In a published 1845 sermon, Apostle Orson Pratt explained:
“You too, my sisters, will take a part therein, for you will hold a portion of the priesthood with your husbands, and you will thus do a work, as well as they, that will augment that glory which you will enjoy after your resurrection.” (Times and Seasons 6 [1 June 1845]: 920)
What work is it we women are to do with our portion of the priesthood? Brigham Young preached:
“Now brethren, the man that honors his Priesthood, the woman that honors her Priesthood, will receive an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of God.” (Brigham Young diary, 12 Jan. 1846, Journal of Discourses 17:119.)
And just how is it that we are to honor our Priesthood?
In the early days of the Church, women did give blessings by the laying on of hands. Although Lavina Fielding Anderson has debunked the Mary Fielding Smith and her ox story, there are numerous references to nineteenth-century Mormon women blessing their fellow sisters for illness and for childbearing, sanctioned by the Church until the early 1900's. As late as April 1896 LDS women were instructed to say these words in administering to the sick: “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ & by virtue of the Holy Anointing which I have received.” Until 1900 the First Presidency also authorized women to use the word “seal” in this ordinance. (D. Michael Quinn, "Mormon Women Have Had the Priesthood Since 1843.")
When it became common for priesthood blessings to be performed by anointing the head rather than specific parts of the body, Church leaders began to discourage the performance of Priesthood blessings by women. However, endowed females continued for some time to join in the blessings by laying their hands upon the afflicted person with their husbands. President Joseph F. Smith instructed:
"If a woman is requested to lay hands on the sick with her husband or with any other officer holding the Melchizedek Priesthood, she may do so with perfect propriety. It is no uncommon thing for a man and wife unitedly to administer to their children, and the husband being mouth, he may properly say out of courtesy, 'By authority of the holy priesthood in us vested.'" (Prophet Joseph F. Smith, Improvement Era 10 [February 1907], page 308.)
The practice gradually diminished until it was rarely seen in the wards and stakes of the Church. The only remnant of women's participation in Priesthood ordinances which survived until the 1980's was the token act of a woman holding her child during the performance of a infant's naming and blessing. By 1988 this too had been discouraged.
As Dr. B. noted in his post, I feel comfortable joining in a priesthood blessing when it is given to our children in our own home, by placing my hands on their heads with him. I feel that the current practice of limiting women's jurisdiction to perform priesthood blessings is cultural and results from a reaction to feminist tensions of the mid-20th century. This has kept us from exploring what it means to hold priesthood power through our Temple ordinances.
Now that women giving Priesthood blessings is simply not done, exactly what is the difference between a woman who prays the prayer of faith and one who has been endowed into the Melchizedek Priesthood? Do we have a gift or a power that we simply do not know how to use?