them. 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 his knowledge of what he was taught and covenated to do and then admitted into the Celestial room, where he may meditate and pray.

History of the Endowment

Beginning as far back as 1831, Smith taught that tempes needed to be built so the saints could receive the fullness of the priesthood. When the Saints left the temple in Kirtland, he mentioned that the fullness of the priesthood (the endowment) had not yet been given.

Concerning the first endowment in 1842 at the Red Brick store in Nauvoo, Joseph Smith recorded:

...the communications I made to this council [the twelve] were of things spititual, and to be receive only by the spiritual minded: and there was nothing made known to these men but what will be made known to all the Saints of the last days, so soon as they are prepared to recieve, and a proper place is prepared to communicate them, even to the weakest of Saints: therefor let the Saints be diligent in building the Temple. - History of the Church 5: 1-2

After the event above, Smith said to Brigham Young, "Brother Brigham, this is not arranged perfectly; however we have doen the best we could under the circumstances in which wer are placed. I wish you to take this matter in hand: organize and systematize all these ceremonies."

By the time of Smith's death more than 50 persons had receieve the Endowment. A 1996 estimate by Richard Cowan states that only around 150 million Endowments have been performed.

After the Nauvoo Temple was dedicated in 1846, and under the direction of Brigham Young, The Endowment ceremony was introduced to the Church at large. Potted plants were used in areas representing the Garden of Eden, and other "rooms" were furnished appropriately, including a room representing the Celestial Kingdom.

The full Endowment ritual was apparently first introduced in the Nauvoo, Illinois temple in 1842 by Joseph Smith, very shortly after Smith was initiated as a Freemason. Some claim that there are similiarities between portions of LDS temple ceremones and initiation into Freemasonry. The LDS church does not deny these similarities, and many within the Church claim Masons use corrupted forms of the rituals that were originally given by God at the Temple of Solomon, and the LDS ritual is a reintroduction of those original forms.

Apostle John A. Widstoe said of the similarities, "these similarities, however, do not deal with the basic matters but rather with the mechanism of the ritual."