As if answering a summons for comfort, accepting balm for wounded hearts, some 10,000 people streamed onto Temple Square Friday, Sept. 14, responding to an invitation from the First Presidency to all who desired to attend one of two identical memorial services, the first at 10 a.m., the other at noon. The services were held in response to U.S. President George W. Bush’s call for a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance.
The services, carried by the Church’s satellite system, were among thousands conducted throughout the United States to mark the tragedy of those who died or were injured Sept. 11 as terrorists hijacked four planes and crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City; the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.; and a field in Pennsylvania.
In Salt Lake City, people left their places of work, homes, classrooms, stores and shops. Singly or with families and friends, colleagues and strangers, they filled the Tabernacle to overflowing.
At first glance, the scene looked much like general conferences in years past as men, women, children — the young, the old and those in between — filled the venerated building’s time-worn pews. But there was no air of joyful anticipation. A somber mood hung in the air. Sorrow, it seemed, had burrowed into every soul; indeed, into every living thing on Temple Square.
Battles for composure were fought and lost. Tears flowed. Heads bowed not only in prayer but also grief.
Members of the Quorum of the Twelve, Quorums of the Seventy and general auxiliary officers had taken their places on the stand. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir filled the choir loft, the women dressed in black skirts and blouses, the men in black suits with burgundy bow ties. The dominant images were two huge American flags on staffs extending from the casework of the Tabernacle organ’s pipes. A memorial wreath, accented with ribbons of red, white and blue, hung between the flags.
Accompanied by President Thomas S. Monson and President James E. Faust, first and second counselors, respectively, in the First Presidency, President Gordon B. Hinckley walked onto the rostrum. His presence seemed to bring an instant sense of calm, a visible reminder that the Lord is ever mindful of His children and will not leave them without direction or alone in their hour of sorrow, their time of grief, their moment of distress.
The service began with the tolling of the Nauvoo Bell. For three minutes, the bell struck — 43 times in total. Each toll of the bell, located a few yards from the southwest side of the Tabernacle, resonated a nation’s sorrow, a people’s hope.
When the tolling ceased, President Monson offered the invocation, beseeching the peace promised by Jesus Christ, “even the peace which passeth understanding,” upon those whose loved ones perished and those injured. He acknowledged that Heavenly Father’s “mighty hand has ever guided this nation through perilous times,” and pleaded for heavenly help, asking that God would “stand as a protective shield against those who would attempt to destroy this precious land.”
After the invocation, President Hinckley stepped to the pulpit, introduced himself and welcomed those who had come to the Tabernacle and the thousands gathered in Church halls and other facilities across the nation to watch the proceedings via satellite.
“Our hearts are broken, our spirits subdued,” he began. “We bow before the Almighty in reverence and reach out to those who have lost their lives, to their families, and to those who were wounded in the attacks made against our beloved nation.”
President Hinckley’s address — expressing sorrow and consolation— was delivered powerfully, yet tenderly. He spoke of the Son of God who gave His life that all might have eternal life and said that it is “to Him that we look on this dark and somber occasion.”
President Boyd K. Packer, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve, read the 23rd Psalm, David’s acclamation that the Lord is his shepherd.
President Faust offered a special memorial prayer, asking that “this be a time of redefining our divine purposes as a people and a nation,” and asked for help “in these calamitous times to have hope, stand united, and go forward with faith and confidence to meet every challenge we face.”
Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve read Job 19:25-26, and John 11:25-26, biblical passages that testify of the Redeemer and life after death.
Through the medium of music, the Tabernacle Choir and organists brought a degree of peace and comfort as they sang “Blessed Are They That Mourn,” from the Brahms “Requiem” drawn from the fifth chapter of Matthew. Other hymns that helped soothe troubled hearts and minds were: “Where Can I Turn for Peace?” “How Great the Wisdom and the Love,” “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” and “God So Loved the World.” Patriotic selections were “God Bless America” and “America the Beautiful,” both of which brought members of the congregation spontaneously to their feet to join in singing.
President Hinckley closed the service, offering the benediction. In the prayer, he expressed love for “this our native land,” and asked Heavenly Father to “preserve it, strengthen it that it may be forever ‘the home of the brave and the land of the free.’ “
At the conclusion of the service, an air of reverence lingered in the Tabernacle. Most seemed reluctant to even move, much less leave. After a few moments’ pause, President Hinckley, President Monson, President Faust and other Church leaders stood. Only then did members of the congregation rise. They waited quietly as the Brethren left the rostrum.
The time to leave had come. With seeming reluctance, people filed from the Tabernacle that, for the brief span of about an hour, had sheltered them as in a dome of peace and tranquility. They stepped back onto the streets, returned to their daily activities, entering again a world that seemed to have shifted on its axis and careened out of control. But, certainly, they left with more assurance and hope, peace and comfort.
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