Last Rites and the Dynamics of Mormon Liturgy

Jonathan Stapley tells the history of changes in death and burial practices by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In a significant departure from Protestant American culture, early Mormons could administer deathbed rituals of placing their hands on the dying, anointing them with oil, and dedicating them to God. In 1922, Church leaders instructed against that practice, but it continues as a folk tradition. Early Mormons washed a deceased family member’s body and clothed it and wrapped it in a white shroud; later, bodies were dressed either in good clothing or temple ceremonial clothing by Relief Society sisters; eventually this responsibility passed to morticians. In the 1870s, Mormons began the practice of dedicating gravesites, praying that the body would rest undisturbed until the resurrection. This practice became a priesthood responsibility in the twentieth century. The article’s personal stories give evidence of the Latter-day Saints’ close relationships and faith that their families and communities would be reunited in the resurrection.

Published in BYU Studies Quarterly 50:2
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