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Religion Library: Mormonism

Sacred Space

Written by: Stephen Taysom

Most religious traditions have some concept of sacred space—physical spaces set apart from the ordinary, "profane" world.  Mormonism approaches sacred space in a number of different ways of varying intensity.  In a technical sense, any physical space that is ceremonially dedicated by the LDS (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) priesthood may be considered sacred space.  At the most basic level, Mormons believe that their homes should be holy places where the Holy Ghost can be present.  Many Mormons dedicate their homes in a brief and informal ritual in order to set the home apart from its profane surroundings.  Homes are considered sacred because they house the family and, therefore, should provide the proper atmosphere for spiritual development.

Similarly, LDS chapels, which are buildings that host Sunday worship services and various weekday activities, are also dedicated through a slightly more formal ritual in which a prayer is spoken by a local Church leader. Chapels are the sites of the sacred Mormon ritual in which emblems representing Christ's flesh and blood are blessed and distributed to the congregation.  In the case of homes and chapels, the dedications as sacred space do not carry limits on who may or may not enter.  

LDS temples, however, represent the fullest expression of the idea of sacred space within Mormonism. The dedications of these buildings are more ritually complex and, once dedicated, may only be entered by members of the LDS Church who are in good standing and who hold a temple recommend.  In order to obtain a temple recommend, Mormons must attest to two separate ecclesiastical leaders their belief in core Mormon doctrinal teachings and their adherence to a variety of Church rules, including abstinence from tea, coffee, tobacco, and alcohol, and laws of sexual purity.  Within the temples, worthy Mormons perform a variety of rituals both for themselves as well as on behalf of deceased ancestors. Rituals of initiation and instruction as well as marriage for time and eternity, baptisms and ordinations to the priesthood all occur within the temples where living Mormons stand in as proxies for the dead.

In addition to specific buildings that take on the identity of sacred space through dedication, Mormons have also attached sacred significance to certain geographical spaces.  In the early years of the movement, Joseph Smith claimed to have been commanded by God to dedicate a piece of land near Independence, Missouri, as the site of the sacred city to which Christ would return at his second coming.  The Mormons dedicated the land and began to gather there, but were eventually forced to flee because of violent attacks made by some of the original settlers of the area.

This pattern of dedicating continues today, although in a slightly different form.  This type of dedication of geographical sacred space typically occurs in the form of the dedication of a nation for the preaching of the gospel by LDS missionaries.  Once land is dedicated, Mormons believe that missionaries will enjoy increased success in gaining converts to the faith in the region.


Study Questions:
1.     Where does sacred space exist within the Mormon tradition?
2.     What is the role of ritual within Mormon sacred space?
3.     Who may enter a Mormon temple?
4.     How does land become sacred?

 

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