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Celestial marriage is a term used by Mormons to indicate a type of marriage that is designed and destined to last beyond the grave and into the eternities. Celestial means heavenly, so a celestial marriage is a heavenly marriage. The marriage does not take place in heaven, but is a type of marriage that is heavenly in nature—it is divine in its origin and potential.
Mormons believe that for a celestial marriage to occur, several very specific things must take place. First, the couple must be sealed in the temple by one holding the authority from God to perform such sealings. Second, the couple must seek, with all their hearts, to individually and jointly follow Jesus Christ. Third, the sealing must be confirmed by God through His Spirit.
Sealing by Authority
When Jesus walked on the earth, He gave His authority to various individuals to act in His name. The Bible records, for instance, that He ordained his apostles and gave them the "power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils." (Mark 3:14-15) To at least one of his apostles, Peter, he gave an even greater power—that "whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matt 16:19)
This authority and power to bind things on both earth and in heaven is today referred to as the sealing power. This power, lost after the death of the early apostles, was restored to Joseph Smith, the first Mormon prophet. That same power was conferred by heavenly decree upon the apostles in these days, and is used to seal marriages. The intent is to create eternal families—the type of families that God wants His children to have.
If a man and woman are married by a civilly recognized authority (such as a government or religious representative), then the couple can be sealed together so that their marriage will be "bound" on both earth and in heaven. If a couple was not previously married, they can be both married and sealed together at the same time, consistent with local laws.
Sealings are one of the sacred ordinances that can take place only in temples. A sealing is considered one of the very highest ordinances that Mormons can receive, and Mormons believe that an eternal marriage is something highly desirable and extremely sacred.
Eternal marriages don't just happen; they aren't considered a "checklist item" that can be performed at a specific place and time and then be forever done. Instead, eternal marriages are a constant work in progress. While the start of the eternal marriage may be dated to the point at which the sealing was done with proper authority, the couple must live their lives in a way worthy of the blessing of eternal marriage.
How does a couple demonstrate their continued desire for their marriage to be eternal? By following Christ in their daily life. Faithful Mormons who have been sealed together strive to know and keep God's commandments. They try to be like Christ, seeking to be humble, patient, honest, obedient, loving, forgiving, and kind. These are but a few of the godly attributes which they try to instill into their lives and into their family relationships.
Confirming the Sealing
After a couple has been sealed together by the proper authority, and after they have exemplified their commitment to an eternal marriage through their persistent actions, they have the opportunity to have their sealing confirmed by God's Holy Spirit. This is not an earthly ordinance or experience; it only comes through revelation from God directly to the individuals in the marriage. Such a divine confirmation may occur in this life or in the next.
In many ways, the confirmation of a couple's sealing is a "stamp of approval," given by God, that He recognizes that their union will be eternal. This is the true definition of a celestial marriage—one that has been ratified by God as being in full force and effect not only in this life, but in the life to come.
Building Eternal Families
The sealing power that is integral to creating a celestial marriage also comes into play with the rest of the family. Children can be sealed to their parents by the same authority, with the expectation that the entire family structure can survive this life and extend into the hereafter. If a couple was sealed together prior to the birth of their children, then those children are, in Mormon terminology, born in the covenant, and partakers of the divine promise possible through the sealing of the parents. If a couple is sealed after their children are born, then the children can be sealed to the parents in a special ceremony that takes place in a holy temple.
It is not easy to build an eternal family. It takes faith, commitment, and a lot of hard work. Such a family is viewed, by Mormons, as the desired ideal for their own family. Not everyone is successful, but an ideal is never measured by those who do not attain it. Faithful Mormons have the God-given hope that through the three elements previously discussed they can come as close to the ideal as possible and take part, through God's grace, in the celestial family they desire.