Many religious rites in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — from blessings and baptisms to confirmations and ordinations — are tactile experiences, requiring person-to-person contact.
How to move forward with those functions of faith during a global pandemic that often forbids such hands-on interactions has been a barrier for many members during the coronavirus crisis, especially in a religion with a male-only priesthood.
On Friday, the Utah-based church’s ruling First Presidency offered guidelines to help Latter-day Saints and their lay leaders navigate “the current crisis and the challenging days that are ahead.”
As a rule, the leaders said, “priesthood ordinances cannot be performed remotely using technology,” though they may be able to be viewed by others through such means.
The sacrament, or Communion, for instance, usually takes place weekly in worship services. But those gatherings have been suspended worldwide for more than a month.
Bishops over congregations can authorize male priesthood holders to prepare, bless and pass the sacrament of bread and water in their own homes, according to a news release. This ordinance cannot be done via technology.
If a home does not have a priesthood holder, fellow ward members who have that authority can enter the home and administer the sacrament. However, such visits may violate social distancing directives in many nations and cities, according to a separate release. In those cases, priesthood holders should not enter homes of members to whom they are not related.
Latter-day Saints who cannot have this ordinance at this time — many of whom are single mothers or women — “can be comforted,” the release said, “by studying the sacrament prayers and recommitting to live the covenants [they] have made and praying for the day they will receive it in person.”
Here are some of the other newly released guidelines regarding church ordinances:
Baptisms • Children who are at least 8 years old and would-be converts still can be baptized — by being fully immersed in water — by a priesthood holder. Services may take place in permitted locations with as few as four people: the baptismal candidate, the priesthood holder performing the rite, and two male or female witnesses. The leader authorizing the baptism, along with family and friends, can view the proceedings via technology.
Confirmations • This ceremony, which requires a priesthood holder to put his hands on the person’s head, can take place immediately after a baptism.
Ordinations • Bestowing priesthood or priesthood offices on male members also requires a physical “laying on of hands” by an authorized priesthood holder. Again, this can be viewed remotely by lay leaders, family and friends.
Blessing the sick • One adult priesthood holder can perform this task by a physical laying on of hands, though it typically is done by two. If conditions prevent placing hands on a person’s head, "a prayer can be offered, including using technology,” the release said. “This is a prayer of faith and not a priesthood blessing.”
Baby blessings • With a bishop’s approval, this practice, which adds the infant to the church’s membership rolls, can be performed at home.
Church leaders emphasized that any members who perform these physical ordinances should “take necessary precautions to protect themselves and others.”
The church also said leaders can interview members via face-to-face technology for temple recommends, which provide the devout access to the faith’s most sacred buildings (all of which currently are closed due to the coronavirus).
Weddings and funerals are off-limits in church meetinghouses unless government regulations allow them. Lay leaders can, the release added, perform marriages in “an appropriate setting where social distancing can be maintained. Technology may also be used to allow family and friends to view the service.”
With regular Sunday meetings canceled, for now, members can hold services in their homes, in person or remotely, and include prayers, hymns and gospel study, church leaders said. Bishops and other congregational leaders also can use technology to supplement home-centered worship.
“The scriptures are clear that in this dispensation we will experience challenging times,” the release stated. “Amid difficult circumstances, the church will proclaim fundamental principles and administer needed ordinances to bless Heavenly Father’s children.”