Laying on of hands

A 1946 laying on of hands at the Pentecostal Church of God in Lejunior, Kentucky.

The laying on of hands is a religious ritual that accompanies certain religious practices, which are found throughout the world in varying forms.

In Christian churches, this practice is used as both a symbolic and formal method of invoking the Holy Spirit primarily during baptisms and confirmations, healing services, blessings, and ordination of priests, ministers, elders, deacons, and other church officers, along with a variety of other church sacraments and holy ceremonies.


Jewish tradition

The laying on of hands was an action referred to on numerous occasions in the Tanakh to accompany the conferring of a blessing or authority. For example, Isaac blessed his son Jacob by laying on of hands (Genesis 27:27).

Moses ordained Joshua through semikhah - i.e. by the laying on of hands: Num  27:15-23, Deut  34:9. The Bible adds that Joshua was thereby "filled with the spirit of wisdom". Moses also ordained the 70 elders (Num  11:16-25). The elders later ordained their successors in this way. Their successors in turn ordained others. This chain of hands-on semikhah continued through the time of the Second Temple, to an undetermined time. The exact date that the original semikhah succession ended is not certain. Many medieval authorities believed that this occurred during the reign of Hillel II, around the year 360 CE.[1] However, it seems to have continued at least until 425, when Theodosius II executed Gamaliel VI and suppressed the Patriarchate and Sanhedrin.

Aaron and the High Priests who succeeded him transferred the sins of the Children of Israel to a sacrificial goat by the laying on of hands: Leviticus16:21.

Christian traditions

In the New Testament the laying on of hands was associated with the receiving of the Holy Spirit (See Acts 8:14-19). Initially the Apostles laid hands on new believers as well as believers. (See Acts 6:5-6). In the early church, the practice continued and is still used in a wide variety of church ceremonies, such as during confirmation.

Some Christian also believe that the laying on of hands can have curative properties, based on biblical precedent set by Jesus, who would walk for days, offering his healing power. Both Christian and non-Christian faith healers will lay hands on people when praying for healing, and often the name of Jesus is invoked as the spiritual agency through which the healing of physical ailments is believed to be obtained.

Eastern Christianity

Eastern Orthodox subdeacon being ordained to the diaconate. The bishop has placed his omophorion and right hand on the head of the candidate and is reading the Prayer of Cheirotonia (laying on of hands).

In the Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches, the chrism (Greek: myron) which is used at chrismation and the anointing of sovereigns is believed to be descended directly from oil which the Apostles blessed and laid their hands on. This is added to as needed by the Primates of the Autocephalous Churches, and is dispersed to priests for their use in administering the Sacred Mysteries (Sacraments). In the Eastern Christan Tradition, anointing with the chrism is the equivalent of laying on of hands.[2] The presentation of this chrism which has received the laying on of hands, together with an antimension is the manner in which a bishop bestows faculties upon a priest under his omophorion (i.e., under his authority).

Ordination of an orthodox priest. The deacon being ordained is kneeling at the south west corner of the holy table and the bishop places his omophorion and right hand on the deacon's head and his left hand over his right hand so as to make a cross, while reciting the Prayers of Cheirotonia (laying on of hands).

The Orthodox also use laying on of hands for the ordination (called Cheirotonia) of the higher clergy (bishops, priests and deacons) which is distinguished from the blessing (called Cheirothesia) of the lower clergy (taper bearers, readers and subdeacons).[3] Priests and deacons receive the laying on of hands by a single bishop, bishops are consecrated by three or more bishops.

The laying on of hands is also performed at the end of the Mystery (Sacrament) of Unction. This Mystery is usually performed by seven priests. Six of the priests lay their hands on a Gospel Book which has been placed over the head of the one being anointed, while the senior priest reads a prayer.

Roman Catholicism

At priestly ordination, the Catholic bishop imposes hands upon the deacon for ordination to the priesthood.

In the Roman Catholic Church, the laying on of hands is performed in the sacrament of Holy Orders and is the means by which one is included in one of the three major orders: bishop, priest, or deacon. Ordination can be administered only by a bishop in Apostolic Succession (valid), and should only be accomplished by a bishop who is properly authorized by the Holy See (licit). The laying on of hands to the priesthood enables a person so ordained to act in persona Christi; i.e., "in the person of Christ." Ordination allows a priest validly to administer sacraments, most notably giving that individual the authority to celebrate the Eucharist. The sacraments of ordination and confirmation are, however, reserved exclusively to a bishop (with certain exceptions).

The sacrament of Confirmation is "the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost", and "brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace."[4] In the Latin-Rite (i.e., Western) Catholic Church, the sacrament is customarily conferred only on persons old enough to understand it, and the ordinary minister of Confirmation is a bishop. Only for a serious reason may the diocesan bishop delegate a priest to administer the sacrament (canon 884 of the Code of Canon Law). However, a priest may by law confer the sacrament, if he baptizes someone who is no longer an infant or admits a person already baptized to full communion, or if the person (adult or child) to be confirmed is in danger of death (canon 883).


Laying on of hands is part of Anglican confirmation,[5] anointing of the sick,[6] and other parts of liturgy and pastoral offices. The Guild of St Raphael, founded in 1915, is an organization within the Anglican church specifically dedicated to promoting, supporting and practicing Christ's ministry of healing through the laying on of hands as an integral part of the Church. The laying on of hands is also performed in the sacrament of Holy Orders and is the means by which one is included in one of the three ordained orders of the church: bishop, priest, or deacon. Ordination can be administered only by a bishop in Apostolic Succession.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Bronze statue on the LDS Church's Temple Square (Salt Lake City, Utah, USA) depicting Peter, James, and John conferring the Melchizedek priesthood in A.D. 1829 to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka Mormons, Latter-day Saints, LDS) and other sects in the Latter Day Saint movement, the practice of laying on of hands is employed to confirm a person as a member of the Church and bestow the Gift of the Holy Ghost, bless the sick and give counsel to those in need, to ordain members to offices in the priesthood, and to set church officers apart in their duties. In addition, a Patriarchal blessing is given by the laying on of hands of a Patriarch to a church member.

Catharism and other Christian sects

A Cathar Perfect, the highest initiate in the Cathar hierarchy after spending time as a Listener and then Believer, had to undergo a rigorous training of three years before being inducted as a member of the spiritual elite of the now defunct religious movement. This took place during a ceremony in which various Scriptural extracts were quoted, including, most particularly, the opening verses of the Gospel of John. The ceremony was completed by a ritual laying on of hands, also known as Manisola, as the candidate vowed to abjure the world and accept the Holy Spirit. At this point, the Perfecti believed, the Holy Spirit was able to descend and dwell within the new Perfect — hence the austere lifestyle needed to provide a pure dwelling place for the Spirit. Once in this state of housing the Holy Spirit within themselves, the Perfect were believed to have become "trans-material" or semi-angelic, not yet released from the confines of the body but containing within them an enhanced spirituality which linked them to God even in this world, as expressed in the Gospel of Luke. The Cathars were decimated and annihilated as a sect during the Albigensian Crusade launched by the Dominican Order of the Catholic Church in 1208, which killed tens of thousands[citation needed] of people and is considered the first recorded European genocide.


In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), laying on of hands is used to ordain, install, and commission laypeople as officers of the church.[7] The offices they are ordained, installed, and commissioned to hold are elder, deacon, and minister.

State use

This illustration, The royal gift of healing, depicts Charles II of England using the laying on of hands

The laying on of hands, known as "the Divine Touch," was performed by kings in England and France, and was believed to cure scrofula, a name given to a number of skin diseases. The rite of the king's touch began in France with Robert II the Pious, but legend later attributed the practice to Clovis as Merovingian founder of the Holy Roman kingdom, and Edward the Confessor in England. The belief continued to be common throughout the Middle Ages but began to die out with the Enlightenment. Queen Anne was the last British monarch to claim to possess this divine ability, though the Jacobite pretenders also claimed to do so. The French monarchy continued to believe and perform the act up until the French Revolution. The act was usually performed at large ceremonies, often at Easter or other holy days.

See also


  1. ^ Nachmanides, Sefer Hazekhut, Gittin ch 4; Rabbenu Nissim, ibid; Sefer Haterumot, Gate 45; R Levi ibn Haviv, Kuntras Hasemikhah.
  2. ^ Pomazansky, Protopresbyter Michael (1984) (in Eng.), Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, Platina CA: Saint Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, pp. 270–271, loc # 84-051294 
  3. ^ Parry (1999), p. 117
  4. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1302–1303.
  5. ^ for example: Book of Alternative Services - Anglican Church of Canada, p 628
  6. ^ for example: Book of Alternative Services - Anglican Church of Canada, p 555
  7. ^ The Office of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (2009). "The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.): Part II: Book of Order 2009-2011" (PDF). The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Retrieved 2010-07-11. 


External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • laying-on of hands — 1. The touch of a bishop or presbyters in ordination 2. In spiritual healing, the action of placing hands on, over or near an ill person • • • Main Entry: ↑hand …   Useful english dictionary

  • laying on of hands —    Throughout church history the laying on of hands the purposeful and symbolic touching of one Christian by another has been used for a variety of purposes. It can be a formal public acknowledgment that the church is commissioning a member for… …   Encyclopedia of Protestantism

  • Laying on of hands — Hand Hand (h[a^]nd), n. [AS. hand, hond; akin to D., G., & Sw. hand, OHG. hant, Dan. haand, Icel. h[ o]nd, Goth. handus, and perh. to Goth. hin[thorn]an to seize (in comp.). Cf. {Hunt}.] 1. That part of the fore limb below the forearm or wrist in …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • laying on of hands — noun 1. the application of a faith healer s hands to the patient s body • Hypernyms: ↑faith healing, ↑faith cure 2. laying hands on a person s head to invoke spiritual blessing in Christian ordination • Hypernyms: ↑ordination, ↑ordinance * * * 1 …   Useful english dictionary

  • laying on of hands — Date: 15th century the act of laying hands usually on a person s head to confer a spiritual blessing (as in Christian ordination, confirmation, or faith healing) …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • laying on of hands — lay′ing on′ of hands′ n. 1) rel a rite in which a cleric s hands touch the person to be ordained, healed, etc 2) hlc the placing of the hands, as of a faith healer, upon a person to be cured • Etymology: 1490–1500 …   From formal English to slang

  • laying on of hands — 1. Theol. a rite in which the cleric s hands are placed on the head of a person being confirmed, ordained, or the like. 2. (in divine healing) the placing of the hands of the healer upon the person to be cured. [1490 1500] * * * …   Universalium

  • Laying-on of Hands. — See Imposition of Hands …   Dictionary of church terms

  • Laying on of Hands —    The ceremony by which one is ordained to the Sacred Ministry by the Bishop, and by which he administers the Rite of Confirmation, (See Imposition of Hands.) …   American Church Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • laying on of hands — A ritual gesture in the OT; it is the means by which a man could enable a sacrificed animal to be his representative (Lev. 1:3–4); and the means by which God s authority is transmitted, as by Moses to Joshua (Num. 27:18). In the NT Jesus laid his …   Dictionary of the Bible

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