Relief Society Lesson 15: The Holy Priesthood

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley

“I love the priesthood of this Church. It is a vital, living thing. It is the very heart and strength of this work. It is the power and authority by which God work on the earth.” Gordon B Hinckley

I like this quote because the image of priesthood being “living” and a “heart” make it feel malleable, fluid, and hopeful.

A note about Language

If we seek to discuss Priesthood and involve women – we, as Latter-day Saints, have a difficult time – because there is simply no good language. The word priesthood itself is masculine. If we use Priestess-hood we may conjure images of wiccans dancing in a moon-lit forest.

f we use “the priesthood” as a synonym for “the men”, we diminish the meaning of priesthood as the power of God.

If we use the term “priesthood-holder” – we leave women out of the conversation.

There is no easy answer for this situation, but I would suggest being careful language as you teach a group of women about Priesthood.


1 – Keys, Authority, and Power

The difference between keys, authority, and power with Priesthood is confusing – and we get it wrong all the time in our discussions.

The best source for clear definitions (in my opinion) is Chapter 6 (“Both Women and Men have access to God’s Highest Spiritual Blessings”) of Sheri Dew’s book “Women and the Priesthood”. Elder Oaks’ talk “The Keys and Authority of the Priesthood” is another source that sheds some light.

I like to think of it this way:

  • Keys: Largely administrative; allowing for order in ordinance work and in quorum hierarchy. Not all men who are ordained have keys. The men and boys who hold keys in a ward are: Deacon Quorum President, Teachers Quorum President, and the Bishop. The Stake President holds the keys to the Melchizedek Priesthood.
  • Authority: This gets a little murky. It seems that all men who are ordained to the Priesthood have Priesthood authority. And women who are set apart of callings act with Priesthood authority.
  • Power: This is accessible to all – through faith. And can be called on by both men and women. The Power of the Priesthood blesses both men and women.

Explanations from the lesson:

“God has restored the priesthood and the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

“Priesthood power and authority [were] given to men anciently. The lesser authority was given to the sons of Aaron to administer in things temporal as well as in some sacred ecclesiastical ordinances. The higher priesthood was given by the Lord Himself to His Apostles, in accordance with His declaration to Peter: “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19).

“It is veritably the power of the Almighty given to man to act in His name and in His stead. It is a delegation of divine authority, different from all other powers and authorities on the face of the earth. Small wonder that it was restored to man by resurrected beings who held it anciently, that there might be no question concerning its authority and validity. Without it there could be a church in name only, lacking authority to administer in the things of God. With it, nothing is impossible in carrying forward the work of the kingdom of God. It is divine in its nature. It is both temporal and eternal in its authority. It is the only power on the earth that reaches beyond the veil of death.”


2 – Priesthood and Church Governance

The Priesthood is both a spiritual power and an administration structure. Each office of the Priesthood has specific duties, which are spelled out in D&C 107.

From the Lesson:

“The holy priesthood carries with it the authority to govern in the affairs of the kingdom of God on the earth. Under the revelations of the Lord, the Church is to be presided over by three presiding high priests. They are to be assisted by a council of Twelve Apostles, who in turn are to be assisted by … the Seventy. A Presiding Bishopric of three are responsible for temporal affairs under the direction of the Presidency. All of these are priesthood officers. That power divinely given is the authority by which they govern. It is so in the stakes and the wards with presidencies and bishoprics. It is so in the quorums. The auxiliary officers carry forth their work under direction and delegation from the priesthood. Without the priesthood there might be the form of a church, but not the true substance. This is the church of Jesus Christ, and it is governed by that authority which is “after the Order of the Son of God.” (D&C 107:3.)


3 – Blessings of Priesthood

“The blessings of the priesthood are to be enjoyed by all.”

“[The priesthood] … is a part of the plan of God our Eternal Father to bless the lives of His sons and daughters of all generations.”


  • Baptism and Sacrament – under the Aaronic Priesthood
  • Bestowal of the Holy Ghost – under the Melchizedek Priesthood
  • Washing and Anointing– under the Melchizedek Priesthood
  • The Endowment – under the Melchizedek Priesthood
  • Sealing – under the Melchizedek Priesthood

“The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.” (D&C 121:46.)


  • Blessing Babies
  • Blessing of the Sick
  • Blessings of the Comfort

LDS Women and Blessings –

Blessings are an area where men and women have participated together in the past, but women’s blessing are discourage now. In the early church, women gave specific blessings (considered an ordinance) to women about to bear children and blessed newborn babies with a specific blessing.


4 – Living Well to use the Priesthood

This section has heavy masculine language. Remember that it is not only men who work with Priesthood power or receive blessings. Living well is a applicable to both genders.

From the Lesson – here are some of the passages I like best:

“Sons [and Daughters} of God who hold His divine authority must be true to the very best that is in them.”

“Such is the wonder of this priesthood. Wealth is not a factor. Education is not a factor. The honors of men are not a factor. The controlling factor is acceptability unto the Lord.”

“[We are] in partnership with God [and have] the sacred obligation so to live as one worthy to speak and act in the name of God as a qualified representative.”

“We must be true to the very best that is in us.”

“Each of us is responsible for the welfare and the growth and development of others. We do not live only unto ourselves. If we are to magnify our callings, we cannot live only unto ourselves.”


5 – Priesthood Quorums and the Relief Society

It is my belief that the Relief Society was set up as the partner to male Priesthood Quorums. Relief Society is not intended to be an auxiliary or a support, but a quorum of women working in partnership with their brothers.

Motherhood is an important part of womanhood. Priesthood and fatherhood are an important parts of manhood. But (in my opinion) these things are separate things; not to be equated.

From the lesson:

“The priesthood quorum is the Lord’s organization for men of the Church, just as the Relief Society is the Lord’s organization for women of the Church. Each has among its responsibilities, basic to its reason for being, the assisting of those in need.”

“A priesthood quorum can be an anchor of strength for its members.”

“I am confident that the Lord intended that a priesthood quorum should be far more than a class in theology on Sunday mornings. Of course, the building of spirituality and the strengthening of testimony through effective gospel teaching is an important priesthood responsibility. But this is only a segment of the quorum function. Each quorum must be a working brotherhood for every member if its purpose is to be realized.”

“When the Relief Society was organized the Prophet Joseph said of the women of the Society: “They will fly to the relief of the stranger; they will pour in the wine and oil to the wounded heart of the distressed; they will dry up the tears of the orphan and make the widow’s heart to rejoice.”

I recommend reading


6 – Priesthood at Home

The home may be the best example of women working with Priesthood authority – and of men and women working together in with Power from God.  It is here that single women can bless their own homes, single mothers can bless their children, and husbands and wives can serve their families together.

“ … the man neither walks ahead of his wife nor behind his wife but at her side. They are co-equals in this life in a great enterprise.”

From the lesson:

“There is strength and great capacity in the women of this Church. There is leadership and direction, a certain spirit of independence, and yet great satisfaction in being a part of this, the Lord’s kingdom, and of working hand in hand with [holders of] the priesthood to move it forward.”


7 – History of Priesthood (Addition)

If history is of interest, I recommend Greg Prince’s book: “Power from On High”. This could add some interesting pieces to the lesson.

Also, “From Men to Boys, LDS Aaronic Priesthood Offices” Office by William Hartley.  P. 80 of Journal of Mormon History.

The history of the Priesthood within the church is more complex and convoluted that I understood when I was younger.  (i.e.: When Priesthood offices were first set up, they were all for men.  It was unthinkable to ordain a 12 year boy.  Only men were given the sacred responsibility of preparing, blessing, and passing sacrament.  Now we not only ordain boys, but give them keys, as well.)

There were many steps and many years – as things evolved to the place of organization that we know in the church today.





Suzette lives in the Washington DC area and works as a Professional Organizer. She enjoys blogging and serving on the Exponent II Board. Her Mormon roots run deep and she loves her big Mormon family which includes 20 nieces and nephews, 6 sisters, 5 brother in laws, 2 parents - and dozens of cousins. Her favorite things about church are the great Alexandria wards, temple worship, and all things Visiting Teaching.

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9 Responses

  1. Bonnie T. says:

    Where do dedications (e.g. of grave site, of buildings) fall in your categorization of ordinances v. blessings?

    • Suzette says:

      The are not ordinances – I’m pretty sure. It seem strange to put them with blessings since we usually bless people. But I suppose it is like blessing a place. However, dedications could be their own category? Maybe I should have added that category to the lesson.

      • Marivene says:

        In Handbook 2, section 20.9, there are instructions for dedicating a grave. Section 20 is titled “Priesthood Ordinances and Blessings”, & states that dedicating a grave is done by a Melchizedek Priesthood holder, under permission of the presiding officer at the service. However, the section also mentions the possibility of a prayer instead of a dedicatory prayer.

        When my brother died, my sister, her husband & I stopped by the gravesite on our way to pick up Mom from assisted living for the service (Lutheran) – “to make sure everything was ready”. My sister & I are the only members in our family; the rest are Protestants of various tenets. My brother-in-law dedicated the grave. He held the Melchizedek Priesthood, but there was no “presiding officer” from whom to get permission. He had a current temple recommend, so he was in “good standards not” so to speak, so we just went ahead & did it.

      • Marivene says:

        Sorry, auto correct added a “not” in there.

    • spunky says:

      The dedication of a grave is a sore spot for me. When I was living in the outback, there was a widow who’s husband passed– she waited something like 8 years before the grave could be dedicated because she was so rural and no Mormon men could be bothered to drive that far just to visit her and dedicate the grave (missionaries could not go because she was a “single” woman.”). She actually remained in the area specifically waiting for someone to dedicate the grave.

      Beautiful lesson, Suzette.

  2. Nicely done, Suzette. It is tricky to teach a lesson about priesthood to a woman-only class, considering that we are all excluded in so many ways.

    However, this sentence stood out to me, “The men who hold keys in a ward are: Deacon Quorum President, Teachers Quorum President, and the Bishop.” I would have said, “The men and children who hold keys…” because of these three people, only one is a grown-up man. It is interesting to me that over time church leaders have changed priesthood roles from the scriptural definitions found in the Doctrine and Covenants to the extent that now children can hold keys, and yet women continue to be excluded.

  3. Dani Addante says:

    Thanks for your article! I am always confused by all the priesthood keys and other things. I had no idea that only those people that you mentioned held priesthood keys. I hope in the future the church will be open to talking more about the woman’s priesthood. We hear so much about men’s priesthood, but women use the priesthood too in their callings, missions, and I’m sure many other things. One thing that I don’t understand is, if women can perform ordinances in the temple, then how come they can’t do every ordinance in the temple? Or even outside the temple? I wish the church would have more information about the women’s priesthood.

  4. Robin V says:

    FWIW… I taught this lesson this past Sunday. I used three additional sources, that may be of use to others:

    Priesthood: “A Sacred Trust to Be Used for the Benefit of Men, Women, and Children”, Linda K. Burton, Relief Society General President

    Joseph Smith’s Teachings about Priesthood, Temple, Women, from Gospel Topics Essays,

    Why We Are Organized into Quorums and Relief Societies, Julie B Beck, Jan. 17, 2012, BYU Devotional

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