The news was accompanied by videos from top church officials encouraging members to take the pandemic seriously while also tempering expectations for the new temple experience, noting that temple worship itself is a privilege.
What will Phase 3 look like?
The Nuku'alofa Tonga Temple, Apia Samoa Temple, Brisbane Australia Temple and Taipei Taiwan Temple could enter the new phase as soon as Dec. 21, officials from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said.
After closing all 168 operating temples worldwide in March, the church first began a phased reopening in May. Now, most temples have been opened to Phase 1, with several more in Phase 2.
In Phase 1, marriage ceremonies are allowed by appointment, and all other living ordinances are allowed in Phase 2. Under Phase 3, the church will allow everything in the first two phases and will also allow by-proxy temple work for the dead to resume.
Faithful Latter-day Saints perform ordinances, like baptisms, on behalf of deceased individuals, with the belief this practice is essential to their salvation. Once the ordinance is performed, members believe the dead individual can then choose to accept or reject it; no one will be baptized or sealed against their will, according to church doctrine.
In a prerecorded video, Elder Gary E. Stevenson, of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said the third phase will feel both familiar and different because of COVID-19 changes.
Attendance will be limited to appointment-only, in order to comply with COVID-19 public health guidelines. The church has rolled out a new online scheduler for members to make temple reservations. The feature is available only to those living within districts of temples opened to Phase 3.
Appointments can also be made via email or phone call to a member's local temple. Those wishing to attend the temple will need to verify they have not experienced COVID-19 symptoms or been exposed to the virus. Upon arrival, a temple worker will check the individual's temperature and ensure they can wear a mask for the duration of the visit.
Anyone experiencing symptoms, or someone who is unable or unwilling to wear a mask, will be "invited to reschedule your appointment and return at a later time."
Temples will also undergo regular cleaning and hand sanitizing stations will be set up throughout the temple.
The number of patrons and temple workers will also be limited in order to safely accommodate everyone.
"We have carefully and prayerfully adjusted temple procedures to enhance learning and to keep our temple patrons and workers safe," Elder Stevenson said in the video.
In the baptism font, all participants will wear a face covering, except the individual being baptized. Faithful members believe in baptism by immersion, meaning the person must fully go underwater.
Temple workers may request the patron bring a member of their household to officiate the ordinances, if possible. Groups allowed in the baptistry can not exceed 16 people, according to church officials.
Members are encouraged to bring their own white and ceremonial clothing, if possible. Family name cards will also no longer be printed for temple patrons; they must instead be printed beforehand.
For endowment sessions, fewer seats will be used to accommodate social distancing guidelines. Members of the same household can be seated together.
Temple attendance in a member's local temple might be limited to try and allow an adequate opportunity to those wanting to participate in temple ordinances, Elder Stevenson explained.
Temple housing and food services will not be available and large groups from wards and stakes may not be accommodated, Elder Stevenson added.
"The temple is the house of the Lord, where holy ordinances are performed and sacred, meaningful worship takes place," Elder Stevenson said. "As you faithfully adhere with happy, cheerful hearts to (these adjustments), you will be blessed, uplifted and strengthened."
COVID-19 in each area
Nuku'alofa Tonga Temple
According to the World Health Organization, Tonga has yet to report a case of COVID-19. With no COVID-19 cases, transmission risk is low according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Apia Samoa Temple
After going several months with zero cases, Samoa reported its first COVID-19 case at the end of last month and has since reported another, according to WHO. With two total cases reported, COVID-19 transmission risk is marked low by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Brisbane Australia Temple
There is a low level of COVID-19 transmission in Australia, according to the CDC. The entire country has reported almost 28,000 COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic with a total of 908 deaths, according to the country's department of health. Its daily new case totals remain low with just seven reported in the last 24 hours as of Monday.
Queensland, where the city of Brisbane is located, has reported a total of 1,215 cases and six deaths since the start of the pandemic.
For comparison, Utah has reported a total of 215,407 COVID-19 cases and 939 deaths as of Monday. Utah's population of about 3.2 million is swamped by Australia's roughly 25 million.
Taipei Taiwan Temple
Taiwan has reported a total of 716 COVID-19 cases with seven total deaths, according to Taiwan's Central Epidemic Command Center. COVID-19 spread is low in the country, according to the CDC.
The Beehive State is home to 17 temples, with plans for several more to be built soon. All operating temples in the state have transitioned to Phase 2. COVID-19 transmission in Utah is high as case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise. The church has not yet released plans to transition any of Utah's temple to Phase 3.
Elder Dale G. Renlund: Our Brother's Keeper
In a prerecorded video, Elder Dale G. Renlund of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, talked about the seriousness of the pandemic and the virus itself, saying the health effects aren't yet fully understood.
"As individuals, as families and as a church, we will be judged by how we treat the vulnerable and disadvantaged in our societies," Elder Renlund tells viewers. "As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads around the world, it wreaks havoc among those who are already disadvantaged.
"The Savior taught that the second great commandment after loving God was 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.' As it relates to this pandemic, especially in temples, that means social distancing, wearing a mask, and not gathering in large groups. These steps demonstrate our love for others and provide us a measure of protection."
Elder Renlund and his wife, Sister Ruth L. Renlund, recently tested positive for COVID-19 and are experiencing mild symptoms, with Sister Renlund being completely asymptomatic.
Response to the coronavirus pandemic has been widely politicized and contentious in many areas, but the church's response need not be, Elder Renlund noted in the video.
"Wearing a face covering is a sign of Christlike love for our brothers and sisters," he tells viewers in the video. "The church has taken the pandemic seriously from the beginning; we closed all temples. Now, we're opening them cautiously."
As part of the church's reopening plan, a total of four phases were created. Monday's announcement signals the first time a temple has been ready to move to the third phase and completely reopening temples will likely be a long process, Elder Renlund said.
As more temples are ready to enter new phases of reopening, church leaders will first ensure it is safe to do so and temple work meets criteria from local health guidelines.
Elder David A. Bednar: Returning to the Temple
In a prerecorded video, Elder David A. Bednar, of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoke about the importance of the temple and encourages members to participate in temple ordinances.
"As we become anxiously engaged in this sacred work, we are obeying the commandments to love and serve God and our neighbors," he said. "And such selfless service helps us truly to 'Hear Him!' and come unto the Savior."
While attending the temple might require sacrifice, Elder Bednar assures members it is worth it.
Elder Bednar also invited every member of the church, including eligible youth, to obtain and hold a current temple recommend — even if temple attendance is currently not allowed due to COVID-19 restrictions.