Priesthood in Mormonism refers to the power to act in God’s name, not to the clergy or religious authorities themselves. God created the heavens and the earth by His priesthood power. By this power the universe is kept in perfect order. Through this power He accomplishes His work and glory, which is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Pearl of Great Price, Moses 1:39).
Our Heavenly Father shares His priesthood power with worthy male members of the Mormon Church. The priesthood enables them to act in God’s name for the salvation of the human family. Through it, they can be authorized to preach the gospel, administer the ordinances of salvation, and govern God’s kingdom on earth. Men are ordained to the priesthood through the laying on of hands by worthy priesthood holders. Priesthood holders are divided into bodies called quorums.
Restoration of the Priesthood
After the deaths of the Apostles whose deeds are recorded in the New Testament, the priesthood was taken from the earth and man lost the necessary authority to perform ordinances like baptism. Without authority from God, a baptism does not count.
In 1829 while he was translating the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith and his scribe, Oliver Cowdery, read about baptism. They felt a strong desire to know more and to be baptized. On May 15, 1829, they went out into the woods to pray. In a vision, John the Baptist appeared to them. He said that he was sent by God to restore the priesthood to earth. He laid his hands upon their heads and said:
Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness (D&C 13:1).
John the Baptist gave them the Aaronic Priesthood, which gave them the authority to baptize and administer the sacrament or Eucharist as many call it. A short time later, Peter, James, and John, the disciples of Jesus, appeared to them and gave them the higher priesthood authority called the Melchizedek Priesthood. This priesthood gave them the authority to give the gift of the Holy Ghost and ordain priests and elders in the Church.
When a man receives the priesthood, we say that the priesthood was conferred upon him. He is then ordained to a specific office in the priesthood like deacon, teacher, priest, elder, seventy, apostle, or so on. Depending upon which office he is ordained to, he will receive keys of the priesthood. These are not physical keys, but represent the power and right to perform certain ordinances and hold certain jobs within the Church. Only the President of the Church holds all the keys and has authority to use them. The Apostles also hold all the keys, but can only use them as a group.
Today, all worthy men over the age of twelve may be ordained to the priesthood and officiate in the various priesthood offices of the Church. Typically young men may be ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood no younger than twelve. Men are typically ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood when they turn nineteen or twenty as they prepare to serve a full-time mission.
Organization of the Priesthood
Each ward has quorums of priesthood holders. There is a deacons’ quorum, teachers’ quorum, priests’ quorum, elders’ quorum, and high priests’ group (more on that later). Most adult men will likely attend the elders’ quorum which is presided over by the elders’ quorum president and his counselors. Young men will attend either the deacons’, teachers’ or priests’ quorum depending on their age. Older men typically attend the high priests’ group. This is called a group, because there is actually only one high priests’ quorum in each stake and each ward has only a group of them. Each quorum has a president and counselors.
Every office in the priesthood has different duties. The deacons’, teachers’, and priests’ quorums all hold the Aaronic Priesthood and they are in charge of ordinances like the sacrament and baptism. They also help as ushers and perform other duties for the bishop. The Melchizedek Priesthood oversees spiritual things and they are in charge of visiting each member’s home, presiding at meetings, and doing temple ordinances.