Home > Ceremony, Freemasonry, ritual, Symbolism > Masonic Ritual – Who is it for?

Masonic Ritual – Who is it for?

Every once in a while, the Past Masters – I should get into the habit of saying we Past Masters, now that I am one – are fond of telling the new officers that the ritual is for the candidates. “No slacking off now, brothers,” we intone, “Remember that it’s for the candidates.” And of course, we tell them that because older Past Masters told that to us; and just like most of the other little things that have become traditions, we continue to pass this truism down, as well.

Ritual.

Do it well.

It’s for the candidates.

Our new Entered Apprentices are told right from the start that there are no more excellent tenets or useful instruction than are laid down in our various Masonic lectures. When properly delivered, these lectures are some of the most inspiring speeches ever handed down. Just the fact that they are handed down is in itself an inspiration to those who understand that fellow Freemasons have listened to the same or similar lectures for the last two and a half centuries. The lectures and speeches are filled with symbolism and instruction, and those of us who have put the time into learning them know just how difficult it can be to deliver them with meaning.

All this just for the candidates?

You mean those new guys standing there in the front of the room with the deer-caught-in-the-headlights look? Those guys?

Really?

Brothers – why isn’t it for us?

Let me ask this again: Our fraternity has some of the most morally instructive and spiritually inspiring ceremonies, all of which are delivered from memory at no small personal effort. When did we lose the motivation, the initiative to do it for ourselves?

I’m at the age where I attend almost as many funerals as I do weddings; but for each occasion I have lately discovered that during the ceremony I suddenly “hear” something new. Yes, I may have seen the ceremony and heard the same words a dozen times, but each time I hear something that I never noticed before. Why? Maybe a minister or rabbi delivers a line with more or less emphasis, or maybe because of where I am in my own life’s journey some passage that I’ve heard countless times before will strike me with a new insight. Who hasn’t been sitting at a wedding and suddenly turned to their partner upon hearing a line that reminds you of your love? Who hasn’t been to a funeral and been suddenly reminded of your own mortality? That is the purpose of ritual and ceremony – not only to instruct the new members, but to remind us – the old members – of our previous instruction.

Oh sure, after the umpteenth time we’ve heard the Charge to the Entered Apprentice or the explanation of The Letter G, we stop paying attention. Well, we almost stop paying attention; that is, we stop listening to the lecture and we focus on how many prompts the acting Senior Deacon needs, or we listen to see if the Senior Warden missed a word, or to feel smug when the visiting Past Master mixes up the paragraph order in an Obligation… that is, if we, ourselves, can even remember how it was supposed to go.

Did you recognize your brothers? Your lodge? Yourself?

Give this some thought: When did our ritual become less inspiring? When did our degrees become merely a pastime between dinner and desserts? When did you stop noticing something “new” in a lecture?

How many of us have substituted listening for hearing?

And more importantly, why?

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  1. James Canby Landerkin
    March 24, 2007 at 7:47 am

    Brother, thank you for an interesting article. One of the most overlooked benefits of being a Mason is the practice one gets at public speaking. True, most of the speaking we do is in front of a very small public — the Lodge members, but it is an opportunity to enhance one’s speaking skills, nonetheless.

    That beings me to the point — we must not let the ritual become a simple recitation, something to try to get through quickly and without mistakes. Each lecture or charge should be practiced and *performed* so as to make it a meaningful event both for the new candidate as well as the 50-year member.

    I would much rather have a well-performed and meaningful lecture that contains a mistake or two than a perfect (and perfectly boring) recitation that contains no emotion or sense of drama.

    Like

  2. March 24, 2007 at 8:37 am

    I would much rather have a well-performed and meaningful lecture that contains a mistake or two than a perfect (and perfectly boring) recitation that contains no emotion or sense of drama.

    What?! Sacrilege, I tell you! đŸ˜‰

    I am completely with you on this. Like you, I really dislike seeing word-perfect ritual that could easily have just been read from the book. Yet another point is that some men get so focused on not missing a word that they deliver a lecture the way that someone might, say, memorize the first three hundred digits of pi. Where is the instruction in that?

    James, thanks for stopping by.

    Like

  3. April 2, 2007 at 8:35 pm

    Bro. Tom:

    I hope you don’t mind – I read this article in Lodge as a short-talk format. It was when we had our newest EA in after a stated meeting and we were shooting the Masonic breeze (as much as one can in a Lodge of Entered Apprentices). I was reminded of this article, so I looked it up and printed it out and read it in short-talk form. I gave you credit for it and directed everyone to your blog. The talk was VERY well-received. You should send this to your Grand Lodge and see if they would like to use it for educational purposes.

    Like

  4. April 3, 2007 at 4:34 pm

    Bro. Josh –

    As it happens, I’m on the GL Education Committee, although we don’t seem to do much of the Masonic type education anymore. We’re gearing up to do more team building and management related things.

    That said, my new job as DGL would be a more appropriate way to spread this around. I’m a bit hesitant about passing some of this around, or of saying “Hey, read my blog” to the guys that I’m going to be working with, but what the hell.

    Thanks for the compliments. By all means, feel free to pass this on.

    Like

  1. June 24, 2016 at 1:11 pm

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