A Catholic Explains the Mormon Garment

There is an excellent commentary by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, who is Catholic, on the LDS (Mormon) garment.  In her article she describes the garment as not dissimilar to the sacred clothing of many religious groups around the world, including Jews, Catholics (Roman and Eastern), Sikhs, Buddhists, Amish, Muslims, Hindus, Jains, and tribal religions.  I too once wrote about the sacred undergarment of the Jews, the tallit katan (and its tzitzit).  

I appreciate her respect for this sacred aspect of temple attending members of the LDS Church.  As she puts it, it seems that most sacred clothing such as the garment has four main purposes:

  1. Recognition that there is Greater.
  2. That one Accepts certain truths as outlined by usually a holy book[s] belonging to that group.
  3. That one is now identified as and belongs to a certain group and there are actions required, for some it is evangelization, for others (refering to Amish again) it is only to live not in, but AS peace and love and care for the world within one’s reach.
  4. That the wearing of various is a demonstration that one is of this world, but also of another world.

You may read her commentary at the link below.  Be forewarned that there is a photo of the garments shown in the article (as has been published elsewhere by those disaffected) (Update 9/2/12: Dr. Estés has kindly removed the photo of the garments from her article.)  This is one thing that I wish Dr. Estés had not published.  In spite of everything else she noted which respects our practice, the public display of the garments is frowned upon by the LDS because of its highly sacred nature, and because we wear it very much like underwear, not as an intermediate or external robe as many other religions whose clothing can be seen in public freely without discomfort or shame to the wearer.  The garment is a very personal and private element in a Mormon’s life.


And here is a commentary by Daniel C. Peterson on the same subject of the garments, and the respect they should garner, and an accompanying excellent article he links to by Robert Rees, a great Mormon perspective, with an intro by Jana Riess:



Robert Rees’s commentary on the “sacred” and the “profane” is equally well said:

We live in a world in which the secular seems increasingly to triumph over the sacred, in which the number of sacred spaces and experiences seems to be diminishing as a part of our lived human experience. In actuality, we lose an essential part of our collective culture when we lose the sacred. To consider nothing sacred is, to paraphrase Rumi, to create a division between our hearts and our ability to act in the world. Believers of all persuasions (and hopefully non-believers as well) have a responsibility to preserve the sacred, to keep at least some flame of the holy alive. If Thoreau was right in stating, “In wildness is the preservation of the world,” we might also say, “In the sacred is the preservation of humanity.”


  1. Blake
    Posted August 27, 2012 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    I would humbly submit that perhaps it is the combining the roles of ‘under wear’ and ‘sacred symbol’ into the same thing that is profaning the sacred.

    Separate the two out, then each can function in its intended role to its best measure.

  2. Posted August 27, 2012 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Blake, just because a piece of clothing is worn next to the skin does not mean it cannot be sacred. On the contrary, could not that increase its sacredness for the wearer? Many objects of personal value, even those which hold a sacred meaning to individuals, are worn as closely to the wearer’s skin as possible, such as necklaces and bracelets, so one can be as near to them as they can possibly be. Lockets worn over the heart are a good example.

  3. Posted August 27, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Bryce! I was going to write a very similar article, but you beat me to the punch. So much is lost when we lose touch with the sacred. It was also unfortunate that Rock Center chose to show the garments as part of it’s news program last week about Mormons.

  4. Posted August 27, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    The symbolism of the LDS garment is such that separating it from underwear partially obscures the meaning.

    I submit that the problem isn’t the combination of “underwear” and “sacred,” but of the strong modern association of underwear with sex, which is considered dirty and therefore NOT sacred.

    Which is partially why it is such a perfect symbol for us as-is.

  5. Janice
    Posted August 27, 2012 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    It escapes me how a scholar who understands something that is holy to a religion that is very personal does not have enough sense/respect not to publish a photo. I appreciate that someone understands but obviously not enough. It seems that the LDS church is the only religion that respects others beliefs and what they consider holy, and we don’t get any respect. How would the Catholics feel if someone published a photo of what the Pope wears under his robes? Or a less than flattering photo of a famous, popular on TV preacher? Notice how these things are never done to other religions.
    I also don’t understand what the hostile ex-members/critics/anti’s get out of making fun of and mocking us.
    I happened to accidentally find a Christian station today and the preacher was saying Christians need to show more respect to other Christians. He didn’t say show respect to “everyone”. So “Christians” are getting the message that they do not have to respect or show respect to non-Christians and those who they think are not Christian, like the LDS and Jehova’s Witnesses. He kept emphasizing those who are Christian.
    What is going to happen to those who mock and tell of our sacred practices and clothing, especially the ex-member’s who used to be temple goers, when Judgement comes? I really would like an opinion, because I have my own but not sure. And by exposing our most sacred ordinances what harm is being done to it, if any? Thank you. Love this site.

  6. Posted August 27, 2012 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    It may have been an innocent mistake. From the sounds of her article, I’d give her the benefit of a doubt.

    As for what happens to the temple ordinances that are seemingly “exposed”? Nibley once noted something to the effect that those who seek to expose the temple and its sacred mysteries never truly had them to begin with.

  7. Alece
    Posted August 28, 2012 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    I think the main thing for those of us who are practicing, temple attending and worshiping Mormons is to make sure WE are never the ones who reveal these sacred things to others. We can’t control what others do, but we can certainly control what we, ourselves, do.

  8. Lorin Lords
    Posted August 28, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    When difficult subjects like this come to the public’s attention, we need Apologists to help the public to understand the subject. It would seem to be a good role for a University to fill maybe like BYU.

  9. Posted September 2, 2012 at 4:26 am | Permalink

    Responding to your kindnesses here, and thank you for your benefit of the doubt without flogging the messenger. Much appreciated. The lack of jumping to conclusions about my intent on writing about temple garments is very Christlike.

    The image of temple garments, this one in particular, but also others, are all over the internet, and in particular as a public domain, creative commons image at Wikipedia. I’m not sure what you might like to do about that. We Catholics have a constant battle to try to keep our sacred images from being profaned. It is unsettling. But, and, I would just say this, the faith rooted in us that comes from Greater cannot be uprooted nor despoiled by those who are less than greater.

    Understand that politics, criminality, whether the person is LDS or Catholic, Protestant or Buddhist, Muslim or Jewish or other faith… in my work as a journalist, politicians, those who flaunt the law are fair topics for investigation and comment. However, the kindly religious beliefs of others, I try to understand, even if my understandings of faith are different. Accordingly I have taken down the image of the temple garments from my article, out of deference. I did not know, and I am glad those of you who mentioned this, again, that you told me gently and without rancor, matters in this world that is so torn in so many ways.

    With kindest regards,

  10. Posted September 2, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Dr. Estés, for removing the photo of the garments. We very much appreciate it.

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  1. By “Magic Underwear,” Revisited on August 27, 2012 at 9:13 pm

    [...] on Mormon temple garments — so oddly (and irrelevantly) in the news this election cycle: http://www.templestudy.com/2012/08/27/catholic-explains-mormon-garment/  Filed Under: Uncategorized Leave a Comment « Divine Justice Leave a Comment Cancel [...]

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