The laying on of hands is a religious practice found throughout the world in varying forms. In Christian churches, this practice is used as both a symbolic and formal method of invoking the Holy Spirit during baptisms, healing services, blessings, and ordination of priests, ministers, elders, deacons, and other church officers, along with a variety of other church sacraments and holy ceremonies.
In the New Testament the laying on of hands was associated with the receiving of the Holy Spirit (See Acts ). Initially the Apostles laid hands on new believers as well as believers who were called to a particular service. (See ). In the early church, the practice continued and is still used in a wide variety of church ceremonies, such as the ceremony of confirmation, where a bishop, priest, or minister lays hands on the confirmand and prays for them to receive the Holy Spirit. Many churches also lay hands on a person when commissioning them to particular work, such as missionary or pastoral service.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches, the chrism which is used at chrismation and the anointing of sovereigns is believed to be descended directly from oil which the Apostles blessed and laid their hands on. This is added to as needed by the Primates of the Autocephalous Churches, and is dispersed to priests for their use in administering the Sacred Mysteries (Sacraments). The presentation of this chrism which has received the laying on of hands, together with an antimension is the manner in which a bishop bestows faculties upon a priest under his omophorion (i.e., under his authority).
The Orthodox also use laying on of hands for the ordination (called Cheirotonia) of the higher clergy (bishops, priests and deacons) which is distinguished from the blessing (called Cheirothesia) of the lower clergy (taper bearers, readers and subdeacons). Priests and deacons receive the laying on of hands by a single bishop, bishops are consecrated by three or more bishops. The laying on of hands is also performed at the end of the Mystery (Sacrament) of Unction. This Mystery is usually performed by seven priests. Six of the priests lay their hands on a Gospel Book which has been placed over the head of the one being anointed, while the senior priest reads a prayer.
In its healing form, the laying on of hands is based on biblical precedent set by Jesus. This is a popular Jesuit ceremony in which prayer for forgiveness is often the prelude that along with the cleansing of one's spirit, creates union with the Holy Spirit. Both Christian and non-Christian faith healers will lay hands on people when praying for healing, and often the name of Jesus is invoked as the spiritual agency through which the healing of physical ailments is believed to be obtained.
In the Anglican communion, the Guild of St Raphael, founded in 1915, is an organisation within the Anglican church specifically dedicated to promoting, supporting and practicing Christ's ministry of healing through the laying on of hands as an integral part of the Church.
In the Latter Day Saint movement, the practice of laying on of hands is employed to confirm a person as a member of the Church and bestow the Gift of the Holy Ghost, bless the sick and give counsel to those in need, to ordain males to offices in the priesthood, and to set church officers apart in their duties. In addition, a Patriarchal blessing is given by the laying on of hands of a Patriarch (also called an Evangelist) to a church member. The recipient must have previously received a recommend for the blessing from their bishop, which is only given after an interview to determine the recipient's worthiness. The purpose of a patriarchal blessing is (1) to identify the tribe of Israel to which a Latter-day Saint belongs, (2) to bless the member with knowledge and spiritual gifts, (3) to give advice or help to the individual (often this includes foretelling of possible future events, opportunities, and temptations). Within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a patriarchal blessing is considered to be actual revelation for the recipient, with the promises made in the blessing considered conditional upon the recipient's obedience to gospel principles.
The laying on of hands, known as "the Divine Touch," was performed by kings in England and France, and was believed to cure scrofula, a name given to a number of skin diseases. The rite of the king's touch began in France with Robert II the Pious, but legend later attributed the practice to Clovis as Merovingian founder of the Holy Roman kingdom, and Edward the Confessor in England. The belief continued to be common throughout the Middle Ages but began to die out with the Enlightenment. Queen Anne was the last British monarch to claim to possess this divine ability, though the Jacobite pretenders also claimed to do so. The French monarchy continued to believe and perform the act up until the French Revolution. The act was usually performed at large ceremonies, often at Easter or other holy days.