Endowment and Eucharist

Jared Cook, who occasionally comments in the bloggernacle under his initials JKC (the K is for Kimball), was born in Ogden, Utah, raised in Rochester, New York, served a mission in Phoenix, studied English at BYU, went to law school in Minneapolis, and then returned to Rochester where he lives now and works as an employment lawyer. He’s a lifelong member of the church and a lifelong democrat. He’s a father of three, husband of one, and a lover of the outdoors, Tolkien, and history (especially obscure church history, medieval history, and Mormon history). He cannot flatter himself that he is a writer, but he does occasionally scratch out the odd poem or essay.

“How the Endowment is to the Kirtland Temple as the Eucharist is to the Last Supper (Part I).”

This is series of posts that will attempt to gather and put down some of my thoughts about the LDS temple endowment.

The basic idea is this: the temple ceremony as it exists today serves, at least in part, to help us remember the endowment of power that was poured out on the church in Kirtland, similar to the way that the Sacrament serves to help us remember the last supper. Both ordinances create a community of saints that transcends distances of time and space, and bring us symbolically, or spiritually, into God’s presence. That might sound like an unusual comparison, so this series of posts will explain how I come to see these ordinances in this way.

I’ll not refer in this discussion to the details of the ceremony, both out of respect for our tradition of not having such discussions outside the temple, as also because, as I hope will become clear, that’s not really what I’m interested in, in this discussion. You won’t find a discussion of the physical symbols used in the ceremony, and I’m not going to reveal some great key to interpret those symbols. (Sorry, no “seal of Melchizedek” here). Rather, I’ll discuss certain principles that underlie the endowment, which are discussed in the revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants, and I’ll explore both how the endowment ceremony relates to the context in which those principles were revealed, and how it functions in the lives of those that receive it today, to connect us to that context.

I. An endowment in Kirtland? They didn’t do endowments until Nauvoo, right?

Because a form of the endowment liturgy that we know today was first performed in the Nauvoo temple, I for many years regarded the Kirtland temple which preceded it as a sort of incomplete forerunner to the real deal that would come later in Nauvoo, the kind of thing that could be safely dismissed. I regarded it as a quaint historical curiosity, but not a “real temple.” I thought it was “more a like a stake center” and not all that important to LDS worship today. I used to say things like this: “They did a form of washings and anointings in Kirtland, but there was no endowment in Kirtland. That only happened later, in Nauvoo.”

I was wrong. There was an endowment in Kirtland.

In fact, Jesus himself says, with no qualifications, that the saints were endowed in Kirtland. In the vision that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery experienced in the temple, where Jesus appeared and accepted the temple as his house, Jesus said: “the hearts of thousands and tens of thousands shall greatly rejoice in consequence of the blessings which shall be poured out, and the endowment with which my servants have been endowed in this house.” Doctrine & Covenants 110:9.

So according to Jesus, in section 110, there absolutely was an endowment in the Kirtland temple.

So if there was an endowment in the Kirtland temple, where is it in our history? The answer is that it is there, but to see it, we may need to forget for a moment a little of what we think we know as the endowment, and begin to see the promise of an endowment through the eyes of the 19th century saints who had no concept of the temple liturgy that we have today.

Next Part: Looking for the endowment in the Kirtland-era revelations.


  1. This is fascinating! I look forward to the rest of the series :)

  2. More please, and soon!

  3. I will be surprised if you can give any authenticity to the endowment, because most of it was taken from one of the Masonic rituals. [ Specifically, the Second Section of the Third Degree].
    I’m a Mormon and I’m a Freemason. (and Past Master of a Lodge) I can tell you that Joseph Smith took much of it word for word; and he also adapted the hand shakes and the like, to use in the Temple. The Five Points of Fellowship was Masonic totally. Passwords were so similar that a Mason would know instantly where they came from, if he observed them outside a Lodge. . So, Joseph’s motives were clear to me. Freemasonry’s ritual was beautiful, and if he used it, he would save himself time and effort. .
    So, I don’t think you can do what you intend, with any degree accuracy. You are attempting to give meaning to theft.

  4. Lee Smith, you may have misunderstood what it is I intend to do here. I’m not a mason myself, but my understanding of the history is that it is relatively uncontroversial that much of the physical ceremony of the endowment, including portions of the spoken parts, derives from the masonic rites. I have no intent to dispute that.

    In this discussion I’m not interested in the physical details of the ceremony, but in the function that it might have. Whether I succeed or not, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

    I also agree with you that Freemasonry’s ritual, what little I know of it, having only read about it and not experienced it, is beautiful. I would disagree, though, that adapting portions of it for use in the Nauvoo and post-Nauvoo temple liturgy constitutes theft or makes it impossible to have meaning. But hey, different strokes for different folks.

  5. J. Stapley says:

    I love liturgical history and I’m looking forward to your write up.

    The endowment of power antecedes the Kirtland temple, though, but I think you are correct to draw the connection explicitly.

  6. Lee Smith–there are times and plenty of places for the Mormon temple and Masonry discussion. This is emphatically neither. You should presume that most readers of this blog are familiar with those arguments and have dispatched them in a way that leaves them interested in this conversation. Subsequent comments along that line will be regarded as a (rather boring) threadjack and will be deleted. We’re happy to have you participate if you can contribute something to this *particular* conversation.

  7. J. Stapely, I hope I don’t disappoint you!

    If I understand your second sentence, I think you are referring to the fact that some have considered the School of the Prophets to be an early form of endowment. I don’t think I disagree with that, but I think it makes more sense to think of that not as a separate early endowment of power that preceded the Kirtland endowment, but rather as a part of the whole Kirtland endowment experience which, as I will suggest in the next post, began really as early as Sidney Rigdon’s arrival in late 1830 and culminated in the temple dedication in 1836.

  8. Clark Goble says:

    I think the question ultimately is what an endowment means. For the current endowment without saying anything private, it seems pretty clearly a preparatory endowment. More or less akin to how an heir might have a preparatory ritual for kingship that is different from the rituals associated with being made king. Likewise the current endowment culminates in an event most of us will only experience after death. (As an aside, without going off topic, that’s why the masonic stuff doesn’t bother me too much since arguably so much of it is merely a placeholder for the real thing to come)

    The Kirtland endowment seems different from this although related in that priesthood & authority is presented (the 1831 one). (It’s at Kirtland that many people first get the Melchizedek Priesthood) While I think the meaning of priesthood is still very undeveloped in our theology, it seems clear that in both Kirtland and the contemporary endowment priesthood orders play a key role. What’s odd is that today we tend to distinguish the washings & anointings from the endowment even though most people have them done the same time. In Kirtland it seems the washings and anointings are key.

    Structurally there are lots of interesting aspects too. I think the Kirtland endowment seems much more modeled on the narrative in the gospels of Jesus telling the apostles to stay in Jerusalem until “ye be endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). The parallels to pentecost at the beginning of Acts then becomes a big influence even if those particular structures aren’t present in the current endowment – although most Mormons think through the endowment they can have spiritual gifts. Luke 9 also seems a huge influence on the Kirtland endowment including divisions of priesthood (the two houses) yet this becomes changed in the contemporary endowment. (The appearing individuals shift, the rooms tied to priesthood are shifted to degrees of glory, etc.)

  9. Clark Goble says:

    An other interesting question I’ve long had is what (if any) role Alma 11-14 played in Joseph’s thinking about the Kirtland endowment or the later Nauvoo endowment. I don’t think people really referred to it but there are some interesting parallels.

  10. Those are some interesting comments, Clark. I think the Luke quotation is huge in how the 1830s saints thought of the endowment as a pentecost, and that’s something I’ll mention in the next part. Your question though, “what does endowment mean?” is the one that I think we have to get past before I go on to the rest of the discussion. I don’t think we necessarily need to answer it definitively, but we need to be able to understand that the answer may be broader than what we commonly think of as the endowment, and seeing how the early saints thought of it in pentecostal terms (and how even Jesus seems to endorse this view in section 110) might help us to expand our concept of what is an endowment.

    I won’t really get much into priesthood orders. I think it is certainly important, but, as I hope will become clear, I’m focusing on other things.

  11. I think I see where you are going with this and I look forward to reading the next portions. Hoping you put on “paper many of the ideas I’ve had floating about quasi-formed. Would never have thought of the last supper – eucharist comparison.

  12. J. Stapley says:

    The “endowment of power” promised when moving to the Ohio, was realized in the revelation of the High Priesthood (and concurrent ordinations). I’m going on memory…I think the conference was on June 16, 1831. The expansions in the Kirtland and Nauvoo liturgies maintained reference to the NT antecedent.

  13. Clark Goble says:

    JKC, it seems to me “endowed” can mean priesthood authority, keys of identification, bestowal of spiritual gifts, and keys of knowledge (a more gnostic like aspect). All of them seem present. Even the public charismatic type gifts in Kirtland persist well into the Utah period. I think they tend to disappear more due to a perception of counterfeits and an increase in secrecy/privacy. But you still see them associate with temples well up to the beginnings of modern Mormonism with Heber J. Grant.

    While again I don’t want to focus on the Nauvoo endowment because I think Kirtland is so interesting and neglected, there are some aspects of masonry and more particularly its origins with the art of memory that I think are also present in Kirtland. The idea of mnemonic devices tied to place/symbolism while not as developed as in masonry or Nauvoo are still there. It’s not as pronounced and it’s much more akin to elements of the Old Testament. (I should note, going by HotC which of course doesn’t always represent the original sources well)

    There’s obviously far less symbolism in the Kirtland building and what symbolism is there probably is merely decorative. But having two pulpits for the two orders of priesthood is still very intriguing to me. The veil is more for hiding rather than passing though but still quite significant. There’s also the architect Angell’s claim that the plans were given by vision.

    The connection to a patriarchal blessing (or something similar) also seems more a part of the Kirtland that isn’t in our contemporary endowments. I think Orson Pratt at least ties the washings/anointings to those done later. Brigham Young also says the initiatory ordinances are done at Kirtland.

  14. J. Stapley, right, the high priesthood ordination in 1831 had also been considered as a candidate for the promised endowment of power. I think this is why Melchizedek priesthood ordination persists as an antecedent to the endowment, but again, I think it should be considered part of the Kirtland endowment experience that was not completed until the dedication, rather than a separate early endowment. At least that’s how I think the revelations treat it.

  15. Clark, I agree that endowment can mean many things. For purposes of this discussion, though, I am focusing primarily on the New Testament Pentecost as the most likely way that the saints in Kirtland would have understood the promised endowment.

  16. Clark Goble says:

    JKC, I think that’s fair. What I’m more curious about is how Joseph would have viewed it which likely was different from how converts would have.