Alma the Elder sees in the condition of his son the hand of God. He sees in the hand of God a way that his son will make dramatic atonement for his actions against the church. Rather than the persecutor he has been in the past, Alma the Younger will serve as a healer and promoter of the church of God.
With this understanding, Alma the Elder initiates two actions. He assembles a multitude to watch, and he sets apart the priests to pray. The prayers of the priests are for Alma’s recovery. That Alma assembled the multitude first shows his faith in God. The people would see the transformation from powerful persecutor to complete invalid, and then the transformation from one appearing near death to one powerfully brought back to life.
In the context of the Book of Mormon, Alma the Younger has been fighting against the church, and particularly against the coming atoning Messiah. The prophecies of that Messiah are that he will die and be resurrected. In a very dramatic fashion, Alma the Younger becomes the visual symbol of that coming atoning Messiah. Alma the Younger, symbolically dead, will be resurrected to life. As with the atoning Messiah, where the pre-death being was mortal and subject to the world (as Alma had proved to be) the post-resurrection being would be God. While Alma was certainly not resurrected to the status of god, his transformation was still tremendous, and the new person was a powerful advocate for the church he had once persecuted.
This possible resurrection theme places a context to this particular difference between the experiences of Alma the Younger and Saul. Where Saul is blinded (perhaps symbolic of his prior refusal to “see” the reality of Jesus as Savior), Alma is debilitated. Symbolically, Alma the Younger also underwent an experience that was highly symbolic, but in Alma’s case, most directly related to the nature of his particular apostasy.
Social: The separation of the multitude and the priests demonstrates that the priests were considered a different social group from the “multitude.” They were specially appointed to their roles, and performed specific functions in behalf of the multitude. Their separate action highlights both their separation, and their function as servants to the multitude in the performance of religious ritual.