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Priests

by W. Ladd Hollist

Priest is the highest office of the Aaronic Priesthood to which young male members of the Church may be ordained. To receive this office the candidate must be sixteen or older; most priests are between the ages of sixteen and nineteen.

Priests in the restored Church are empowered to "preach, teach, [and] expound" the doctrines and the covenants of the Church and to "visit the house of each member, and exhort them to pray…and attend to all family duties" (D&C 20:46-47). Priests fulfill these duties in Church meetings and in visits to members as home teachers. They also have authority to baptize, to administer the Sacrament, to ordain other priests, teachers, and deacons under the direction of their bishop, to preside at meetings when no elder is present, and to perform all duties of deacons and teachers.

Historically the term "priest" has been used to describe a variety of offices and functions. From the time of aaron until the ministry of John the Baptist, priests in the Aaronic order taught the Law of Moses, offered sacrifices, officiated or performed in numerous temple functions and priesthood ordinances, and thereby mediated between the people and God. Only the lineal descendants of Aaron could be priests. Christ's sacrifice and Atonement fulfilled the "law of carnal commandments," thereby ending for Christians the priests' role as officiators in Mosaic ordinances.

In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is named the great "high priest" and as such is seen as the everlasting mediator by whom all men may come unto God (Heb. 5:1-10; 9:24-26). For Latter-day Saints, high priest is an office in the Melchizedek Priesthood. While most English-speaking Christian traditions use the word priest to refer both to the ancient Levitical roles and to the presbyters (elders) of the early Christian churches who had responsibilities to preside over and instruct congregations, the two offices are separated in the LDS Church in that priests are of the Aaronic Priesthood and perform basic ordinances and otherwise assist the elders and high priests of the Melchizedek Priesthood.

Because there were no descendants of Aaron among the Nephites or Lamanites, priests in the Book of Mormon held the Melchizedek Priesthood and thus engaged both in the sacrificial functions and in broader presiding and teaching functions (Alma 18:24; 45:22).

Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery received the Aaronic Priesthood from John the Baptist on May 15, 1829 (see D&C 13; see Aaronic Priesthood: Restoration of). They subsequently ordained the first priests in this dispensation on June 9, 1830.

Today, priests in each ward are organized into quorums of forty-eight or fewer members. The ward bishop presides over this quorum, with two priests called to assist him, and another as secretary. An adult adviser is also assigned by the bishopric to teach and assist quorum members. As in all of the offices of the Aaronic Priesthood, members of this priesthood quorum receive instruction to prepare them for ordination as elders in the Melchizedek Priesthood and for missionary service. Each priest is expected to emulate the example of Jesus Christ.

In addition to performing their priesthood duties, priests participate together in a variety of educational, recreational, and social activities (see Young Men). For example, the priests in a ward in the United States participate as a group in the Explorer program of the Boy Scouts of America (see Scouting). In social and service activities they often join with the Laurels, who are sixteen- to eighteen-year-old members of the young women organization of the Church.

(See Basic Beliefs home page; Church Organization and Priesthood Authority home page; Priesthood Organization home page; Aaronic Priesthood home page)

Bibliography

Abba, R. "Priests and Levites." In The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 3, pp. 876-89. Nashville, Tenn., 1962.

Palmer, Lee A. The Aaronic Priesthood Through the Centuries. Salt Lake City, 1964.

Shepherd, M. H., Jr. "Priests in the New Testament." In The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 3, pp. 889-91. Nashville, Tenn., 1962.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 3, Priests

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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