In Christ’s Church, those who have the proper priesthood authority put their hands on the head of the person receiving the ordinance or blessing. This act has always been used as a way to invoke the power of God. Genesis 48:14 states, “Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim’s head,” to give him a blessing. Peter and John gave the gift of the Holy Ghost in this same manner, “Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost” (see Acts 8:17).Following this same procedure, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or Mormon Church) perform priesthood ordinances by the laying on of hands, and it is a vital part of Mormon doctrine. The Articles of Faith, which explain some of the most basic tenets of Mormon belief, state,
“We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof” (Articles of Faith 4-5).
Some of these ordinances are confirmation, ordination, blessing the sick, setting members apart to serve in callings, and other priesthood blessings (such as father’s blessings and patriarchal blessings).
To have the authority to perform this act of “laying on of hands,” male members of the Church must receive the proper authority by having hands laid on their heads by a priesthood holder who has the proper authority. Proper priesthood authority has been passed down in the Church from the Apostles Peter, James, and John, who received their authority from Christ. These Apostles then visited Joseph Smith as resurrected messengers and ordained him to the priesthood. From Joseph Smith, the priesthood has been passed down in an unbroken line from Christ.
Having the authority of the priesthood is different than having the power to use that priesthood. Mormon doctrine teaches that to be able to use the power of the priesthood the person must be worthy of it. H. Burke Peterson, a leader in the Church said, “All of us who hold the priesthood have the authority to act for the Lord, but the effectiveness of our authority—or if you please, the power that comes through that authority—depends on the pattern of our lives; it depends on our righteousness” (“Priesthood—Authority and Power,” Ensign, May 1976, 32).