I’m currently working on a chapter for my book on Mormon liturgy and cosmology that focuses on healing as lens to look at shifts in authority throughout Mormon history. A while back, I picked up a 1941 edition (fourth printing) of the Aaronic Priesthood Handbook, and recently read through. Page 45 has this fascinating bit in the section for deacons under “Caring for the Poor”:
Pres. Francis M. Lyman of the quorum of the Apostles speaking at the general assembly of the Latter-day Saints University, Nov. 30, 1904, gave the following instruction:
The speaker read from the book of Doctrine and Covenants on the duties of the Lesser and Greater Priesthood. The duty of a Deacon, it was explained, is not limited to keeping the meetinghouse in order, or to chopping wood for the poor, or to passing the Sacrament under the Priest who officiates in fast meetings. Deacons have authority in the absence of higher authority, to anoint the sick with oil and to pray for them. All Priesthood, including the Lesser Priesthood, is the authority of God. It is therefore not a small matter to bear the Aaronic Priesthood?
While I have accumulated probably a couple thousand examples of women healing in the church, I think I only have a couple examples of children, and only one where the administrator is a deacon (from the 1890s as I remember). I’ve tried to locate the sermon text, to no avail, but I did find that this handbook was largely taken verbatim from a book published in 1904 by Joseph B. Keeler, who was apparently on faculty at BYU and a member of the Utah County Stake Presidency (he was later called as Stake President). The book: The Lesser Priesthood and Notes on Church Government, also a Concordance of the Doctrine and Covenants for the Use of Church Schools and Priesthood Quorums (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1904) seems to have been pretty popular and exists in several editions. I’ve gotten access to the 1904 edition and the 1929 edition.
Keeler’s editions have the same text in the same place, but it is part footnote in his editions, whereas it is moved to the main body in the Presiding Bishopric’s edition. I need to do some digging, but it appears that the Handbook was in use into the 1950s. I’d really love to be able to determine if this teaching were more than an odd line in a handbook, but I think finding evidence in Mormon lived religion, is just going to boil down to luck.
Perhaps the biggest surprise to me is a difference between the 1904 and 1929 editions of Keeler’s volume. The 1904 edition indicates the deacons can ordain deacons, and that teachers can ordain teachers and deacons. The text of those sections are removed in the 1929 edition. Next time I’m at the CHL, I’ll be sure to verify how long those ordination rules were in place.