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The Aaronic Priesthood is the order of the priesthood which contains the offices of deacon, teacher, priest, and bishop. It is named after Aaron, the brother of Moses, from whose lineage came the ancient priests and high priests of Israel. In ancient Israel, only those of the tribe of Levi could be ordained to this priesthood (for this reason it is also referred to as the Levitical Priesthood). With the coming of Christ, however, the lineal restrictions were lifted and worthy men of any tribe could receive this priesthood. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, commonly referred to as the Mormon Church, continues to operate in this manner, allowing any worthy man over the age of twelve to be ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood.
Offices and Functions
There are four offices within the Aaronic Priesthood. Each has specific duties and responsibilities associated with it. Once a man has progressed to the next highest office, he still retains all the power and authority of the lower office.
Men can be ordained to the first office of the priesthood as deacons starting at age twelve. One of the duties of the deacon's quorum or group is to watch over the Church and its members. Deacons are also to "warn, expound, exhort, and teach, and invite all to come unto Christ" (Doctrine and Covenants 20:59]). Deacons can also pass the sacrament to the congregation and collect fast offerings, which are used to help those in need. Deacons can assist the leaders of the ward or bishopric and serve as messengers. Worthy deacons can act as proxies for the dead in the temple for the ordinances of baptism and confirmation (receiving the Holy Ghost through the laying on of hands). Deacons can speak in meetings and care for the meetinghouse and grounds.
Men can be ordained to the next office of the Priesthood as teachers starting at age fourteen. Teachers are to watch over and strengthen the Church, as well as see that there is "neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking" (Doctrine and Covenants 20:53-55). Teachers may also prepare the sacrament, serve as home teachers, reverently serve as ushers in ward meetings and stake conference, assist the bishopric, and participate in seminary classes where available.
Men can be ordained as priests starting at age sixteen. The priests' quorum has the responsibility to "preach, teach, expound, exhort, ... and visit the house of each member, and exhort them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties" (Doctrine and Covenants 20:46-47). Priests can bless the sacrament. They can also baptize, though they do not have the authority to confer the Holy Ghost.
The office of bishop is the highest office in the Aaronic Priesthood. The bishop is the president of the priests' quorum, the president of the Aaronic Priesthood, and the presiding high priest in the ward. Although the office of bishop is an Aaronic Priesthood office, men called to be bishops hold the Melchizedek Priesthood and hold the office of high priest so they can preside over the entire congregation.
According to Church practice, under the direction of Christ, a literal descendant of Aaron has a right to the office of bishop:
- But a literal descendant of Aaron has a legal right to the presidency of this priesthood, to the keys of this ministry, to act in the office of bishop independently, without counselors, except in a case where a President of the High Priesthood, after the order of Melchizedek, is tried, to sit as a judge in Israel. (See Doctrine and Covenants 107:76).
Keys of the Aaronic Priesthood
The Aaronic Priesthood is also described as holding "the keys of the ministering of angels, and to administer in outward ordinances" (D&C 107:20).