A phrase that is used at ordinations and confirmations, but what does it mean?
The first reading today from Deuteronomy says that Moses had laid hands on Joshua. At confirmation the bishop and priests would lay hands on the people to be confirmed. This is not done so often as the groups of people to be confirmed are quite large. At deacon and priestly ordinations, the time is taken for first the bishop to lay hands on the candidate and then the deacons and priests present, respectively, would lay hands on the candidate. During the laying on of hands, the bishop, deacons, or priests offer prayers for the individual.
What are the prayers? They are different by person but all in some respects are invoking the Holy Spirit. We should not jump to the conclusion that some special power or function is being placed or infused into the candidate. We, as humans, can receive the graces God gives us, but we cannot impart those to others. What we are praying is that this person would be drawn up into the Holy Spirit, into the oneness of God in the Trinity. Drawn into the oneness of God we submit our will to God’s will such that then He can work through us. There are also times in the confessional when the priest says the prayers of absolution he may place his hands on the penitents head, again invoking the Holy Spirit.
At the next confirmation, or reception of RCIA candidates, or if you can attend an ordination, think of the Holy Spirit being invoked, but more importantly, pray for the candidate that they be drawn up into the oneness of God.
May the Lord bless you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen