Sealing is an ordinance (ritual) performed in Latter Day Saint temples by a person holding the sealing authority. The purpose of this ordinance is to seal familial relationships, making possible the existence of family relationships throughout eternity. LDS teachings place great importance on the specific authority required to perform these sealings. Church doctrine teaches that this authority, called the Priesthood, corresponds to that given to Saint Peter in Matthew 16:19.
Sealings are typically performed as marriages or as sealing of children to parents. They were performed prior to the death of Joseph Smith (the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement), and are currently performed in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Although some denominations, such as the Community of Christ, view sealing as an artifact of Smith's practice of plural marriage, others do still perform them.
Faithful Latter Day Saints believe civil marriages are dissolved at death, but that a couple who has been sealed in a temple will be married beyond physical death and the resurrection if they remain righteous. This means that in the afterlife they and their family will be together forever. An illustrative difference in the marriage ceremony performed in LDS temples is the replacement of the words "until death do us part" with "for time and all eternity".
The LDS Church recognizes other monogamous, heterosexual marriages, both civil and religious, although they believe that such marriages will not continue after death because "eternal marriages" must be performed by priesthood authority. Eternal marriages are also performed vicariously for the deceased, of effect after receiving all other saving ordinances. As with sealings of living persons, they are sealed with their spouse and their children.
Couples who have children born to them before being sealed may have their children sealed to them afterwards. Couples who have children after being sealed need not have their children sealed to them in a separate ceremony. Children born to sealed parents are "born in the covenant" and are automatically sealed to their parents. Adopted children may be sealed to their adoptive parents once the adoption has been legally finalized.
The union of a sealed couple is regarded as valid only if both individuals have kept their religious commitments and followed LDS teachings. Just as deceased individuals may refuse any temple ordinance (such as a sealing) done by proxy on their behalf, couples, parents, and children who were sealed to each other in life may refuse to accept a sealing of which they were a part. No one will be sealed to any one with whom they do not want to be sealed.
Only worthy members of the LDS Church, who hold current valid temple recommends, can attend and witness sealings. Non-member family and friends generally wait in the temple waiting room during the sealing ceremony.
Since the LDS Church rejects same-sex marriages, these unions are not performed in temples nor are they recognized by the LDS Church.
Not all countries recognize marriages performed by clergy outside of the state religion. In these cases, temple marriages are not seen as legally binding, and a civil marriage must also be performed. In other cases, marriages must be performed in a public forum for any to witness or formally object. In such circumstances, government representatives or authorized clergy will perform the civilly-recognized public wedding prior to the temple sealing.
- In the United States and some other countries, bishops and temple sealers have the civil authority to perform marriages. Marriages performed in the temple by a temple sealer are recognized by the government.
- In several countries (e.g. Argentina, Mexico, Germany) all marriages are performed at the local municipality by a registrar who is duly authorized to perform marriages. The couple will then go to the temple to have the sealing ordinance performed.
- In Brazil, all marriages must be performed in the state in which the couple resides. Since not all Brazilian states have a temple within their boundaries, the couple may then have their sealing performed at the nearest temple upon completion of the civil marriage.
- In the United Kingdom the law requires that a marriage be performed at a public ceremony (the same also holds true for Austria). Since attendance at a temple sealing is restricted, a couple will be married locally by a person who is duly authorized to perform marriages. This person will usually be a registrar of marriages. The marriage can be performed at the local registrar's office, or in some cases at an LDS chapel. Some bishops or branch presidents have been officially given the title of a deputy registrar, and as such are legally able to perform a civil ceremony in the chapel. The couple will then travel to the nearest LDS temple (London or Preston) for their temple marriage.
In countries where temple marriage is legally binding, couples who choose to be married outside the temple must wait one year before they can be sealed in the temple. In countries where a civil ceremony is required before marriage, the couples must receive their sealing as soon as practical after the civil ceremony.
Although a divorce dissolves a civilly-recognized marriage, the church still recognizes a sealing as binding. A couple who has been sealed may request to have their sealing "canceled", but this is uncommon, occurs only under special circumstances and is only granted by the President of the Church. Some refer informally to a "cancellation" as a "temple divorce", but the terminology designated by church leaders is "cancellation of a sealing". If a sealing is canceled, the sealing between them and any children remains in force, though the couple is no longer sealed. The sealing together of husband and wife and the sealing of children to parents are separate ordinances.
A cancellation typically follows after a civil divorce when a woman seeks to be sealed to another man. The church's requirements for divorced men are equally strict, and even sometimes more so. A man must apply for a sealing clearance to marry another woman after he has been civilly divorced, even if he has already received a cancellation of sealing.
Legacy of plural marriage
It has been argued that the LDS Church's policy on sealings and cancellations reflect its doctrine of plural marriage. Although plural marriage is currently prohibited in the church, a man can be sealed to multiple women, in the case of widowers who are sealed to their dead and living wives. Additionally, men who are dead may be sealed by proxy to all women to whom they were legally married while alive. Recent changes in church policy also allow women to be sealed to multiple men, but only after both she and her husband(s) are dead.
Church doctrine is not entirely specific on the status of men or women who are sealed by proxy to multiple spouses. There are at least two possibilities:
- Regardless of how many people a man or woman is sealed to by proxy, they will only remain with one of them in the afterlife, and that the remaining spouses, who might still merit the full benefits of exaltation that come from being sealed, would then be given to another person in order to ensure each has an eternal marriage.
- These sealings create effective plural marriages that will continue after death. There are no church teachings clarifying whether polyandrous relationships can exist in the afterlife, so some church members doubt whether this possibility would apply to women who are sealed by proxy to multiple spouses. The possibility for women to be sealed to multiple men is a recent policy change enacted in 1998. Church leaders have neither explained this change, nor its doctrinal implications. It should be noted, however, that proxy sealings, like proxy baptisms, are merely offered to the person in the afterlife, indicating that the purpose is to allow the woman to choose the right man to be sealed to, as LDS doctrine forbids polyandry.
- Bergera, Gary James (2002), "The Earliest Eternal Sealings for Civilly Married Couples Living and Dead", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 35 (3): 41–66.
- Buerger, David John (1983), "The Fulness of the Priesthood": The Second Anointing in Latter-day Saint Theology and Practice", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 16 (1)
- The Family: A Proclamation To The World (Formal statement on marriage from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)