In his 2009 book, Temple Worship Simplified, author Terrance Drake devotes a chapter to the question, “Should you come to the temple if you find it difficult to stay awake and focus on the ordinance?” After assuring his readers that many LDS temple patrons (if not all at some point in time) struggle to stay awake during the first half of the endowment ceremony when the lights are low (pp. 14, 16), Mr. Drake explains,
“His [a patron’s] personal battle with sleep is not relevant to accomplishing vicarious work in the temple. He accomplished all that was necessary to complete the ordinance. His presence alone in the temple blessed his life, blessed the [temple] session he attended, and blessed a son of God on the other side of the veil.”
In the introduction to his book Mr. Drake reminds his readers that “all aspects of temple ordinances are important” (p. ix). LDS Apostle James Talmage wrote, “In every detail the endowment ceremony contributes to covenants of morality of life, consecration of person to high ideals, devotion to truth, patriotism to nation, and allegiance to God” (The House of the Lord, p. 84). The endowment ceremony itself includes specific instruction from a temple worker reminding patrons to “be alert [and] attentive.”
The fact that temple patrons struggle to stay awake during the LDS endowment ceremony is understandable and no real surprise. What does surprise me is that, whether the patron is awake or asleep, it’s not at all relevant to vicarious temple work. If this is true, how are we to understand LDS temple work?
LDS Apostle Robert D. Hales taught,
“The primary purpose of the temple is to provide the ordinances necessary for our exaltation in the celestial kingdom. Temple ordinances guide us to our Savior and give us the blessings that come to us through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Temples are the greatest university of learning known to man, giving us knowledge and wisdom about the Creation of the world. ” (Ensign, October 2009, p. 48)
To carry Mr. Hales’ analogy forward, anyone who sleeps through their “university” classes will not pass the course, so doesn’t this suggest that one should stay awake for his or her own endowment even if it’s okay to sleep through vicarious ordinances? Except, perhaps, for this: Joseph Smith taught,
“It is not only necessary that you should be baptized for your dead, but you will have to go through all the ordinances for them, the same as you have gone through to save yourselves.” (History of the Church, 6:385)
And Wilford Woodruff said,
“It takes just as much to save a dead man as a living man.” (Journal of Discourses 19:228)
So if one needs to stay awake to learn and receive instruction necessary for their own endowment, is not the same reception of instruction necessary for a proxy endowment?
Brigham Young taught,
“We have a work to do just as important in its sphere as the Savior’s work was in its sphere. Our fathers cannot be made perfect without us; we cannot be made perfect without them. They have done their work and now sleep. We are now called upon to do ours; which is to be the greatest work man ever performed on the earth.” (Journal of Discourses 18:213)
Heber J. Grant said,
“We have all that is necessary, not only for our own salvation, but that we may be in very deed ‘Saviors upon Mount Zion,’ and enter into the temples of our God and save our ancestors who have died without a knowledge of the gospel.” (Conference Report, p. 28, April 1899)
Doesn’t it seem odd that Mormons would sleep through their work as “Saviors upon Mount Zion”?
In his book Mr. Drake explains,
“It should be understood, however, that the part of temple work that relates to the performance and recording of vicarious ordinances has nothing to do with the alertness of the patron… [even in the event of a sleeping patron] The opportunity was given for a post-mortal son of God to receive an ordinance essential for exaltation. This was accomplished, and there is nothing…that suggests that the living proxy must be alert, attentive, and completely focused on each word of the ordinance for this work to stand as valid.” (pp. 12-13)
What, exactly, is a person’s function as he or she stands as proxy for a deceased person’s LDS endowment? Is it just the presence of human bodies of flesh and bone that are required to make it possible for the dead to appropriate this “essential saving ordinance” for themselves? If temple work for the dead is all about “performance and recording,” is the whole vicarious temple experience, where Mormons “taste the sweet joy of saviorhood,” merely a matter of bookkeeping?
“sweet joy of saviorhood” from John Widstoe, quoted in Church News, April 3, 1999, p. 5