Published: Wednesday, Apr. 7th, 2021
We recently wrote about Mormon temple sealings, the top-secret wedding customs of the LDS Church, and why non-Mormon friends and family or unworthy fellow Mormons aren’t able to attend them.
But have you heard of posthumous sealings… Mormon weddings for the dead?
That’s right, devout Mormons have ordinances for both baptizing and binding the souls of couples and their families even after their death. Just like marriage rites for the living, these spiritual marriages last for all eternity, and are largely kept secret from the outside world.
Now, laying claim to the souls of people who can no longer give explicit consent is bound to be controversial. But the custom of proxy and posthumous sealings are very common within the LDS church. These rituals are fundamental to the faith’s belief that the higher levels of heaven are only reached through marriage and eternal bonds to God and family.
In the spirit of demystifying things for those outside the faith, here’s a quick breakdown of what we know about Mormon posthumous weddings, proxy sealings and baptisms, and the ethics and history of speaking for the dead.
It’s important to mention that we respect the deeply held beliefs of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to the extent that they don’t inflict harm on others. This article is presented in the interest of education and ecumenism.
Weddings for deceased couples, called posthumous ‘sealings,’ allow these couples to finally reach the highest levels of heaven, and spend eternity with their families.
In the Mormon faith, when a couple marries within the Church, their souls are spiritually bound together for all of life and beyond, securing a place for them within the Celestial Kingdom. This type of religious marriage, called a ‘temple sealing,’ is considered one of the ‘keys’ to the higher levels of heaven and is an essential step toward achieving eternal happiness. Without being sealed, Mormons can’t reach this level of heaven.
But not all couples have the opportunity to have their union sealed in their lifetimes.
This is why younger generations perform posthumous sealings for their parents and other ancestors. They believe that this ritual offers departed souls a ticket to the afterlife, should they choose to accept it.
And these sealings don’t just unite the couples, they also unite the entire family line. Temple sealings bind generations together, too, connecting ancestral lines throughout the centuries. This is very important to Mormons, who believe that they live out their afterlives as conscious spirits, spending that time with whomever they’ve been sealed to.
If they want to see their loved ones in heaven, those souls need to be sealed!
Only members of the Melchizedek Priesthood can perform a temple sealing. This is the highest order of priesthood within the Church, and these individuals are proven worthy members of the faith with current temple recommends.
A young couple on their wedding day, via The Plan of Salvation: Temple Marriage,
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Like marriage rites for the living, the specifics of these ceremonies are kept secret within the LDS Church. However, there are accounts from former church members that give us an idea of what takes place behind closed temple doors.
Sealing rooms are filled with mirrors to create infinite reflections that emulate the existence of eternal life through faith. Because dead individuals can’t gather around the altar themselves, a younger member serves as their ‘proxy’ -- a physical stand-in capable of completing the requirements of the ritual. These younger members might be the children of deceased parents, or the biological or legal relatives of distant ancestors. Proxies dress in traditional white temple garments to perform the rites.
Very similar to a posthumous marriage is the ritual of proxy baptism, also called a ‘proxy sealing.’ These rituals work just like a sealing performed by a proxy for two deceased parents or grandparents -- the baptism seals the soul of the deceased to God and their ancestral lines in a form of ‘spiritual marriage.’
This secures the ancestor’s place in the afterlife, in the highest levels of heaven, where they can spend eternity with their families.
As mentioned above, this is a controversial issue. It’s impossible to explore the question fully here, but we can offer some historical insight.
Posthumous baptism is forbidden in most modern mainstream Christian churches, with the notable exception of the LDS Church and a few smaller sects. One such sect, the millenarian New Apostolic Church, also practices posthumous and proxy baptisms, but there are very few others.
The Mormon Church has come under severe criticism during the past two decades for performing unwelcome proxy baptisms for Jewish Holocaust victims. This practice was called out by Jewish religious leaders in the late 1990s, and although the Church initially agreed to stop the baptisms, they later broke that agreement, resulting in continuous upset throughout the following decades.
But posthumous and proxy marriages are not unique to the Mormon Church -- although they look a little different in other settings.
Sometimes called ‘postmortem matrimony,’ a variation in civil marriage that involves a living partner and a deceased partner has been allowed in several countries (on a case by case basis) over the centuries. For example, following World War I in France, the fiancées of soldiers killed in battle were allowed to marry the deceased men by proxy. This law was extended in the 1950s, allowing widowed partners to marry with the permission of the country’s President.
And proxy marriages for the living -- similar events where friends or relatives stand-in for living brides or grooms who can’t physically attend their wedding ceremony because of military deployment or other extenuating circumstances -- are common in the US and abroad.
Within the LDS Church, Mormons have answered questions about the ethics of posthumous baptisms and sealings by pointing out that according to church teachings, the deceased have a choice to accept or reject the offer in the afterlife.
This means that for Mormons, when a living proxy performs the rite here on earth, the spirit of the deceased must choose whether or not to receive it in the afterlife.
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