One of the most important blessings available to worthy members of the Church is patriarchal blessings. They verify the divinity of Christ and the truthfulness of the Church. These sacred blessings also strengthen the testimonies of those worthy persons who are the recipients of such blessings, provided those recipients live so as to merit the blessings pronounced therein.
A patriarchal blessing is a unique and remarkable privilege that can come to the faithful members of the Church having sufficient maturity to understand the nature and the importance of such blessings. These privileged blessings are a powerful witness of the mission of the Lord Jesus Christ in bringing exaltation to each of us. Like many blessings, they must be requested by the person or by the family of the one desiring the blessing.
Our testimonies can be strengthened and fortified and our lives given greater purpose every time we read and reread our patriarchal blessings. By their very nature, all blessings are qualified and conditional, regardless of whether the blessing specifically spells out the qualification or not. Each blessing is absolutely qualified and given upon the condition of the faithfulness of the recipient of the blessing.
I wish to pay tribute to the faithful men holding this great calling and ordination. They are often among the most humble and faithful of our brethren. These chosen men live lives that entitle them to the inspiration of heaven. Patriarchs are privileged to impart blessings directly rather than just solicit blessings to the individual, for the patriarchs are entitled to speak authoritatively for the Lord.
The office of patriarch is one of the great separate priesthood offices of the Melchizedek Priesthood. The patriarchal office is one of blessing, not of administration, nor of counseling. It is a sacred, spiritual calling that usually will continue the remainder of the patriarch’s life. However, due to health or other personal circumstances, he may be given nonfunctioning status. Our patriarchs give total devotion to their callings and do all they can to live in faith and worthiness so that each blessing is inspired.
When moved upon by the Holy Spirit, the patriarch makes an inspired declaration of the lineage of the recipient together with such blessings, spiritual gifts, promises, advice, admonition, and warnings as the patriarch feels inspired to give. It is in essence a prophetic utterance.
Patriarchal blessings should be read humbly and prayerfully and frequently. They are very personal but may be shared with close family members. A patriarchal blessing is a sacred guideline of counsel, promises, and information from the Lord. However, a person should not expect that the blessing will detail all that will happen to him or her or be an answer to all questions. The omission of the blessing of a great event in life such as a mission or marriage does not mean it will not happen. My own blessing is short and is limited to perhaps three quarters of one page on one side, yet it has been completely adequate and perfect for me.
Elder John A. Widtsoe (1872–1952), an Apostle, had the following to say: “It should always be kept in mind that the realization of the promises made may come in this life or the future life. Men have stumbled at times because promised blessings have not occurred in this life. They have failed to remember that, in the gospel, life with all its activities continues forever and that the labors of earth may be continued in heaven. Besides, the giver of the blessings, the Lord, reserves the right to have them become active in our lives as suits his divine purposes. We and our blessings are in the hands of the Lord, but there is a general testimony that when the gospel law has been obeyed, the promised blessings have been realized.”1
This was well illustrated in my father’s patriarchal blessing. He was told in his blessing that he would be blessed with “many beautiful daughters.” He and my mother became the parents of five sons. There were no daughters born to them, but of course they treated the wives of their sons as daughters. This last summer when we had a family reunion, I saw my father’s granddaughters moving about tending to the food and ministering to the young children and the elderly, and the realization came to me that Father’s blessing had been literally fulfilled; he has, indeed, many beautiful daughters. The patriarch who gave my father his blessing had spiritual vision to see beyond this life. There was a disappearance of the dividing line between time and eternity.
The patriarch has no blessing of his own to give; the blessing is the Lord’s to give. God knows our spirits; He knows our strengths and weaknesses. He knows our capabilities and our potential. Our patriarchal blessings indicate what the Lord expects of us and what our potential can be. Our blessings can encourage us when we are discouraged, strengthen us when we are fearful, comfort us when we sorrow, give us courage when we are filled with anxiety, lift us up when we are weak in spirit.
There are many coming into the Church who are not of the blood lineage of a specific tribe of Jacob. No one need assume that he or she will be denied any blessing by reason of not being of the blood lineage of Israel.
Paul makes repeated references to adoption into the house of Israel through faith: “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Rom. 8:9). And again: “Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises” (Rom. 9:4).
King Benjamin refers to the faithful as “the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters” thus being able to be “spiritually begotten … through faith” (Mosiah 5:7), and thus coming into the family of Christ through a spiritual birth.
It really makes no difference if the blessings of the house of Israel come through the lineage or through the spirit of adoption. Elder John A. Widtsoe stated, “Whether this lineage is of blood or of adoption does not matter.”2
In Abraham we are told, “And I will bless them through thy name; for as many as receive this Gospel shall be called after thy name, and shall be accounted thy seed, and shall rise up and bless thee, as their father” (Abr. 2:10).
Since families are of mixed lineage, it occasionally happens that members of the same family have blessings declaring them to be of different lineage. There has been an intermixture of the tribes one with another. One child may be of Ephraim, another in the same family of Manasseh, Judah, or one of the other tribes. The blood of one tribe, therefore, may be dominant in one child and the blood of another tribe dominant in another child, so children from the same parents could belong to different tribes.
The house of Israel, in the original sense, meant the literal blood descendants of the house of Jacob. The Lord said to Abraham, “I give unto thee a promise that this right [meaning the right to receive the gospel and the priesthood] shall continue in thee, and in thy seed after thee” (Abr. 2:11). By seed we mean the heirs of the body. In our time the Lord has said, “Thus saith the Lord unto you, with whom the priesthood hath continued through the lineage of your fathers—
“For ye are lawful heirs, according to the flesh, …
“Therefore, your life and priesthood have remained, and must needs remain through you and your lineage” (D&C 86:8–10).
Believing Gentiles, even though not of the blood lines or genealogical ancestry of Israel, become adopted into the house of Israel.
Joseph Smith taught that when “the Holy Ghost falls upon one of the literal seed of Abraham, it is calm and serene; … while the effect of the Holy Ghost upon a Gentile, is to purge out the old blood, and make him actually of the seed of Abraham. That man that has none of the blood of Abraham (naturally) must have a new creation by the Holy Ghost.”3
I received my own patriarchal blessing when I was but a boy of 12. From that short blessing I learned something about my responsibilities and my labors in establishing the kingdom.
I pray that we will live worthily and seek the blessings that are promised us by the Lord through our family patriarchs and through our ordained patriarchs, and that we will strive to help conditions and circumstances so that these great promises can be realized.
To learn more about patriarchal blessings, you can read these articles in the Gospel Library at www.lds.org: “About Patriarchal Blessings” (New Era, Mar. 2004) and Q&A (New Era, May 2002 and Mar. 1992).