Robert J. Norman, director of the Tucson LDS Institute of Religion adjacent to the University of Arizona. Solemn assemblies were restored in this dispensation as a part of the “restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by thy mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.” (Acts 3:21.) In ancient Israel, these assemblies were held in connection with feasts, sacrifices, and the dedication of Solomon’s Temple. On these solemn occasions, Israel gathered and came before the Lord in a state of ritual holiness.
In our dispensation, a solemn assembly was first mentioned in connection with the commandment to build the Kirtland Temple. The Lord instructed the Saints to “sanctify [themselves] that [their] minds [would] become single to God,” and to “cast away [their] idle thoughts” and their “excess of laughter.” He then commanded them to call a solemn assembly of “the first laborers in this last kingdom.” (See D&C 88:68–70.) In verse 117 of the same section, the Lord again commanded the Saints to hold a solemn assembly; and in verse 119 he commanded them to build a house of God—the Kirtland Temple [D&C 88:117, 119]. In Doctrine and Covenants 95:7 [D&C 95:7], the Lord explained the purpose of that solemn assembly—“that your fastings and your mourning might come up into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.”
From these revelations, we can see that solemn assemblies are held to enhance the Saints’ spirituality and to give added emphasis to the importance of the assembly’s purpose. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “We must have all things prepared, and call our solemn assembly as the Lord has commanded us, that we may be able to accomplish His great work, and it must be done in God’s own way. The house of the Lord must be prepared, and the solemn assembly called and organized in it, according to the order of the house of God.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938, p. 91.)
Heber C. Kimball recorded the Prophet’s instructions to the elders before that solemn assembly: “We had been commanded to prepare ourselves for a solemn assembly. At length the time arrived for this assembly to meet; previous to which the Prophet Joseph exhorted the elders to solemnize their minds, by casting away every evil from them, in thought, word and deed, and to let their hearts become sanctified, because they need not expect a blessing from God without being duly prepared for it, for the Holy Ghost would not dwell in unholy temples.” (Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, 3d ed., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1967, p. 91.)
This long-awaited solemn assembly was held in the Kirtland Temple on 30 March 1836, three days after its dedication. In the assembly, three hundred brethren met and received some of the ordinances of the gospel, and the Prophet Joseph Smith set in order the Church’s different quorums. (See History of the Church, 2:430–33; D&C 88:139–141; D&C 109:35.) A year later, on 6 April 1837, another solemn assembly was called to celebrate the anniversary of the Church and to further organize the priesthood quorums.
The dedication of the Kirtland Temple was a solemn assembly, just as has been each subsequent temple dedication. In that temple’s dedicatory prayer, the Prophet spoke of one of the purposes of a temple—“that the Son of Man might have a place to manifest himself to his people.” (D&C 109:5.) On such holy occasions, the sacred Hosanna Shout is given, as it was at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. (See Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1979, p. 368.)
A solemn assembly is also called when the membership of the Church sustains a new prophet of the Lord. By sustaining the President, members of the Church signify their willingness to heed his counsel, as the Lord admonished the Saints in Joseph Smith’s time: “Thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me;
“For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.” (D&C 21:4–5.)
As President Spencer W. Kimball explained in the April 1974 general conference, “Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were first sustained by a congregation, including a fully organized priesthood. Brigham Young was sustained on March 27, 1846, and was ‘unanimously elected president over the whole Camp of Israel’ by the council. (B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church, 7 vols., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978, 3:52.) Later he was sustained, and the Hosanna Shout was given.
“Each of the presidents of the Church has been sustained by the priesthood of the Church in solemn assembly.” (Ensign, May 1974, p. 45.)
This has been the order of the Church ever since its organization. When President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke in the solemn assembly of the April 1986 general conference, he called the meeting “a tremendously significant and sacred occasion for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints throughout the world.” The format for sustaining officers at that conference was abbreviated from that of past solemn assemblies because, explained President Hinckley, “in these present circumstances, it is considered unfeasible to seat by quorums those assembled in the Tabernacle and the many other halls. We shall, however, vote by quorums and groups.” (Ensign, May 1986, p. 73.)
Solemn assemblies may be called for other reasons. On 2 July 1889, a special solemn assembly was held in the Salt Lake Temple in which President Lorenzo Snow presented the law of tithing as the word and will of God for members of the Church to accept. (See Francis M. Gibbons, Lorenzo Snow: Spiritual Giant, Prophet of God, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1982, pp. 222–23.) Other solemn assemblies have been called by the First Presidency to instruct priesthood leaders and returned missionaries.
Some solemn assemblies are held in temples, some in the Tabernacle, and others in stake centers. Whatever the purpose or location of the assembly, the sacredness of the event is paramount. At such times, we may want to keep in mind the words of the Lord to the Prophet Joseph Smith: “Hearken ye to these words. Behold, I am Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. Treasure these things up in your hearts, and let the solemnities of eternity rest upon your minds.” (D&C 43:34.)