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.
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?
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?