Christian laying on of hands
Christian laying on of hands is used in Christianity 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.
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.
In the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic Churches the chrism (Greek: myron) which is used at chrismation and the anointing of sovereigns is believed to contain chrism which the Apostles blessed and laid their hands on, the former since some existing chrism is poured into newly consecrated chrism and the latter is stated in the prayer used in the consecration of chrism. This is consecrated and 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. 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).
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) as well as making an abbot or abbess or promoting a deacon to archdeacon, etc. 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 sacrament of unction. This mystery should be performed by seven priests six of whom 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.
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." 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, anointing of the sick, 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.
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.
Pentecostal Christians 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.
- Pomazansky, Protopresbyter Michael (1984), Orthodox Dogmatic Theology (in Eng.), Platina CA: Saint Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, pp. 270–271, loc # 84-051294
- Parry (1999), p. 117
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1302–1303.
- for example: Book of Alternative Services - Anglican Church of Canada, p 628
- http://stmarks.byethost9.com/ for example: Book of Alternative Services - Anglican Church of Canada, p 555