Endowment and Eucharist Part III

JKC continues his series

In the last two Parts (Part I & Part II), I explained my suggestion that despite the fact that the endowment liturgy that is now familiar was first administered in some form, in Nauvoo, the essential principles of the endowment were all revealed in the Kirtland-era revelations in the early to mid 1830s, and that the Kirtland endowment experience was not just a single event, but ranged from late 1830 to early 1836, culminating in the 1836 vision of Jesus in the temple, declaring that his servants had been endowed in that house.

In this part, I’ll sketch out my new perspective on the Nauvoo endowment liturgy as an ordinance that perhaps looks back toward the Kirtland endowment.

III: A new perspective

For the reasons explained in the last two posts, I think I was mistaken to say that the endowment did not happen until Nauvoo. Kirtland was the time and the place where Jesus himself appeared and accepted the temple as his house, filled it with his presence as with a mighty rushing wind, poured out the Holy Ghost and the gifts of the spirit on his church, and bestowed upon them the keys of the priesthood, and I think I was wrong to think of it as just a “pre-endowment” that would later be superseded and could be safely forgotten.

If we don’t see the endowment in Kirtland, maybe that is because we are looking too much for what President McKay called the “mechanics” of the endowment, rather than the principles that those ceremonial details are based on and designed to teach:

“Do you remember when you first went through the House of the Lord? I do. And I went out disappointed. Just a young man, out of college, anticipating great things when I went to the Temple. I was disappointed and grieved, and I have met hundreds of young men and young women since who had that experience. I have now found out why.

“There are two things in every Temple: mechanics, to set forth certain ideals, and symbolism, what those mechanics symbolize. I saw only the mechanics when I first went through the Temple. I did not see the spiritual. I did not see the symbolism of spirituality. . . . I was blind to the great lesson of purity behind the mechanics. I did not hear the message of the Lord. . . .

“How many of us young men saw that? We thought we were big enough and with intelligence sufficient to criticize the mechanics of it and we were blind to the symbolism, the message of the spirit. And then that great ordinance, the endowment. The whole thing is simple in the mechanical part of it, but sublime and eternal in its significance.

Quoted in Gregory Prince and Wm. Robert Wright. David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, p. 277 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005).

If we look for the “mechanics” of the current temple endowment in the historical experience of the Kirtland endowment, we will not find them, at least not in more than a few of them, and in a very abbreviated way. But if we look for the principles and the covenants of endowment–the idea that we must become sanctified by receiving God’s law, including principles of obedience, sacrifice, holiness, chastity, and consecration, that we must bind ourselves to live these principles, and the promise that as we do become so sanctified, we will receive God’s presence–then we find those principles all over the Kirtland endowment.

We often think of the Kirtland endowment experience as being at most an incomplete shadow of the Nauvoo endowment that was to come later. But what if it were something like the other way around? What if, rather than Kirtland only anticipating the real thing that would only later come in Nuavoo, instead Nauvoo looks back to the real thing that had already come before in Kirtland?

So here’s a new perspective: Maybe Kirtland was not just a pre-endowment that was superseded and erased by the Nauvoo endowment; Maybe Kirtland was the promised endowment. If so, then maybe the endowment liturgy that developed in Nauvoo does not supersede that endowment, but rather preserves the memory of the endowment–the moment when the saints were “endowed with power from on high,” and systematizes and organizes the essential principles of that endowment into a ceremony that not only preserves the memory of that event, but, more importantly, provides a point of access for all saints throughout the ages to participate in that event, overcoming the distances of time and space.[1]

This does not, I think, make the Nauvoo and post-Nauvoo endowment liturgy less important than the Kirtland endowment. To the contrary, by transcending the distances in time and space between the two it makes them really part of the same event. In fact, this is, I believe, why the endowment liturgy does not explicitly mention the Kirtland, despite the fact that I think it does implicitly call Kirtland to mind. The point is that Kirtland was the moment when the endowment came to this dispensation, but the endowment is bigger than just Kirtland, it belongs to all the ages.

[1] This becomes even more poignant as the idea of vicarious temple work for the dead develops, so that the Nauvoo endowment liturgy becomes a point of access to the endowment received in Kirtland not only for future generations, but for past generations as well.

Next Part: how the Endowment and the Eucharist both turn memory into reality.


  1. Lee Smith says:

    Are you ignoring the Masonic contribution to the Endowment? On March 15, 1842, Joseph Smith was made a Freemason. Before long, 1366 men of the church became members, too. {source: records of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Illinois) The Masonic ritual of the second section of the Third Degree of Freemasonry rapidly found it’s way into the Mormon temple ritual, and it caused confusion because the Mormon Masons recognized it from it’s source. How Joseph Smith explained that to the questioning men, I don’t know? Soon a Masonic Temple was built, and both Mormon and Masonic ceremonies were held in it. [ The Mormon Temple was not yet constructed.] Most of the Masonic ritual remained, word for word, and grip by grip, until about 1930, when some was removed. And it’s been only relatively recently that the Masonic Five Points of Fellowship was removed, and some other minor things.
    Joseph Smith plagiarized from the Masons, and the Masons took a dim view of it. The Grand Lodge of Illinois, on Oct. 3, 1843, revoked the Dispensations of all the Mormon Lodges, and all the Mormon Freemasons were declared clandestine. But the Mormons kept all the Mormon rituals and symbols, and still use them to this day.
    If you don’t include the history of the Freemason contributions in the history of the Endowment, then you’ve left out the most important historical part.

  2. J. Stapley says:

    Lee, we get it. This is a thing for you.

  3. Am I ignoring the Masonic elements of the endowment liturgy? Yeah, basically, for purposes of this discussion, as I explained before.

    As I thought was clear before, I’m not attempting to write a comprehensive “history of the endowment”; I’m offering a few thoughts about certain aspects of the endowment, and in doing so, I’m drawing a distinction between the “mechanics” of the endowment–which are heavily influenced by the Masonic stuff, and which I’m not focusing on–and the symbolism, which is my focus here. Frankly, I think much of our thinking about the endowment focuses too much on the mechanics, to the exclusion of the other stuff. So my attempt here is to shift the focus a little.

    The Masonic influence is interesting in its own right, but that’s just not the conversation we’re having here.

  4. Your focus is just fine, JKC — new and rewarding and very satisfying. Don’t worry about the trolls. Just keep it coming.

  5. Leonard R says:

    This is simple wonderful and enlightening. And will certainly inspire future conversations with my children as they prepare for the temple.

    And seriously, Lee, there have been significant other posts about the temple and Masonry. It’s not exactly a secret around these parts…

  6. Ardis and Leonard: Thanks!

  7. Not much to add, except to say that this has refreshed my desire to return more often to the temple. Thanks.

  8. Steve, that’s about the best compliment I could expect to get!

  9. I received my endowment when I was 19, as I was preparing to serve a full-time mission. I consider myself a lucky fellow, since when I went through it the very fist time, I was blessed to see beyond the “mechanics” and to a degree, being able to understand the spiritual things. But this new series of posts has deeply ignited my testimony on the temple lithurgy again, as I have been able to feel the Holy Spirit reading them, in a time of my life when my conversion to the restored gospel has been shaky at best. I just want to thank you and I know this writings are inspired. Looking forward to the upcoming posts!

  10. Kristen says:

    As a woman, it can be difficult to see the beauty in the symbolism when I can’t see past the blatant discrimination. I long for spiritual experiences without having to grind my teeth or trying to quiet my inner self which is screaming that this just isn’t right. Oh to be a privileged male in this church…
    The older I get the less I want to go to the temple. My prayer is that the temple liturgy will change, as it has in the past. I think about my daughters going someday and it fills me with dread. They deserve better.

  11. Kristen, I have no easy answers to your questions and longings. My off the cuff reaction is simply to note a few things: (1) The liturgy is not eternal, and is a product of its era as well as being (I believe) inspired. As you note, it can change, has changed, will probably change again, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with longing in patience and faith for certain changes. (2) I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with not feeling like going to the temple, at least for periods of our lives. For the early saints, temple worship was mainly something you did once. They did work for the dead, but really only if there was a particular need for one’s own ancestors or something. The push to attend the temple regularly as a form of personal worship is a more recent development. I’ve had times where I am less enthusiastic and times that I am more enthusastic about the temple. Sometimes we have to lie fallow before we can bear fruit, and I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with that.

    Hope this doesn’t sound too much like mansplaining, because I don’t think you missed my point and I am not trying to explain it to you, I’m just offering my off the cuff reaction to the important points you raised.

  12. Paxton, thanks!