"For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light..."

LDS Temples and Catholic Cathedrals

by W. John Walsh

Please note that this is an editorial article and does not necessarily reflect the position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It includes the personal opinions of the author and he is alone responsible for them.

Recently, as I was doing some research on the internet, I accidentally came across a very interesting page written by Father Earl, an authority of the Roman Catholic Church. Father Earl had written an editorial about his tour of the new LDS Temple in St. Louis. His comments are as follows:

"Recently I took the tour of the new Mormon temple on Mason Road. I was favorably impressed by a number of things.

Most impressive was the large crew of volunteers, especially the youth, who gave so generously of their time to help their church. They challenge us in this matter.

Also, the quiet and reverence which they demanded for their sacred place was very impressive. Here they have something which we have lost. Today too many Catholics turn their church into a social center before and after services, at wedding rehearsals, weddings, even funerals. When we use the church for a visiting parlor we deprive both ourselves and others of the sacred space we all need in our lives.

And finally one had to be impressed with the investment of funds to construct and maintain the temple. The generosity of Mormons to their church is legendary.

On the other hand some things did not impress me favorably. My disappointment here is not with the good Mormon people whose exemplary moral life and religious fervor is an example to everyone. My criticism is from the perspective of the Catholic Christian tradition.

The temple is an architectural monument which reflects grandeur and opulence. But as a house of worship I found it greatly wanting. Where was the art, which is the face of religion and the soul of faith? Fancy furniture is not religious art. It does not elevate the mind and heart to God. Walking through the temple was for me like walking through a furniture showcase at Carol House - "because you like nice things." Perhaps they had capitulated to the consumerism of our age.

One must congratulate the Mormons on their new temple. But if you want to see a house of worship in St. Louis, take a tour of the St. Louis Cathedral on Lindell, or the Christ Church Cathedral downtown, or the Old Cathedral at the arch. Such buildings are masterpieces of architecture which lift one's spirit to God. Closer to home, you can find a beautiful and inspiring church, an honest-to-goodness old fashioned church, on Church Road in Arnold. (Immaculate Conception Bulletin, June 1, 1997)

As I pondered over Father Earl's comments, I had no doubt that the quality of the art maintained by the Catholic tradition far exceeds that of the Latter-day Saints. Of course, they have been at it for a lot longer. In addition, a considerable portion of our time has been spent escaping religious persecution. It's hard to create great masterpieces when you are running from the mob.

However, these facts do not thoroughly explain all of the core issues involved. A major reason that the treasury of Catholic art is superior is because our respective faiths do not place the same emphasis upon it. While Latter-day Saints recognize the significant role art plays in enlightening and inspiring Church members, it is not the focal point of our worship. (See Attitudes Towards the Arts home page)

To Father Earl, it appears that a true house of worship is designated by the beauty of its architecture and the art work contained within (i.e., "the face of religion and the soul of faith"). However, to Latter-day Saints, a true house of worship is designated by the sacred work that occurs within its walls and not by its artistic beauty. While we try to make the physical accommodations of the best quality available, we do not emphasize them.

Father Earl was impressed by a number of things regarding Latter-day Saints. It appears that most of them centered around the dedication that we have towards our Church. In his mind, "[We] challenge [them] in this matter." Catholics are not alone in this feeling. I have seen similar comments from leaders of many different denominations.

Why do Latter-day Saints show a level of commitment and dedication to their religion that is rarely found among other denominations? A cursory answer might be that we have formally promised to show this dedication. In the temple, Latter-day Saints covenant to live the law of consecration. This law is that we consecrate our time, talents, strength, property, and money for the upbuilding of the kingdom of God on this earth and the establishment of Zion. We are simply keeping our word.

However, this is too simplistic to adequately answer the question. If this were the whole story, then other religions would simply install a similar process. Why don't they? Experience has taught them that their adherents generally are not willing to dedicate themselves to their respective denominations to that degree.

If other adherents are not willing to make such a commitment, then why are Latter-day Saints willing to make these covenants and why do so many keep them? It is because of something that occurs within the Temple that Father Earl did not observe. His tour of the St. Louis Temple occurred during the open house before its dedication. Before a Temple is dedicated, it is simply a fancy building. It is not a House of the Lord.

This principle is illustrated by a story told by Elder Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (See Church Leaders home page). When Elder Packer was a young member of the Twelve, he toured the Kirtland Temple which is now owned by the RLDS Church. Upon returning home, Elder Packer exhorted his brethren that they must find some way to get the temple back. After patiently listening to his concerns, a more experienced Apostle explained that it was not necessary to reacquire the temple. While the RLDS Church had possession of the building, the LDS Church retained possession of what really mattered: the priesthood keys of authority to the spiritual blessings of the Lord. Without these spiritual blessings, the Kirtland Temple was not a true House of the Lord, but simply another historic building.

When a temple has been dedicated by those holding the Savior's authority, it stands as the focal point of true Christian worship. Within its walls, members are "endowed with power from on high" (D&C 38:38). The spiritual enrichment and nourishment received by LDS temple worshippers make them not only willing, but insistent about devoting all that they have to the Lord's kingdom.

Jesus taught us, "Ye shall know them by their fruits." (Matthew 7:16) My supposition to Father Earl is that a real House of Worship is not measured by its art and architecture [no matter how beautiful], but by the devotion and spirituality of the members who worship within. The reason he was so impressed by our members directly relates to what occurs within the walls of a dedicated LDS temple.

(See Teachings About Temples home page; Reflections home page; Catholicism and Mormonism)



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