How does a patriarch know what to say in the blessings he pronounces?
All patriarchal blessings come from God. They are revelations from the Father, and the patriarch is the revelator whom the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has assigned to receive that revelation. Consequently, a patriarch must be a spiritual man who is seasoned in the gospel, who knows the doctrine, and who lives a life that is beyond reproach. He is a man who, over years of faithful service in priesthood callings, has learned how to receive revelation and has developed in his personal life the gift for recognizing the whisperings of the Holy Ghost. He is wise, dignified, and mature. Because he has been ordained to the office of patriarch (in the Melchizedek Priesthood), he has a right—by virtue of his priesthood office—to receive revelation on behalf of others, so long as he lives his life in such a way so as to be receptive to God’s Holy Spirit.
You should know that, in the days prior to giving you your blessing, the patriarch will pray specifically for you and about you dozens of times—seeking to see you as Heavenly Father sees you and to know you in ways he only could by revelation. Some patriarchs fast before they give blessings. Your patriarch will study his scriptures intently and be very cautious about what he watches or listens to in order to have the Spirit fully with him. He will be making significant sacrifices in his own life in order to be ready to bless you. These sacrifices will enable him to hear the voice of the Lord through God’s Holy Spirit. These sacrifices will enable him to receive revelation about you even before he places his hands upon your head.
President Harold B. Lee (1899–1973), eleventh President of the Church, shared an experience he had when he ordained a man to be a stake patriarch:
“I was sent back years ago to New York to select a patriarch. We decided upon a certain man and went to his home. He had been out with his sons on the welfare farm pitching manure all day and was tired and weary. After he had changed his clothes and came in, I made him more weary when I told him what it was I had come for—that he was to be called as the patriarch to that stake. The next morning in conference he bore a remarkable testimony. Then afterwards we went to the Manhattan Ward, where I was to ordain him. The office is down in the basement where there is no natural light [because there was no window]. This is the story as told by the stake president’s wife: ‘As you walked over to put your hands on DeWitt Paul’s head, I thought to myself, He is a man with whom we socialize. We have gone on trips with him, to dances, and he has been in our social group. Now part of his responsibility is to declare the lineage from which each one has come in these blessings. He hasn’t been a student of ancient languages—how is he going to know? With these thoughts in my mind, you walked over and put your hands on his head, and a light came from behind you and went right through you and into him. And I thought to myself, Isn’t that a strange coincidence that the sunlight has come in just at that moment. And then I realized that there was no sunlight. I was witnessing the answer to my question. That light came from somewhere beyond Brother Lee and went through Brother Lee into this patriarch. Then I knew where he was going to get that information—by the revelations of Almighty God.’”1
Of this experience, President Boyd K. Packer (1924–2015), President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, “And so it must be. Whenever a patriarch is ordained or pronounces a blessing, that same light, though it may be unseen, is present. It empowers a patriarch to declare lineage and to give a prophetic blessing, notwithstanding that he himself may be a man of very ordinary capacity.”2 As I have noted, God is the one giving the blessing; not the stake patriarch. Thus, so long as the patriarch and the one receiving the blessing are worthy and prepared, God will pour out the light of revelation, inspiring the patriarch to say just what needs to be said. One stake patriarch shared his experience of giving a patriarchal blessing:
“I began to repeat the introductory sentence. … While I was doing this, although my eyes were closed, I felt that I was looking at a large placard on which was printed part of the blessing. I would read it and new words would appear. This happened a number of times. When no more words appeared I closed with an appropriate sentence.”3
Of course, patriarchs all receive revelation in their own way. Some may see the words, as this patriarch did, and some may hear them. Others may just have impressions and feelings as to what they should say. Regardless of which of these is the case for your stake patriarch, the point is that God inspires them—because they are good and holy men and because God loves you so much that He will not leave the content of your blessing to chance. If the patriarch makes promises under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit—and by his ordained authority—you can rest assured, those promises will come to pass. President Thomas S. Monson (1927–2018) shared a story that illustrates this truth:
“Many years ago, a humble and faithful patriarch, Brother Percy K. Fetzer, was called to give patriarchal blessings to Church members living behind the Iron Curtain. Brother Fetzer went into the land of Poland in those dark days. The borders were sealed, and no citizens were permitted to leave. Brother Fetzer met with German Saints who had been trapped there when the borders were redefined following World War II and the land where they were living became part of Poland. Our leader among all of those German Saints was Brother Eric P. Konietz, who lived there with his wife and children. Brother Fetzer gave Brother and Sister Konietz and the older children patriarchal blessings. "When Brother Fetzer returned to the United States, he called and asked if he could come visit with me. As he sat in my office, he began to weep. He said, ‘Brother Monson, as I laid my hands upon the heads of the members of the Konietz family, I made promises which cannot be fulfilled. I promised Brother and Sister Konietz that they would be able to return to their native Germany, that they would not be held captive by the arbitrary decisions of conquering countries and that they would be sealed together as a family in the house of the Lord. I promised their son that he would fill a mission, and I promised their daughter that she would be married in the holy temple of God. You and I know that because of the closed borders, they will not be able to receive the fulfillment of those blessings. What have I done?’ I said, ‘Brother Fetzer, I know you well enough to know that you have done just what our Heavenly Father wanted you to do.’ The two of us knelt down beside my desk and poured out our hearts to our Heavenly Father, indicating that promises had been given to a devoted family pertaining to the temple of God and other blessings now denied to them. Only He could bring forth the miracle we needed. The miracle occurred. A pact was signed between the leaders of the Polish government and the leaders of the Federal Republic of Germany, permitting German nationals who had been trapped in that area to move to West Germany. Brother and Sister Konietz and their children moved to West Germany, and Brother Konietz became the bishop of the ward in which they resided. The entire Konietz family went to the holy temple in Switzerland. And who was the temple president who greeted them in a white suit with open arms? None other than Percy Fetzer—the patriarch who gave them the promise. Now, in his capacity as president of the Bern Switzerland Temple, he welcomed them to the house of the Lord, to the fulfillment of that promise, and sealed the husband and wife together and the children to their parents. The young daughter eventually married in the house of the Lord. The young son received his call and fulfilled a full-time mission.4
God inspires his stake patriarchs. Even they, at times, may be surprised by the miraculous promises He makes to His children; but God will always bring to pass the promises made through His appointed servants.
Regarding the content of your blessing, one stake patriarch explained, “Many [patriarchal blessings] are accompanied by the feeling that we have heard [their contents] before…. You may have similar feelings when you receive your blessing. [This familiar feeling] is often a recall of your premortal knowledge weaved within the vocabulary of the patriarch.”5 In other words, if what the patriarch says to you feels strangely familiar, it may be because your spirit recognizes these promises from when you were in the premortal existence—when those very same promises were made to you by your Father in Heaven.
As it relates to how patriarchs know how to do what they have been called by God to do, perhaps one other point is worth making. In addition to their ordination, stake patriarchs are given training to assist them in their assignment.
Would a different patriarch give me the exact same blessing?
No two patriarchs would give, word for word, the same blessing.6 However, there is a reason for that. Elder John A. Widtsoe (1872–1952) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained, “Since patriarchs are but men, … their manner of speech and thinking is reflected in their blessings. Different men express the same idea in different words. The Lord does not dictate blessings to them word for word. … Nevertheless, if the patriarch lives worthily, he is sustained by the power and authority of his calling, and will pronounce blessings intended for us.” In other words, regardless of how many patriarchs gave you your blessing, similar themes would likely be discussed in each. Yet it is important to know that God gives the patriarch the truths that should be spoken, but He often leaves it up to the patriarch to articulate those truths—to the best of his ability—in his own language. Consequently, were three different patriarchs to give you a patriarchal blessing, each might bless you with the gift of tongues. However, one might say something like, “You will have a gift for languages;” another might say, “You will be endowed with the gift to convey the truths of the gospel to people in a way that they will be able to clearly understand them;” and another might simply say, “You will have the gift of tongues.” The blessing is the same, but the way a given patriarch will express that would surely vary from patriarch to patriarch. One author explained it this way:
“Blessings from two patriarchs might be comparable to the same scene painted by two different artists. There would be many differences in the finished painting (as in word choices compared to brush strokes), but the two pictures would have the same content. If they were at different times, they might be affected by the season or changes in the landscape but still have the same elements in the picture.”8
In addition, the age at which you receive your blessing would also influence what a patriarch would tell you. What a patriarch would bless you with at 16 is not likely to be the same as what he would bless you with if you were receiving your blessing at 66. For example, if the 16-year-old were receiving his blessing, there might be counsel regarding selecting a mate. However, if a 66-year-old had been happily married for forty years—and was still married at the time he or she received a patriarchal blessing—there would be no counsel given about choosing a mate. Thus, the stage of life you are in influences the blessings the Lord chooses to reveal. That would be true if the same patriarch was blessing you at sixteen or sixty-six. The content would vary because your needs at that stage of life would be different.
- Harold B. Lee, The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, Clyde J. Williams, comp. (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1998), 488–89.
- Boyd K. Packer, “The Stake Patriarch,” Ensign, November 2002, 45.
- Urvin Gee, cited in Gayla Wise, The Power of Your Patriarchal Blessing (Provo, UT: Spring Creek, 2007), 78.
- Thomas S. Monson, “Blessings of the Temple,” Ensign, November 2010, 16–17.
- Garry H. Boyle, A Loving Letter from God: Your Patriarchal Blessing (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, 2015), 70.
- Eldred G. Smith, “What Is a Patriarchal Blessing?” The Instructor 97, no. 2 (February 1962): 43.
- John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, vol. 1 (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1943), 76.
- Garry H. Boyle, A Loving Letter from God: Your Patriarchal Blessing (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, 2015), 158.
Editor's note: The article originally ran on LDS Living in May 2019.