Author: Cameron, J. Elliot
Priesthood blessings are pronounced in connection with most of the essential ordinances of the gospel: blessing and naming children; confirmation; ordination to the priesthood; setting apart; and other occasions. In addition, any person may request a blessing at the hands of a worthy Melchizedek Priesthood bearer at any time. The person who does so is usually seeking inspired counsel and asking for official prayer and blessing under the hands of one who is authorized and discerning.
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the priesthood is not a centralized elite. Ideally, the priesthood is held by every husband and father. The home is viewed as his constant and most important ministry, regardless of the offices he may hold in the Church. One who seeks a priesthood blessing is encouraged to approach father or brother, bishop or home teachers rather than prominent Church authorities. In principle and in practice, this recognizes the diversity of spiritual gifts, the individual heritage of faith, and the shared sanctity of priesthood service.
Priesthood blessings are usually conferred by laying on of hands, which is seen as the New Testament pattern. Exceptions are found in administering the Sacrament and in apostolic blessings given to a congregation (see HC 2:120; 5:473).
All priesthood blessings are given in the name of Jesus Christ and by authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood (so named to avoid the too frequent repetition of its sacred title [D&C 107:4]). The blessing process may vary according to circumstance and individual need: e.g., the extent of preparation, the use of consecrated oil, involvement of other persons as participants or witnesses, recording or writing the blessing (often the counsel is to "write it in your heart"), and whether and when further blessings may be appropriate. Blessings given by a father to his wife are known as husband's blessings, to his children as father's blessings; those given by a patriarch, as patriarchal blessings; when related to a personal crisis or need, as comfort blessings; those given in response to illness or injury, as administration to the sick.
Priesthood blessings are to be "spoken with care, and by constraint of the Spirit" (D&C 63:64). To refuse to give a blessing when one is called or to attempt to give a blessing when one is unworthy is to "trifle with [sacred] things" (D&C 8:10).
In giving blessings, priesthood bearers are constantly admonished to seek the Spirit. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, "The Holy Ghost is God's messenger to administer in all those priesthoods" (TPJS, p. 323). The officiator strives for the promptings and impressions of the Holy Ghost, and these may not be what he anticipated or planned. By fasting and prayer, by experience in the things of God, and by patience, he learns to distinguish authentic inspiration from subjective factors that distort or mislead. He strives during the blessing to use appropriate language to express the ideas that impress his mind by the Spirit. The process is often strenuous: Jesus felt virtue go out of him at the touch of the woman of faith (Mark 5:25-34). Similarly, one who seeks to serve in blessing others "is liable to become weakened" (TPJS, p. 281).
Recipients are charged to unite their faith in God and Christ with the faith of others present, and to bring contrite and teachable hearts. Concentration and communion are required for both receiving and understanding blessings. As blessings are pronounced, the recipients are to take to heart the counsel offered, and adjust their lives accordingly. In cases where the recipients are unconscious, infirm, or out of touch, the main burden of faith is upon the person pronouncing the blessing, and other concerned persons present.
The efficacy of priesthood blessings is not presumed to be automatic or formulaic, or simply a matter of saying the right words. Priesthood authority does not entitle one to act independently of God, but rather bestows the right to seek the mind and will of God and then to transmit it through the priesthood blessing. Neither can a blessing be given with intent to infringe on the recipient's own agency but "only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned" (D&C 121:41). These are called "the principles of righteousness" (D&C 121:36). Unless they are complied with, the blessing "is of no use, but withdraws" (TPJS, p. 148).
Latter-day Saints cherish priesthood blessings as a vital source of grace in facing the crossroads, crises, setbacks, anxieties, and decisions of life. Those who give and receive blessings at the hands of the priesthood in this spirit are lifted up and sustained, and healed in mind, body, and spirit.
"Performing Priesthood Blessings and Ordinances." Melchizedek Priesthood Personal Study Guide, 1988, pp. 151-55.
J. ELLIOT CAMERON