Rites and Ceremonies
Written by: Stephen Taysom
Mormonism is generally considered to be a liturgically simple faith because it lacks complex and ornate public rituals. This is a reasonable assessment, but the private temple rituals are considerably more sophisticated. Although Mormons do not baptize children until they are 8 years old, Mormon infants are publicly named and blessed in a ritual that is performed in front of the child's home congregation. This ritual, as with all public rituals, is performed by a lay male member of the Church who holds the Church's priesthood. In most cases, this means that the father or husband of the family performs the ritual.
The priesthood in the LDS Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) is divided into two parts: the lesser, or Aaronic priesthood, and the higher, or Melchizedek priesthood. Only males are eligible for ordination, which occurs at the age of twelve for the Aaronic and eighteen for the Melchizedek.
The most frequently performed public Mormon ritual is the faith's version of the common Protestant and Catholic rituals of "communion." The Mormon ritual of "sacrament" originated with a revelation recorded by Joseph Smith in April 1830, which enjoined the Mormons to "meet together often to partake of the bread and wine in remembrance of the Lord Jesus." This revelation translated into the practice of weekly sacrament meetings. Individuals who have been ordained to the priesthood, usually younger men and boys with the Aaronic Priesthood, consecrate bread and water through formal prayers with a set wording. After the emblems are blessed, they are distributed to the congregation by other Aaronic priesthood holders. This ritual is designed to renew the covenants that Mormons make at baptism to obey God's commandments, to remember in daily life the sacrifice of Christ, and to ensure that God's spirit may constantly accompany the participant.
Mormons practice baptisms by immersion, which are usually performed in fonts located in LDS chapels (although in some cases baptisms are performed in natural bodies of water). This ritual is typically performed shortly after a child of Mormon parents turns 8 years old. Like the sacrament, the rite of baptism follows a set prayer and can be performed by one holding the Aaronic priesthood, although often the child's father or an adult friend with the Melchizedek priesthood performs the ordinance. Adults who join the Church are also baptized following the same ritual.
Baptism is followed by an accompanying rite that involves the conferral of the Gift of the Holy Ghost upon the newly baptized member. This ritual must be performed by one holding the Melchizedek (or higher) priesthood who places his hands on the recipient's head and confers the gift. Other rituals include the conferral of priesthood authority and the blessing of the sick. In both cases, the rituals are performed by an individual who holds the Melchizedek priesthood placing his hands on the head of the recipient and speaking prayers without formal wording.