Alright, guys so we’ve done a couple of other episodes about what Latter-day Saints do inside their sacred temples. If you haven’t watched those episodes, I suggest you do so—specifically, this one, which gives a general overview of the Endowment ceremony. Towards the end of the Endowment ceremony today, Latter-day Saint temple patrons can participate in what is known as a prayer circle. And that prayer circle is what we’re going to talk about today.
Alright, so to Latter-day Saints, temples are extremely sacred and, culturally, because they’re so sacred, there are lots of opinions about which aspects of the temple are and are not appropriate to talk about publicly. There are a few specific aspects of the temple that Latter-day Saints promise not to talk about outside the temple, but the vast majority of what goes on inside is open to reverent, respectful discussion. In fact, a ton of information has already been published by the Church or Church-affiliated sources. You just have to know where to look.
For example, according to The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, which was largely produced by BYU, “the prayer circle is a part of Latter-day Saint temple worship, usually associated with the Endowment ceremony. Participants, an equal number of men and women dressed in temple clothing, surround an altar in a circle formation to participate unitedly in prayer.”
In another article, BYU Studies adds the detail that “the prayer is accompanied by offering certain signs of the priesthood. …” If you’ve been through the temple then you know that it’s those specific signs that we are not supposed to reveal outside the temple, so that’s as specific as we’ll get with that. Back to the Encyclopedia:
“… The formation of the prayer circle suggests wholeness and eternity, and the participants, having affirmed that they bear no negative feelings toward other members of the circle, evoke communal harmony in a collective prayer—a harmony underscored by the linked formation, uniformity of dress, and the unison repetition of the words of the leader. The prayer has no set text, but is, among other things, an occasion for seeking the Lord’s blessing upon those with particular needs whose names have been submitted for collective entreaty.”
That’s the prayer circle. Now, prayers said by people in circles are not exclusive to our faith. There are different kinds of prayer circles all over the place. For example, Protestants in Joseph Smith’s day would sometimes pray in circles. The Freemasons in Joseph’s day also had a somewhat similar practice, which was probably instructive and revelatory for Joseph. And if you want to dive deeper into that topic, check out this episode or pause to read this quote.
We can also find bits and pieces of this practice in ancient times. Early Christian prayer circles were a thing, although they weren’t always exactly the same. Sometimes there’d be an altar in the middle, sometimes just a person. In some, the participants would dance in a circle, in others, not. So, for example, in the Pistis Sophia, we read about Christ offering a prayer at an altar while surrounded by both male and female disciples who were dressed in “linen garments.”
In the pseudepigraphical work, the Acts of John, Christ gathered his Apostles and instructed them,
“… to make as it were a ring, holding one another’s hands, and himself [Christ] standing in the midst he said: ‘Answer Amen to me.’” Scholar Alonzo Gaskill adds, “In other words, after Jesus would say a phrase as part of His prayer, He wanted His disciples to say ‘Amen,’ implying that they agreed with that part of the prayer, as though they had said it themselves.” Christ then says his prayer in the form of a hymn and afterward instructs the disciples to “keep silence about my mysteries.”
In the First Book of Jeu, Christ gives his disciples various seals and ciphers that allow them to progress through all of the “veils of the treasuries [of light].” Once the apostles are instructed, Christ says to the Twelve: “Surround me, all of you … Answer me and give glory with me as I give glory to my Father…” Christ then starts his prayer, reminding the Apostles: “Repeat after me, saying amen according to every glorification.”
In the Second Book of Jeu, Christ’s disciples (both men and women) build an altar, they dress in linen garments, stand with their feet together, they employ a cipher and a seal, and then Christ (at the altar) and his disciples say a prayer towards “the four corners of the whole world. …”
Now, if you’re unfamiliar with Latter-day Saint temple practices, like the prayer circle, you might think it’s a little weird. That’s normal. Practices of any religion you’re unfamiliar with are going to seem weird until you understand their symbolism, history, and purpose. The purpose of the prayer circle is multifaceted. One purpose is to simply teach you about that method of prayer. But the purpose of the actual prayer is pretty much the same as any other prayer but in a group setting. The idea being that the prayer may be more effective when offered in a temple of God together by a unified group.
And that unity is important. As Tertullian taught, we should “go not up unto God’s altar before we compose whatever of discord or offense we have contracted with our brethren. For what sort of deed is it to approach the peace of God without peace?”
In our temple prayer circles, a temple worker leads the prayer, expressing gratitude to God and asking for blessings. Specifically, members submit names to the temple of friends or loved ones who are struggling for whatever reason. And then in the prayer circle, we ask God to bless those people. After the prayer, Latter-day Saints continue on with the temple Endowment ceremony.
And that’s a quick rundown of Latter-day Saint temple prayer circles. Check out the resources in the YouTube description of this video for more information, and have a great day!
- From the Encyclopedia of Mormonism: https://bit.ly/3etsSMW
- “Early Christian and Jewish Rituals Related to Temple Practices,” by John A. Tvedtnes: https://bit.ly/2I2wVUl
- “Latter-day Saint Prayer Circles,” by D. Michael Quinn in BYU Studies: https://bit.ly/2I4532g
- Acts of John (reference in the video comes from sections 94-96): https://bit.ly/3euaHGY
- Books of 1 Jeu (Chapter 41) and 2 Jeu (Chapters 45/48): https://bit.ly/3jVvC6U
- Pistis Sophia (Book 5, chapter 136): https://bit.ly/2HZnSUI
- “Temple Worship and a Possible Reference to a Prayer Circle in Psalm 24,” by Donald W. Parry: https://bit.ly/36n6T6L
- “The Early Christian Prayer Circle,” by Hugh Nibley: https://bit.ly/3eQcCFQ (Nibley, IMO, is a genius. That said, in his zeal for these kinds of topics he can suffer from a bit of “parallelomania.” Nonetheless, he offers some good stuff in this paper.)
- To gain a greater appreciation for the symbolism of different Latter-day Saint temple practices, I highly recommend the book, “Sacred Symbols,” by Alonzo L. Gaskill.