“O Lord, hear the prayer of thy servants, according to the blessing of Aaron over thy people, that all they which dwell upon the earth may know that thou art the Lord, the eternal God.” -Ecclesiasticus 36:17
It has been commonly accepted within the Restoration that the Priests and Priestesses of the Levitical Order do not have the authority to bless, because with the High Priesthood restored, the Elders should be called for. This custom and practice requires some clarification.
Law vs Customs
It is a custom, not a law or requirement, that the highest officer of the priesthood should preside at a meeting, or be deferred to in order to delegate all responsibilities thereof (DoS 2a:42, 46-47). God, however, is no respecter of persons, but would that we respect, not the persons, but the institution of priesthood He established for our own edification. As such, it is common and appropriate to defer to the senior most officer, but inappropriate for any egotistical contentions thereof.
In similar fashion, when a blessing is sought by anyone, it would be appropriate to defer to the highest officer of the priesthood available. Who would turn down the opportunity for a blessing from a greater authority for a lesser one? In most cases, such as recorded in scripture, an elder of the Melchizedek Priesthood can and should be sought, but in their absence, a lesser authority may bless, not by usurpation to the priesthood, but by the authority of the child of God (James 5:14).
All are to Bless
Some have taken the admonition to call for the Elders as an injunction to decline an offer of blessing from a lay person.Yet it would be inappropriate to decline a blessing from anyone who felt inclined to offer one, for should we not say “Amen” to a blessing from our enemy, considering that all are commanded to bless their enemies? The Law of God encourages His people to make blessing upon greeting a custom and not an exception (Law 43:11).
This exaggerated distinction between the Law Blessing and Priesthood Blessing comes from a lack of understanding in what a blessing is, making it a mystery and a commodity for some who claim powers they do not have. The blessing is a speaking of good will rooted in faith and love, manifesting the power of God, and what makes it a priesthood blessing is the performing it in recognition of the calling and dedication to service of the speaker. Such recognition is not to remind God of His duty to respect the speaker’s calling, but rather an acknowledgment of His promise to regard the faith of His Saints. Therefore all blessings are by faith in His promise to remember those who believe and those who have committed to serve Him.
Follow the Spirit
While the instinct would be to call for the senior most Elder to perform a blessing, if a person obtains a spiritual impression to ask a blessing of a lesser officer when a greater one was present, I would encourage the following of the spiritual witness, for God knows what we do not. However, if possible, ask the other elder to stand in as well, and merely declare the spiritual impression to ask the individual indicated to be the Voice of the Spirit.
But the Law says to bless and not curse (Romans 12:14). And this Law speaks to everyone, and not only to Priests and Priestesses, so a lay person may freely give blessings without reference to any priesthood, and may also give by the gift of the Spirit if moved upon by the Spirit, which is a practice, though not a priesthood rite, for not being ordained to any priesthood, they bless not according to any priesthood.
“Higher” and “Lower”
A Priest of the Aaronic Priesthood, or a Priestess of the Miriamic Priesthood (or Priestesshood) may give a blessing by the Levitical Priesthood. Were this not so, none could have blessed at times and places where the High Priesthood was not available. Each may bless according to their position and standing before the Lord. But the Leviotical Priest or Priestess should prefer that an Elder present among them perform the rite, deferring only to the desire of the one to be blessed. Any present receiving revelation should declare their impressions and all should defer to them.
It is inappropriate for any person, Priest/Priestess or not, to pretend to speak by prophetic utterance. The Elders of the Melchizedek Priesthood are bestowed with the authority to utter a prophetic priesthood blessing if, and only if, they humble themselves and empty themselves of vanity. They also have the authority to command the receiver to receive blessings according to their faith and obedience. Notwithstanding they being bestowed this authority by ordination, they should seek the Spirit to guide their words, neither ignoring the Spirit, nor forcing the Spirit.
Priests and Priestesses of the Levitical order should not presume to such authority, but only speak as dictated by the Spirit, expecting to give a simple blessing by virtue of the priesthood they hold, but willing to speak beyond such only as given by the Spirit, in all soberness and humility and without ostentatious display.
The Lay Blessing and the blessing of the Priest or Priestess of the Levitical order do not require the laying of hands, and do not require all present to bow their heads or close their eyes, and do not require the recitation of special words, as given for the Melchizedek in the Ordinances of the Saints. The traditions of the Priests of Roman Catholicism have maintained the practice of blessing by a simple phrase and the sign of the cross, with one hand laid upon the head from the front along with the pronouncement of a short prayer. This practice is not false or without merit.
At times, this less formal method is better received than a more formal one by those less familiar with the faith, or in mixed company, such as after a service or visiting among gentiles. Many think it inappropriate for Saints of the New Covenant to bless gentiles, but does it not say that the Seed of Abraham, all who have received the Gospel and covenant of Abraham, shall bless all the nations under Heaven?
Without Restorational Priesthood
In our service unto those who do not have the greater light and who have yet to understand our faith, we will encounter those who are accustomed to blessings from Catholic Priests or from ministers of Christendom with no restorational priesthood at all, and it would be appropriate for our Priests and Priestesses to be willing to also give such blessings rather than deny such petitions on the grounds that they have not the authority to give a simple blessing, that we only give them to those of our faith, or that they must be performed with high ceremony or not at all. Such thinking has brought the Restored Gospel into bad light for reasons not required by God.
Everyone should know the difference between a Lay Blessing, Levitical Priesthood Blessing and a Melchizedek Priesthood Blessing. Should we encounter unordained persons that are blessing people, we need not discourage them, but rather encourage them to bless as believers in Christ and not by offices of priesthood they have yet to be ordained to. We distinguish these blessings by the words spoken to declare by what authority the one blessing performs it.
If a lay person feels especially motivated to repeatedly give more significant blessings, this could be the discernment of the Spirit moving them toward a calling in the priesthood, and it would be appropriate to share with them the duties and responsibilities and covenants associated with the various offices thereof. Rather than take offense or respond in jealousy, look for opportunities to provide those with the desire to serve the tools that will aid their service.
“Therefore, may God grant unto you, my brethren, that ye may begin to exercise your faith unto repentance, that ye begin to call upon his holy name, that he would have mercy upon you; yea, cry unto him for mercy; for he is mighty to save. Yea, humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto him; bry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks; cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, midday, and evening; yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies; yea, cry unto him against the devil, who is an enemy to all righteousness. Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them; cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase. But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness; yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare and also for the welfare of those who are around you.” -Alma 16:218-222 RAV, 34:17-27 OPV