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Structure and Authority

Catholic Doctrine

The Catechism defines the priesthood of Christ as the following: “The unique high priest, according to the Order of Melchizedek. Christ fulfilled everything that the priesthood of the Old Covenant prefigured. (cf. Heb 5:10, 6:20). He offered himself once and for all (Heb 10:14), in a perfect sacrifice upon the cross. His priesthood is made present in a special way in the Church through the ministerial priesthood, conferred through the Sacrament of Holy Orders” (Catechism glossary).

The priesthood is the power to act for Christ in his person, given to his Apostles and their successors. The priesthood was on earth before the coming of Christ. The priesthood of the Old Covenant was called the Aaronic Priesthood and was established to administer in the ordinances of the Old Testament and to prepare man for the priesthood and ministry of the New Covenant, the Melchizedek Priesthood. The Aaronic Priesthood lacked the power to bring about salvation and therefore was fulfilled in Christ Jesus in the Melchizedek priesthood as part of God’s New Covenant with man.

“Melchizedek” is the “king of Salem [who] brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God” (Gen. 14:18). Psalm 110:4 says “…Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.” This is echoed by Paul in his letter to the Hebrews when he refers to Christ as the “high priest after the order of Melchisedec” (Heb. 5:10).

Priests in the Catholic Church are ordained through the sacrament of Holy Orders, which is bestowed (or conferred) by the laying on of hands by a bishop, followed by a prayer in which God is petitioned to provide the graces of the Holy Spirit to the ordained. Holy Orders can only be conferred upon baptized men who have been recognized by Catholic authority as suitable for the ministry.

The priesthood of the Catholic Church is granted and practiced in three degrees: bishops, priests (or presbyters), and deacons. Each of the three degrees has distinct responsibilities and authority within the ministry, with only bishops and priests holding the priesthood:

BISHOPS: “The bishop receives the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders, which integrates him into the Episcopal college and makes him the visible head of the particular Church entrusted to him. As successors of the apostles and members of the college, the bishops share in the apostolic responsibility and mission of the whole Church under the authority of the Pope, successor of St. Peter” (Catechism 1594).

PRIESTS (or presbyters): “Priests are united with the bishops in sacerdotal dignity and at the same time depend on them in the exercise of their pastoral functions; they are called to be the bishops' prudent co-workers. They form around their bishop the presbyterium which bears responsibility with him for the particular Church. They receive from the bishop the charge of a parish community or a determinate ecclesial office” (Catechism 1595).

DEACONS: “Deacons are ministers ordained for tasks of service of the Church; they do not receive the ministerial priesthood, but ordination confers on them important functions in the ministry of the word, divine worship, pastoral governance, and the service of charity, tasks which they must carry out under the pastoral authority of their bishop” (Catechism 1596).

Although only a small percentage of Catholic men hold the priesthood, all baptized and faithful members of the Catholic Church are able to share in the priesthood through the “common priesthood of the faithful” (Catechism 1591). The first form of the priesthood—the ministerial priesthood—is granted only to men who have completed Holy Orders and been given the sacred duty to dedicate their lives to service within the Catholic Church. The second form, the common priesthood of the faithful, does not involve the taking of vows or the dedication of one’s life to service within the Church. However, all who share in the “common priesthood of the faithful” are able to minister in a spiritual sense through the Holy Spirit to the Catholic community.

The academic requirements to become a Catholic priest generally include an undergraduate degree, including courses in philosophy and psychology, followed by an additional four years minimum of master’s related courses on ministry, divine studies, and administration.

See Catechism 935, 1541, 1544, 1591 to 1598, 1600, and glossary.

Latter-day Saint Doctrine

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints defines the priesthood as “the power and authority of God” (Gospel Principles, 81). It was by the power of the priesthood that the heavens and earth were created and the universe is maintained in its perfect order. Through the power of the priesthood, the Lord achieves his ultimate mission “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).

There was a priesthood of God before, during, and after the ministry of Jesus Christ. When Christ was upon the earth, he ordained Apostles to lead his Church and “gave them the power and authority of the priesthood to act in his name” (Mark 3:13-15; John 15:16; Gospel Principles 81).
Priesthood authority is required to perform the ordinances such as baptism, confirmation, the blessing and passing of the sacrament, administering to the sick, performing special blessings, and the administration of temple ordinances.

The priesthood is divided into the Aaronic Priesthood (the lesser priesthood) and the Melchizedek Priesthood (the greater priesthood). The Aaronic Priesthood is sometimes referred to as the “preparatory priesthood.”

Aaronic Priesthood

The Aaronic Priesthood originated in the time of Moses and was conferred upon Aaron and his sons to administer in the ecclesiastical duties of God (Num. 18:1). Today, Aaronic Priesthood holders administer the outward ordinances of repentance and baptism (D&C 107:13–14, D&C 107:20).
The offices within the Aaronic Priesthood today include deacon, teacher, priest, and bishop. Within a ward, the Aaronic Priesthood is organized into a deacon’s quorum, a teacher’s quorum, and a priest quorum.

DEACON: Deacons perform duties such as passing the sacrament, ushering during Sunday services or special occasions, helping to maintain and clean Church buildings and grounds, assisting priesthood leaders, and fulfilling special Church assignments such as the collection of fast offerings.

TEACHER: In addition to the duties of a deacon, teachers take an active role in helping Church members live the commandments, including home teaching. Teachers are also tasked with the preparation of the bread and water for the sacrament.

PRIEST: In addition to the duties of a deacon and teacher, priests may baptize members, bless the bread and water of the sacrament, and actively preach the gospel. A priest, in preparation for the Melchizedek Priesthood, may ordain deacons, teachers, and other priests. If there are no Melchizedek Priesthood holders available, a priest may officiate at Church meetings.

BISHOP: A bishop holds the Melchizedek Priesthood in the office of a high priest and presides over the Aaronic Priesthood within the ward he is assigned—specifically as the president of the priest’s quorum. The bishop is the leader and presides over the entire ward and is responsible for the spiritual well-being of every individual who lives within the geographic boundaries of his ward—regardless of their religious affiliation. Bishops are given the gift of discernment in order to act in their stewardship as the Common Judge in Israel.

Melchizedek Priesthood

Melchizedek Priesthood holders are given the power and authority to lead the spiritual work of the church, including the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the ordinances within temples. The President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the presiding high priest over the world-wide Melchizedek Priesthood.

The offices within the Melchizedek Priesthood include elder, high priest, patriarch, seventy, and Apostle. Within a ward, the Melchizedek Priesthood is organized into an elders quorum and a high priest group. The high priest group is part of a stake-wide high priest quorum presided over by the stake president.

ELDER: Each Melchizedek Priesthood holder can be referred to as an elder, and all elders are called to “teach, expound, exhort, baptize, and watch over the Church” (Gospel Principles, 90). Elders can lead or participate in the ordinance of confirmation in which the gift of the Holy Ghost is bestowed by laying on of hands. Elders can administer to the sick, bless children of record, and preside at Church meetings as appropriate in the absence of a high priest.

HIGH PRIEST: A high priest is a Melchizedek Priesthood holder who is put in charge of the spiritual affairs of a particular entity or geographic area. Members of bishoprics, stake presidencies, mission presidencies, high councilors, and other selected leaders of the church must be ordained high priests. A high priest retains all of the spiritual privileges of an elder.

PATRIARCH: A patriarch is called to give special blessings to the Church. “patriarchal blessings” provide guidance and insight to those who receive them.

SEVENTY: Seventies are General Authorities of the Church who are called as “special witnesses” of Jesus Christ to the entire world and help administer in the affairs of the Church. At the time of this writing there are eight quorums of seventies that currently serve within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

APOSTLE: Like the seventies, Apostles are also special witnesses of Jesus Christ to the world and administer in the affairs of the Church as prophets, seers, and revelators. There are Twelve Apostles and together they form the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; however, members of the first presidency may also be set apart as members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Apostles are given all of the keys of the kingdom of God on earth, but only the President of the Church “actively exercises all of the keys…the others act under his direction” (Gospel Principles, 91).

The priesthood is available to all worthy male members of the Church. It is granted “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 1:5).

There are no academic or professional requirements to hold the priesthood, nor are there any such requirements to hold any leadership position within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, readiness for any leadership calling takes into account reliable evidence of such readiness, and this evidence can include educational and professional achievements.
See Gospel Principles, 81 to 91 and 238.

See chapter 9 in Catholic Roots, Mormon Harvest for a more comprehensive explanation and commentary on priesthood structure and authority.

Priesthood Power – Healings and Blessings

Catholic Doctrine

Anointing of the sick is one of the Seven Sacraments, sometimes called the “sacrament of the dying.” It is administered to a baptized individual who is in danger of death. The Church has designated that the most appropriate time for an individual to receive this sacrament is when the person is near death, even if the person had previously received an anointing and the sickness has merely become worse.

The purpose of the anointing is to provide “special grace of healing and comfort to the Christian who is suffering the infirmities of serious illness or old age, and the forgiving of the person’s sins” (Catechism 1528).

The anointing of the sick can take place anywhere (home, hospital, battlefield, etc.) and should only be performed by a bishop or priest. The ordinance calls for the priest or bishop to lay hands upon the inflicted, to pray over them, and then to anoint the individual with oil that has been blessed by the bishop.

In the gravest of circumstances, under the inspiration of the authorized Catholic minister, there are conditional provisions for the anointing of the sick to be given to Christians who are not in full standing with the Catholic Church, if it is the person’s desire to be anointed.

Catholic doctrine calls for the Church to rely upon the power of the Holy Spirit to continue the work of Jesus Christ, the great physician, in healing the members of his Church. The sacraments of Penance and the Anointing of the Sick have the express purpose of healing the faithful Christian by the power of priesthood.

There is no Catholic doctrine authorizing blessing and anointing those who are not gravely ill or injured.

See Catechism 1401, 1421, 1517, 1519, 1527 to 1530, and glossary.

Latter-day Saint Doctrine

Latter-day Saint doctrine on healing holds the premise that healing comes as a result of faith. Therefore, administering to the sick is always preceded by a request for the blessing by the person in need or an individual close to that person (parent, sibling, or other). In doing so the healing comes as an answer to exercised faith (Matt. 8:5-15).

As the power of God on earth, the priesthood has the authority and power to heal and bless the faithful. While those who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood are given the power to anoint the sick and perform blessings, there are some priesthood holders who are given the gift of healing the sick, a gift of the spirit. In all cases, holders of the priesthood are admonished to use their priesthood “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned” (D&C 121:41).

The power to bless can come in the form of anointing the sick (in whatever state they may be) or to provide a blessing of guidance and comfort to an individual. The individual need not be gravely ill, but they must have faith that the Lord Jesus Christ (or a parent/individual acting on faith in their behalf), acting through the priesthood, will heal them of their infirmity. Among the ordinances that include blessings that can take place through the priesthood are blessings of children; of comfort and/or guidance; and of healing. There are blessings that take place during the ordinance of confirmation and those that take place when individuals are set apart in callings. There are also patriarchal blessings that provide guidance and encouragement, blessings of homes, and dedication of graves.

Priesthood blessings for healing typically begin with one priesthood holder anointing the head of the afflicted with consecrated oil. (Oil is consecrated by Melchizedek Priesthood holders in a separate ordinance.) After the anointing, the priesthood holder places his hands on the head of the afflicted, calls the person by his or her full name, states the authority of the priesthood, recites a simple prayer regarding the anointing, and closes in the name of Jesus Christ. This is all done audibly, not in silence.
A second Melchizedek Priesthood holder then places his hands with those of the first on the person’s head and seals the anointing: He pronounces a blessing as dictated by the Holy Ghost, and then closes in the name of Jesus Christ. This too is done audibly. In an emergency, a single Melchizedek Priesthood holder can both anoint and seal.

A blessing of comfort is performed by a Melchizedek Priesthood holder laying his hands upon the head of the desiring individual, calling the person by his or her full name, stating the authority of the priesthood, providing a blessing as dictated by the Holy Ghost, and then closing in the name of Jesus Christ.

A priesthood holder should be in a state of worthiness when performing a blessing, performing each blessing in a reverent and dignified manner, realizing at all times that he is acting on behalf of the Savior Jesus Christ. In some cases a group of Melchizedek priesthood holders may perform the blessing. This is typically done with each priesthood holder having his left hand on the head of the individual being blessed and his right hand on the shoulder of the priesthood holder next to him, all forming a circle around the individual.

See Gospel Principles, 83 and 147; Mormon Doctrine, 22 and 345; and “Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood”, Part B, Priesthood and Church Government, 5: Performing Priesthood Ordinances, 41.

See chapter 9 in Catholic Roots, Mormon Harvest for a more comprehensive explanation and commentary on priesthood power

Priesthood Marriage and Celibacy

Catholic Doctrine

The Catholic doctrine on celibacy in the priesthood is historical, generally well known, and clearly defined: “In the Latin Church the sacrament of Holy Orders for the presbyterate is normally conferred only on candidates who are ready to embrace celibacy freely and who publicly manifest their intention of staying celibate for the love of God's kingdom and the service of men” (Catechism 1599).

Celibacy is defined in the Catechism as “the state or condition of those who have chosen to remain unmarried for the sake of the kingdom of heaven in order to give themselves entirely to God and to the service of his people” (Catechism glossary). Curiously, the definition of celibacy refers to marriage only, not to sex. Celibacy is highly celebrated in the Catholic Church as a means of proclaiming the “Reign of God” and consecrating one’s self to God and to the Church.
See Catechism 1579, 1599, and glossary.

Latter-day Saint Doctrine

Both married and unmarried men are permitted to hold the priesthood in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Like all members of the Church, priesthood holders must live the law of chastity, which states: “We are to have sexual relations only with our spouse to whom we are legally married. No one, male or female, is to have sexual relations before marriage. After marriage, sexual relations are permitted only with a spouse” (Gospel Principles, 249).

See chapter 9 in Catholic Roots, Mormon Harvest for a more comprehensive explanation and commentary on priesthood marriage and celibacy.

Paid Ministry

Catholic Doctrine

We were unable to locate an official statement or doctrine concerning monetary compensation given to priests and others who minister in the Catholic Church. A passage from the Catechism of the Catholic Church suggests that one should not pursue wages in doing good (perhaps referring to the ministry), implying that wages should not be the reason that one would enter into the ministry: “The practice of the moral life animated by charity gives to the Christian the spiritual freedom of the children of God. He no longer stands before God as a slave, in servile fear, or as a mercenary looking for wages, but as a son responding to the love of him who "first loved us": If we turn away from evil out of fear of punishment, we are in the position of slaves. If we pursue the enticement of wages, . . . we resemble mercenaries. Finally if we obey for the sake of the good itself and out of love for him who commands . . . we are in the position of children” (Catechism 1828).

The Catholic priesthood is listed as a career in the 1998-99 Occupational Handbook, citing “…the shortage of Roman Catholic priests is expected to continue, resulting in a very favorable job outlook through the year 2006.” According to William P. Daly, Director of Research for the National Association of Church Personnel Administrators (NACPA), the median salary received by priests increased from $12,222 in 1966 to $15,483 in 1999 to $16,885 for 2001/02. During the same time period priests' median total taxable income and support likewise increased from $26,569 to $33,059. Priests can also be paid stipends for such services as marriages and other ceremonies.

In 1992 the average salary for full time lay ministers (not priests or nuns) was $13,000 to $20,000 per year, increasing by 15-37 percent between 1992 and 1997.

Latter-day Saint Doctrine

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, like the Catholic Church, has no specific doctrine or official statement on wages or salary of priesthood holders. However, it is well known that with the exception of selected worldwide Church leaders who are offered (and who often do not accept) a small stipend, the Church has an all volunteer unpaid lay ministry. This means that bishops, stake presidents, and other priesthood holders retain their professional careers and do not receive Church compensation of any kind to serve in their respective priesthood callings.

Elder Boyd K Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had this to say about this unpaid ministry: “In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints there is no paid ministry, no professional clergy, as is common in other churches. More significant even than this is that there is no laity, no lay membership as such; men are eligible to hold the priesthood and to carry on the ministry of the Church, and both men and women serve in many auxiliary capacities. This responsibility comes to men whether they are rich or poor, and with this responsibility also comes the authority. There are many who would deny, and others who would disregard it; nevertheless, the measure of that authority does not depend on whether men sustain that authority, but rather depends on whether God will recognize and honor that authority” (Boyd K. Packer, “Follow the Brethren,” Tambuli, Sept. 1979, 53).

Elder Derek A. Cuthbert of the Seventy said: “Over the years of my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have greatly appreciated the opportunities for service, for there is no paid ministry. Every worthy male member of the Church above the age of twelve may hold an office in the priesthood. Similarly, the girls and women of the Church receive many assignments to lead and teach and serve. Each family is visited monthly by priesthood home teachers, who care for their needs, and by visiting teachers from the women’s Relief Society, whose motto is ‘charity never faileth’” (Elder Derek A. Cuthbert, “What’s the Difference?” Ensign, Nov. 1985, 24).

See chapter 9 in Catholic Roots, Mormon Harvest for a more comprehensive explanation and commentary on a paid ministry.

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