"Learn of me ... and ye shall find rest unto your souls." - Matthew 11: 29

What is the Priesthood?

I received a very long, but well thought out set of questions from a reader. To summarize, they wanted to know what the priesthood is, how it works (is it “magic”), why women couldn’t receive it, and what its limits are. This post took some research, but I hope I answered all their questions. Please keep in mind that this is my view of the Doctrine, and policies drawn from that Doctrine by the Church. I do not speak for the Church. 

To the first question, the priesthood is a term used for two distinct things:

  1. the power of God
  2. the Office of the Priesthood

When we pray and that prayer is answered, that is the priesthood in action. Some things we do, as members and Priesthood holders, requires men to hold an Office of the Priesthood to run parts of the Church. Women use these same priesthood keys without holding an office. Why men require an office while women do not is unknown.

To answer the second question, we have to ask what “magic” is. In a sense, sure the priesthood could be called magic as there is no scientific explanation as to why it works. As a priesthood holder, I have used the power of God to heal the sick, comfort those in need of comfort, reveal God’s will to others, etc. and I have seen this done by others. There is no scientific reasoning for this. Thus some might call it “magic.”

To be more specific, magic and religion generally go hand-in-hand. With the exception of the temple rituals, most Latter-day Saint ordinances mirror those of many other Christian religions. Many religions baptize, have communion/sacrament, and other ordinances. These are the first part of the priesthood – using the power of God. There are two ways we may uses God’s power.

The first way we use God’s power is theurgy. Theurgy is when we attempt to better ourselves through God. It is an attempt to create a oneness between us and deity. Jesus prayed to the Father that we would be one, even as he and the Father are one (John 17: 21). This is theurgy.

The second way we use God’s power is thaumaturgy. Thaumatugy is also known as “wonder working.” These would be the miracles, such as healing the sick.

Below is a chart with the most common rituals preformed by priesthood holders and the type of “magic” used and the office of the priesthood required.

Priesthood Office Ritual Magic Type Scripture Notes
Aaronic/Levitical Deacon Pass the Sacrament None D&C 20:56-58, 84: 111 This is not an Aaronic Priesthood duty, they are merely assisting the Bishop
Aaronic/Levitical Teacher Prepare the Sacrament None D&C 20:56-58 This is not an Aaronic Priesthood duty, they are merely assisting the Priests
Aaronic/Levitical Priest Administer the Sacrament Theurgy D&C 20:46 Performed for the renewing of baptismal covenants
Aaronic/Levitical Priest Baptize Theurgy D&C 20:46 For the remisssion of sins
Aaronic/Levitical Priest Baptism Witnesses None D&C 6: 28, 128: 3 To ensure that the ritual is completed correctly
Aaronic/Levitical Priest Ordain others to the Aaronic/Levitical Priesthood Theurgy D&C 20:48 To gain the ability to hold an office in the priesthood both to help run the Church and to better one’s self and others through rituals and practices
Melchizedek Elder Naming and Blessing a Child Theurgy D&C 20: 70 To give membership In the kingdom and prepare children for learning the Word until the age of accountability
Melchizedek Elder Gift of the Holy Ghost Theurgy D&C 20: 41 To confirm mebership in the kingdom and evoking the presence of  the third member of the Godhead, binding Him to the new member
Melchizedek Elder Consecrating Oil Thaumaturgy Exodus 30: 25 Like attracts like – pure olive oil purifies for anointing and healing
Melchizedek Elder Anointing with Oil Thaumaturgy Exodus 30: 25 James 5: 14 Like attracts like – pure olive oil purifies for anointing and healing
 Melchizedek Sealing the Anointing Thaumaturgy James 5: 14 Like attracts like – pure olive oil purifies for anointing and healing
Melchizedek Elder Ordain others to the Melchizedek Priesthood Theurgy D&C 20: 39 To gain the ability to hold an office in the priesthood both to help run the Church and to better one’s self and others through rituals and practices
Melchizedek Elder Father’s Blessings/Blessings of Comfort/Counsel &  Patriarchal Blessings Theurgy 1 Timothy 4: 14 To gain guidance, counsel, wisdom, or comfort from the Holy Ghost through the hands of a priesthood holder
Melchizedek Elder Dedicating Graves Theurgy N/A To make the temporary resting place of the deceased a type of hollow
Melchizedek Elder Dedicating Homes/Church buildings Theurgy N/A To make the temporary resting place or house of worship for the living a type of hollow place that the Lord may enter
Melchizedek High Priest or Female Temple Ordinance Work and Prayer Circles Theurgy D&C 110: 7 A check list, the capstone of membership in the LDS Chruch and invition to membership into the Chruch of the Firstborn

It should be noted in regards to the last one, temple worker, there are parts where men and women use the same priesthood keys, as women may use the priesthood without holding any priesthood office, as they have the same keys but use them differently at this time.

As to women and the priesthood, we do not know the answers as to why women do not need to hold an Office of the Priesthood to help run the Church or why they are limited on which parts of the organization they may lead or which ordinances they may preform. There is no miracle that a woman may not preform. Women may walk on water, heal the sick, see the future, speak in tongues, and obtain any other spiritual gift. It is the woman’s choice that, for example, she is not doing more laying on of hands to heal the sick.

The Church teaches that a woman may lay hands upon the head of a sick child and ask the Lord to bless it, in the case when those holding the priesthood cannot be present. A man might under such conditions invite his wife to lay hands with him in blessing their sick child… A woman would have no authority to anoint or seal a blessing, and where elders can be called in, that would be the proper way to have an administration performed.” – Joseph Feilding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation Vol. 3 – Chapter 9 “Patriarchs, Blessings, and Administrations: Law of Patriarchal Lineage

It may very well be that women would do more if they used the priesthood they have access too. This statement is not to blame women for not having priesthood equality. The reality is simply that we do not know and that both sexes should do more to honor and use their priesthood powers, as using these gifts not only benefit us temporally, but spiritually getting us closer to God.

The last question is on limits. What are the limits of the priesthood? Our faith. We cannot walk further than were are able nor carry more than we can lift. Using the priesthood – the power of God – is like using a muscle. The more we exercise our faith, the more it grows and the greater it becomes.


The Office of the Priesthood is needed for men to hold any church callings, and some callings require a specific Office of the Priesthood. Women are not required to hold any Office of the Priesthood to be called to positions in the Church, but lacking an office bars them from holding any position requiring a priesthood office. At this time, all saving ordinances require an Office of the Priesthood to be preformed, with the exception of certain temple ordinances where women hold the same priesthood keys without holding an Office of the Priesthood. All of the saving ordinances exist to help us get closer to our Heavenly Parents through the Holy Spirit and Christ, and are thus theurgerical in nature. All gifts of the spirit use the priesthood and my be used by men and women alike. All miracles may be considered thaumatrgy, require the priesthood and may be preformed by men or women based of their faith and grace of God. God has no limits, thus neither does the priesthood.

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