Recently we had some illness in our family. There is not much in this world that I have faced which is worse than having sick children. Particularly when the afflicted one is a baby who can’t talk yet, such times are difficult to endure. There is a constant nagging worry about what to do- go to the doctor? Put the child to bed? WHAT?!? Anyway, when our baby was sick last week, as well as my wife and my other children, it seemed as though a dark feeling had settled upon the Fowles house. We felt unsettled and anxious.
We were so thankful to be able to call our neighbor from around the corner to come and help administer in healing blessings. The feelings of darkness and anxiety were replaced with light and calm reassurance as we blessed my children to heal them in the name of Jesus Christ. Truly, Jesus Christ is the light of the world and the Prince of Peace, as was confirmed to our hearts once again as we performed that temporally saving priesthood ordinance. And priesthood as restored to Joseph Smith is His power.
Yet after the adminstrations, I had to pause and wonder: what if the Brother from around the corner had not been able to come help me annoint? I’m sure it would have been fine- necessity would have dictated that I do both the annointing and the sealing myself. But that got me wondering about why we even need to bother with 2 brethren then. Furthermore, when the good Brother came to my aid, he took the time to put on a white shirt and a tie before coming, even though it was evening. I did the same, out of habit. What if neither of us had bothered to put on nicer clothes? Would the blessings have been any less efficacious?
This all got me wondering about why we even need to annoint in the first place? I know there is scriptural basis for it, and that this is simply how priesthood blessings are given- but why? Would the Lord withhold special blessings from an infant because the formality of annointing was not completed? I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem like the sort of thing a merciful God would do. It seems like the Spirit could dictate just as surely the healing words with or without oil beforehand, though. And it seems to me as though the substance of the priesthood ought to overcome the form of the ritual performed. So are we concerned with form or substance in priesthood blessings?
Brother Knight also poses a similar question- he discusses how many people in his ward tack on a perfunctory “if it be the will of the Lord” to their blessings and attach great importance to those words. But do those words really do any work?
Throughout the Old Testament, form seems all pervasive and seems like it might trump substance. Complex rituals are laid out for nearly every ordinance and sacrifice. In the New Testament, however, the new gospel wine seems to be rich with substance and generally unweighted by form. But in today’s church, a great deal of emphasis is placed on form. Our most sacred rituals are laden with form.
So here’s a chance for you gospel scholars to weigh in. Are priesthood rituals a matter of form or substance? Which is more important? If they are both of equal importance, then what should we do if we aren’t able to follow the form? Can we give priesthood blessings for healing unpreceded by the annointing ritual?
I am very interested in your thoughts, and especially interested in your thoughts backed up by scripture/modern statements of General Authorities on this matter (although I would also be happy to just hear your own thoughts, without any scripture). If this has already been done at T&S, I apologize- send me the link and this will be a short discussion!
(Now back to my study of form versus substance in the land of contracts, where substance definitely rules the day these days- except of course for that pesky statute of frauds…)