Unlike the majority of Christian religions, which teach that marriage is only an earthly institution, Mormonism maintains that marriage bonds were intended to survive the grave. The survival of the marriage relationship in the afterlife is a necessary condition for exaltation, considered "the greatest of all the gifts of God." Exaltation is a state in which faithful, resurrected LDS become joint-heirs with Jesus Christ, thereby receiving the fullness of the glory of God the Father and becoming Gods themselves, who will one day create and populate worlds of their own. This somewhat unorthodox view of marriage was revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith and is recorded in the current edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, section 135.
Early LDS Marriage Ceremonies
The earliest record we have of an LDS marriage ritual being actually performed was recorded by Joseph Smith’s scribe Warren A. Cowdery:
24 November 1835 • Tuesday
"...This evening he [Joseph Smith] had an invitation to attend a wedding at his brother Hyram Smith’s to solemnize the rights of matrimony between Newel Knight & Lydia Goldthwaite: His wife & some others accompanied him when they arrived, they found a respectable company assembled, the interview was opened by singing & prayer, Pres. Smith then requested the bridegroom, & bride, to arise and join hands, and then proceeded to make some remarks, upon the subject of marriage as follows; that it was an institution of heaven first solemnized in the garden of Eden by God himself, by the authority of everlasting Priesthood. The following is the substance of the ceremony delivered on that occasion—calling them by name you covenant to be each others companions during your lives, and discharge the duties of husband & wife in all respects, to which they gave their assent. He then pronounced them husband & wife in the name of God with many blessings, after which he dismissed the audience & returned home...."
(Source: Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Papers of Joseph Smith Volume 1 Autobiographical and Historical Writings [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1989], pp. 145-146)
On 24 September 1834 the leaders of the Mormon Church resolved to publish a volume containing the doctrines and revelations of the Church. On 17 August 1835 the assembled work was voted on and accepted by the Church. Among these was "an article on Marriage, which was accepted and adopted, and ordered to be printed, in said book, by a unanimous vote." The ceremony follows:
"1. According to the custom of all civilized nations, marriage is regulated by laws and ceremonies: therefore we believe, that all marriages in this church of Christ of Latter Day Saints, should be solemnised in a public meeting, or feast, prepared for that purpose: and that the solemnization should be performed by a presiding high priest, high priest, bishop, or elder or priest, not even prohibiting those persons who are desirous to get married, of being married by other authority. We believe that it is not right to prohibit members of this church from marrying out of the church, if it be their determination so to do, but such persons will be considered weak in the faith of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
2 Marriage should be celebrated with prayer and thanksgiving; and at the solemnization, the persons to be married, standing together, the man on the right, and the woman on the left, shall be addressed, by the person officiating, as he shall be directed by the holy Spirit; and if there be no legal objections, he shall say, calling each by their names: "You both mutually agree to be each other's companion, husband and wife, observing the legal rights belonging to this condition; that is, keeping yourselves wholly for each other, and from all others during your lives." And when they have answered "Yes," he shall pronounce them "husband and wife" in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by virtue of the laws of the country, and authority vested in him: "may God add his blessings and keep you to fulfill your covenants from henceforth and forever. Amen."
(Source: "Section CI. Marriage," Doctrine and Covenants [Kirtland, Ohio: F.G. Williams &Co. 1835], p.251)
• • • The Current LDS Marriage Ritual• • •
As with other LDS rituals, this ceremony may be performed for either the living or the dead. When performed by proxy, it is used to "seal" deceased married members of the LDS Church to each other for time and eternity, while for the living it serves as the current marriage ceremony.
This ceremony is performed in a "Sealing Room." The room has an altar in its center with kneeling cushions on each side. At the head of the altar are two seats for the "Witnesses." Their signatures will appear on the temple’s marriage certificate. Others attending the ceremony stand about the room on either side of the altar. The Officiator who performs the sealing stands at the head of the altar.
If performed for the living the Officiator welcomes the group and usually makes a few remarks on the importance of marriage as an institution of God, stating that only those who marry in the temple can become Gods themselves. He counsels the couple to be kind to and understanding of each other throughout their lives, remembering that they seek a common goal, which can only be achieved by mutual cooperation.
When sealings are performed for and in behalf of the dead only the proxies, Officator and two Witnesses are present in the room. No speech is given, and the couple remains kneeling at the altar. They briefly release the token after each sealing, rejoining it again when instructed.
Officiator: Will the Witnesses please take their seats at the head of the altar.
Witnesses: Take their seats as requested.
Officiator: Brother ______, [naming groom] and Sister ______, [naming bride] will you please take your places and kneel opposite each other at the altar.
Marriage Couple: Kneels opposites each other as requested.
Officiator: Brother ______, [naming groom] and Sister ______, [naming bride] please join hands in the Patriarchal Grip or Sure Sign of the Nail.
Marriage Couple: Joins hands in the "Patriarchal Grip, or Sure Sign of the Nail." This token is given by clasping the right hands, interlocking the little fingers and placing the tip of the forefinger upon the center of the wrist. No clothing should interfere with the contact of the forefinger upon the wrist.
Officiator: Brother ______, [acting as proxy for ______, who is dead,] do you take Sister ______ [acting as proxy for ______, who is dead] by the right hand and receive her unto yourself to be your lawful and wedded wife for time and all eternity, with a covenant and promise that you will observe and keep all the laws, rites, and ordinances pertaining to this Holy Order of Matrimony in the New and Everlasting Covenant, and this you do in the presence of God, angels, and these witnesses of your own free will and choice?
Officiator: Sister ______ [acting as proxy for ______, who is dead,] do you take brother ______ [acting as proxy for ______, who is dead,] by the right hand and give yourself to him to be his lawful and wedded wife, and for him to be your lawful and wedded husband, for time and all eternity, with a covenant and promise that you will observe and keep all the laws, rites and ordinances pertaining to this Holy Order of Matrimony in the New and Everlasting Covenant, and this you do in the presence of God, angels, and these witnesses of your own free will and choice?
Officiator: By virtue of the Holy Priesthood and the authority vested in me, I pronounce you ______, and ______, legally and lawfully husband and wife for time and all eternity, and I seal upon you the blessings of the holy resurrection with power to come forth in the morning of the first resurrection clothed in glory, immortality and eternal lives, and I seal upon you the blessings of kingdoms, thrones, principalities, powers, dominions and exaltations, with all the blessings of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob [if living, he adds: and say unto you: be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth] that you may have joy and rejoicing in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. All these blessings, together with all the blessings appertaining unto the New and Everlasting Covenant, I seal upon you by virtue of the Holy Priesthood, through your faithfulness, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
This concludes the ceremony. A kiss over the altar (for non-proxy couples) is customary, but not essential. Any exchange of rings may now also be performed, though it is not part of the ceremony.
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