For Mormons, standing and raising their hands to the square as a symbolic gesture of their choice to sustain the newly called prophetic leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a privilege and a historic spiritual moment. By assignment, each group of members is called to stand and share their sustaining vote of the new First Presidency. As Mormons believe and witness that the Lord calls and foreordains these prophets, seers, and revelators, there is a joy and rejoicing in watching His hand move forward His work on the earth.
When Did Solemn Assemblies Begin in the Church?
"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, and actually has been the order of the Lord since ancient times. In Israel, these assemblies were held in conjunction with Solomon's Temple, and were associated with their feasts and meetings in the Tabernacle.
Joseph Smith was first sustained by a congregation. Following his first solemn assembly, and after his remarks and members' sustaining votes, he said:
"The vote was unanimous in every instance, and I prophesied to all, that inasmuch as they would uphold these men in their several stations, the Lord would bless them . . . in the name of Jesus Christ, the blessings of heaven should be theirs; and when the Lord's anointed go forth to proclaim the word, bearing testimony to this generation, if they receive it they shall be blessed, but if not, the judgments of God will follow close upon them until that city or that house which rejects them shall be left desolate." (Documentary History of the Church, vol. 2, pp. 416-18.)
Brigham Young, likewise, 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,vol. 3, p. 52).
Solemn Assemblies and Temples
Joseph Smith also received revelation from the Lord regarding the necessity of gathering for a solemn assembly during the time the Saints were building the Kirtland Temple. In light of that upcoming event, Joseph urged the Saints: "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, 1938, p.91).
Joseph asked the Saints to purify themselves, 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.) That solemn assembly was held on 30 March 1836; 300 brethren met and after receiving gospel ordinances, received callings to their respective priesthood quorums. Surrounding these occasions were marvelous outpourings of the Spirit. The heavens were opened. Angels appeared to many. The Saints were instructed. During that time of spiritual power and instruction, Joseph Smith saw the celestial kingdom or highest kingdom where the throne of God is and where the redeemed and righteous will dwell with loved ones after this life.
Other Occasions for Solemn Assemblies
Solemn assemblies can be called for reasons other than sustaining leaders and dedicating temples. On 2 July 1889, for example, Lorenzo Snow presented the law of tithing as a divine revelation for Church members to accept. (Francis M. Gibbons, Lorenzo Snow, Spiritual Giant, Prophet of God Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1982, pp 222-23). Other assemblies have been called by the First Presidency to instruct priesthood leaders and returned missionaries.
With the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth through the Prophet Joseph Smith, came the "restitution of all things" promised by the Lord and spoken of in Acts 3:21--including the restoration of the solemn assembly.
When Have Latter-Day Solemn Assemblies Occurred?
For the sustaining of a new President of the Church
Apr 2008 General Conference, Saturday morning session for Thomas S. Monson.