The Priesthood and the Disabled

Picture in your mind, and it shouldn’t take much imagination, a young boy participating in the priesthood function of the Sacrament. He lowers his head during the prayers and then gleefully hands out the water and bread to the congregation. Just like what happens every Sunday, he returns to the cloth covered table and sets down the silver trays he passed around the room. There is nothing unusual about the actions.

What is relatively different is the boy. He is far from unable to perform normal tasks, but his mental capacity is abnormally limited. During any other time he won’t sit still without trying to talk to whoever will lend him an ear. Despite his age, his thoughts and actions are far closer to a person younger than Priesthood age. Often he has to be kindly reminded his behavior is not appropriate, although lacking any serious disruptive nature.

The difference between the boy with the Sacrament tray and the same boy without it in his hand can be remarkable. You are almost awe struck by his sincere appreciation of the routine Priesthood function as you are his antics at other times. It is a reminder that the gifts and blessings of the Priesthood are beyond the people who are given the responsibilities.

While thinking of this boy, the response in Ether 12:26-27 the worries of Moroni that no one would take his writing seriously came to mind:

And when I had said this, the Lord spake unto me, saying: Fools mock, but they shall mourn; and my grace is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness;

And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

Equally amazing is the care the other Priesthood boys give to him. I have never seen, at least in my limited Church exposure, any grief or mockery of his less than normal abilities. On the other hand, he does seem to have a “wicked” sense of good humor that makes it hard to not like him. I imagine, and have seen, that he can give equally what he can take as the saying goes. There are those with far more limitations.

It is to those with worse handicaps that I wonder what the Priesthood has done for them both in using and receiving. How much self-respect is gained by doing whatever they can to magnify callings? For instance, how wonderful it must be for someone without arms to still be able to do the Sacrament using prosthetic limbs. Each time they might be reminded what they don’t have, but yet also realize the special blessing of the Atonement that one day, as stated in Alma 40:17, “The soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul; yea, and every limb and joint shall be restored to its body; yea, even a hair of the head shall not be lost; but all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame.”

To be honest, I am not sure what kinds of leeway is given when the Priesthood holder might not have all the physical or mental faculties. Giving a blessing to the sick can’t be easy when a deaf person must lay their hands on a head. What kind of guidance exists for different circumstances? It could be on an individual bases that such questions are addressed. That a Priesthood holder still does their duty no matter how hard the circumstance I imagine is a powerful spiritual experience.

Each of us have our own handicaps no matter how “perfect” in other areas we might seem. The Priesthood is far more than a perfunctory part of Latter-day Saint membership for males. Taking that for granted is pridefully ignoring the greatness bestowed to the undeserved mortals. Those who have it should, with faith and repentant hearts, constantly remind themselves it is for the Lord’s work and not any personal gratification. Women of all ages should express appreciation to the men of all ages for doing their duty when properly carried out. It can be a positive reinforcement of the value and responsibility given to them in the ordinations. Those less able to perform the functions of the Priesthood might understand better than anyone how precious the gift of serving others. I pondered while watching an extraordinary boy doing an extraordinary Priesthood function that has become ordinary; done properly, the Priesthood can transform people on both sides of its influence.

8 thoughts on “The Priesthood and the Disabled

  1. Jettboy, this story reminded me of a young man when I lived in Brazil. He was clearly mentally “off.” I’m not sure exactly what his mental illness was — but he lived with his retired father and required nearly fulltime care. But when he came to church he was responsible for the Sacrament and took it very seriously and always performed his task with exactness. He loved baptizing at the Sao Paulo temple and did so extremely well (although with a bit too much enthusiasm in the opinion of some of the women whom he baptized). So, I can definitely agree with your point that the Priesthood can transform people — I have seen it with my own eyes.

  2. Years ago, I worked for 5 weeks in the Pentagon. Staying in Alexandria, VA, I visited one of the wards in the area on Sunday. One of the priests had severe handicaps due to Multiple Sclerosis or other similar disease. In a wheelchair, unable to break the bread, unable to speak, but able to use a few fingers to work a computer on his wheelchair, he pressed a couple buttons and the computer began the preset Sacrament prayer in a synthetic computerized voice. The boy used his priesthood, even though others had to do almost everything else. It was a remarkable experience partaking of the bread after this young priest gave his all to bless it and me.

  3. For those with a hearing loss who use sign language or some other form of manual communication, the person performing the ordinance lays his hands on the person’s head quickly, then removes them and signs the blessing/ordinance including the “Amen” at the end, and then puts his hands back on the head to finish it. It’s very interesting to see.

  4. Lovely post, Thank you. What is hard is when these worthy young men have spent their childhood singing with gusto “I hope they call me on a mission” with all the rest of the primary boys. A mission is hammered into them by YM leaders and seminary. The reality is, despite their worthiness and willingness they are unable to serve a mission. It becomes a heartbreak for both parents and young man. Often these handicapped young men are more worthy and willing and prepared than their counterparts. I don’t know the answer to this difficult dilemma, but it is worth mentioning because of the pain and discomfort felt by all of the concerned parties involved in these situations. We need to be aware and sensitive to families with a handicapped son.

  5. Thanks for the info BryanJ

    JA Benson, I do know of some who have served near their homes as full time. It can be hard, but there are some things that can and have been done. Sadly, not in every case.

  6. There was a man baptized into my first mission branch who was blind. He had the other brothers in the branch help him memorize the sacrament prayers, but then they would also take him by the hand and lead him so he could have a turn at passing the sacrament. To me, it was exactly what Christ would have done. Those were very meaningful sacrament services for me.

  7. As a mother to a 12 year old son with Down Syndrome and hearing impairment who in January received the Priesthood, and gleefully passes the sacrament with such reverence each Sunday, I appreciate your posting greatly. Many members in our ward have approached me and expressed their gratitude and the humility they feel when receiving the Sacrament each week from my “angel”. It has been such a blessing to watch him spiritually mature in taking part in this holy ordinance each week.

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