A temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a building reserved for special ceremonies and meetings, much as the Jewish Temple in the time of Solomon or Herod was used. It is believed that Joseph Smith was directed to build a temple again, in modern times. This article is covers some of the special events that occur in Temples.
One must be a member in good standing of the church in order to enter a temple. However, the public is welcome to attend meetings in local chapels.
The church's website gives a brief explanation of temples here: http://www.mormon.org/learn/0,8672,1477-1,00.html
Here is a report on the temple endowment. The church does not publish this information -- the Endowment is considered "sacred" but not "secret", and members do not discuss it openly. This section was compiled after careful readings of several dozen personal accounts, which were compared to authors' personal experiences. Search Google for "Temple Endowment" to see many of these firsthand accounts and make your own judgement as to the reliability of the sources. Some accounts are self-evidently from disaffected former church members, but others seem quite objective.
The accounts vary in a few minor details, possibly because the ceremony has changed several times. However, they all agree on the major points that are included in this article. Therefore, the details of the actual ceremony are considered accurate based on the best evidence available but should not be considered as established fact.
The most important ordinance, or ceremony, that is performed by members of the church is the Temple 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 ordinance that a patron receives the "Garment of the Holy Priesthood". More information about the Garment itself is discussed below.
- Each patron receives a ceremonial washing and annointing with oil, either washing them clean (women), or washing them to become clean (men) from the blood and sins of this generation. This includes ceremonial blessings of various members of the body. After the annointing, the patron is given the "Garment of the Holy Priesthood". Each patron is given a "new name" which they are to use for the duration of the ceremony as a "key word", in order to pass. This name can be almost any name from the Bible or the Book of Mormon. All patrons on any given day are given the same name according to a monthly schedule, so that each female patron on the 11th of each month, for instance, might be given the name "Ruth", or a man "David" or "Abraham". If the patron's given name is the same as the "new name", the alternate "Adam" or "Eve" is given.
- A set of lectures is presented concerning the Creation, depicting Elohim (God the Father), Jehovah (Jesus Christ), Adam and Eve, and others. Prior to a change in 1990, an orthodox (non-LDS) Minister was also included, portrayed as being deceived by Satan, who is then converted.
- Each patron makes a series of covenants, and is taught sacred Signs, Tokens and Words that represent the tests of righteousness required in order to enter the Celestial Kingdom (an LDS term for Heaven). The Signs are physical gestures, the Tokens are sacred handshakes, and the Words are the names of the Tokens. This concept of signs and tokens is extreemly similar to both Egyptian and early Gnostic rituals. Prior to the changes of 1990, a penalty was also involved in these covenants, swearing that they would pay the penalty of death should they reveal the tokens or signs. The penalties included such things as having their throats slit, disembowelment, and other penalties. In Wanderings: Chaim Potok's History of the Jews, in the section on the covenant at Sinai, Potok discusses the evidence for such gestures in the ancient world and in the Hebrew religion specifically.
- At the end of the ceremony, each patron passes through the "Veil" which is represented by a sheet of cloth, to enter the Celestial Room, where they are encouraged to sense the Divine Presence.
It has been observed by people with knowledge of both that the Endowment shares many attributes with the rites of Freemasonry. The church does not deny this, but instead claims that this is because the 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. Historically, Joseph Smith is known to have been a Mason. For more information on this subject see http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/FQ_masons.shtml
A Sealing is a special ritual or ceremony which is held only in a Temple. During a Sealing, the members of a family, including parents and children, are bound together as a family which is believed to endure beyond death. The Church teaches that a family which has been sealed in the Temple will remain a family even in Heaven. This is the belief which lies behind the well-known Church slogan, "Familes are Forever."