I have been wondering about the temple work that was done in the Nauvoo Temple when Brigham Young was working around the clock to get the work done before the Saints left Nauvoo. How is it similar or different than the work we do today?
The “temple work” that was done by the Saints in Nauvoo entailed baptism for the dead, the initiatory ordinances of washing and anointing, the endowment, celestial marriage, and (on occasion) the administration of special temple blessings–in short, the same work that goes on in modern temples of the Church today. The only substantive difference, from what I understand, is that endowments for the dead were not performed in the Nauvoo Temple; because the Saints’ primary focus at that time was on getting their own endowments prior to the trek west.
Over time, the form of a few of the ceremonies has changed a bit. For example, some sources tell us that the Nauvoo endowment took nearly six hours to administer and could be interrupted by meal breaks. In modern times, the presentation of the endowment has been streamlined so that it takes less than two hours. Joseph Smith himself seems to have recognized that some degree of flexibility could be advisable. In setting up the upper floor of his Red Brick Store for the presentation of the endowment, Smith told Brigham Young: “Brother Brigham, this is not arranged right, but we have done the best we could under the circumstances in which we are placed, and I want you to take this matter in hand and organize and systematize all these ceremonies.” “St. George Temple: One Hundred Years of Service”, March 1977 Ensign. President Young did precisely that when the Endowment House was built in 1852; and he continued to tinker with the precise form of the ceremony throughout his life. His successors, who also hold the keys to the sealing power, have continued on occasion to implement changes–with, we can safely presume, divine authorization.
While the forms of these rituals may occasionally change, the blessings and eternal significance of temple worship and the temple’s role as a place where the heavens and the earth come together remain unchanged. Temple worship serves to orient the worshiper as to his or her place in the Lord’s plan of salvation and to reinforce the key role that Jesus Christ serves in that plan.