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    Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy

    In the April 1986 general conference, part of one session was called a solemn assembly. What is a solemn assembly, and when and where may one be held?

    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.)

    The naming and blessing of a child is not an ordinance necessary for salvation. Why, then, is it important?

    Susan Easton Black, associate professor of Church history and doctrine, Brigham Young University. The naming and blessing of children is a commandment from God. In April 1830, the Lord said through the Prophet Joseph Smith:

    “Every member of the church of Christ having children is to bring them unto the elders before the church, who are to lay their hands upon them in the name of Jesus Christ, and bless them in his name.” (D&C 20:70.)

    Although evidence of naming and blessing of children is not abundant in early church records, such blessings did occur. Oliver Cowdery, who served as clerk of the Norton, Medina County, Ohio conference, held on 21 April 1834, recorded, “President Smith then laid hands on certain children, and blessed them in the name of the Lord.” (History of the Church, 2:54.)

    At a church meeting held on the evening of 13 March 1843, the Prophet blessed another group of children. Of that occasion, he wrote:

    “Twenty-seven children were blessed, nineteen of whom I blessed myself, with great fervency. Virtue went out of me, and my strength left me. …

    “[The next day] Elder Jedediah M. Grant enquired of me the cause of my turning pale and losing strength last night while blessing children. I told him that I saw that Lucifer would exert his influence to destroy the children that I was blessing, and I strove with all the faith and spirit that I had to seal upon them a blessing that would secure their lives upon the earth; and so much virtue went out of me into the children, that I became weak, from which I have not yet recovered; and I referred to the case of the woman touching the hem of the garment of Jesus. (Luke 8).” (History of the Church, 5:303.)

    Joseph Smith followed the commandment and example of the Lord himself. Indeed, the Savior blessed children both in ancient Israel and on the American continent, and said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. …

    “And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.” (Mark 10:14–16.)

    The Book of Mormon describes the Redeemer blessing little children during his ministry among the Nephites. (See 3 Ne. 17.) Jesus invited the people to bring their children to him (3 Ne. 17:11), then, kneeling with the multitude, he prayed to his Father (3 Ne. 17:15). After his prayer, the Savior blessed each child one by one. (3 Ne. 17:21.) A fire “encircled those little ones about … and the angels did minister unto them.” (3 Ne. 17:24.)

    Jesus blessed little children even though they “are redeemed from the foundation of the world.” (D&C 29:46.) His example of blessing children, wrote Elder John Taylor, “should be studiously complied with without hesitancy or objection” by priesthood holders. (Millennial Star, 15 Apr. 1878, 40:235–36.)

    I have found it interesting that in the scriptures a new name is often involved when a covenant relationship is formed. When Adam and Eve were given dominion over the earth (see Gen. 1:28), Adam was given the responsibility of naming the animals (see Gen. 2:19–20). Likewise, in receiving Eve as his wife, Adam named her. (See Gen. 3:20.) God himself, after creating bodies for our first parents, “blessed them, and called their name Adam.” (Gen. 5:2.)

    Later, when Jehovah entered into a covenant relationship with Abram, he changed Abram’s name to Abraham. (See Gen. 17:5.) The Lord did the same thing with Jacob when He extended to Jacob the same covenant He had made with Abraham. (See Gen. 35:10.)

    We follow a similar pattern when entering into covenants with Christ in the waters of baptism. At that time, we take upon ourselves the name of Christ, and that becomes the name by which we are called. (See Mosiah 5:7–12.) The higher covenants of the temple also involve the giving and receiving of names.

    In each of these cases, the one giving the name assumes responsibility for protecting, loving, and nurturing the one receiving the new name. And the recipient of the name, in turn, is to honor the name-giver and follow his counsel.

    In this context, it is appropriate that when one of our Heavenly Father’s spirit children enters mortality, he or she is given a new name by one bearing priesthood authority—ideally, the one who helped create the body for the child and the one to whom God has entrusted His child in mortality. At its best, this new relationship between father (and mother) and child should extend into eternity as part of a covenant relationship called the patriarchal order. President Joseph F. Smith described that relationship in these words:

    “The patriarchal order is of divine origin and will continue throughout time and eternity. There is, then, a particular reason why men, women, and children should understand this order and authority in the households of the people of God and seek to make it what God intended it to be, a qualification and preparation for the highest exaltation of his children. In the home, the presiding authority is always vested in the father, and in all home affairs and family matters there is no other authority paramount. …

    “This authority carries with it a responsibility, and a grave one, as well as its rights and privileges, and men cannot be too exemplary in their lives, nor fit themselves too carefully to live in harmony with this important and God-ordained rule of conduct in the family organization.” (Gospel Doctrine, Salt Lake City: Corporation of the President, 1971, pp. 22–23.)

    President Smith also noted that it “is in every way proper” for a father to pronounce a name and blessing upon his child during the monthly fast meeting, for it “is in the nature of a father’s blessing.” (Ibid., p. 29.)

    This does not mean that a child is bereft of this blessing if his or her father does not hold the Melchizedek Priesthood or is otherwise unable to officiate in the blessing. The bishop, who holds the presiding priesthood keys in the ward, has the right to designate another elder to give the blessing. In all cases, the elder who blesses the child should prepare to be guided by the Spirit.

    Parents can help a child to receive those sacred blessings promised him or her that depend upon the child’s faithfulness. In Doctrine and Covenants 68:25–28 [D&C 68:25–28], parents are given an explicit commandment to teach their children:

    “Inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents. …

    “And they shall also teach their children to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord.”

    In summary, the naming and blessing of children is a commandment of God. It is proper for a worthy father to name and bless his children. Blessing of children was done during the time of Christ, and it occurred in the early years of the restored Church. The ordinance has become a regular practice followed by Church members ever since.