The Lodge is the center o
f activities for masons. Masonry teaches that each person
has a responsibility to make things better in the world. Most individuals will not be
the ones to find a cure for cancer, or eliminate poverty, or help create world peace,
but every man and woman an
d child can do something to help others and to make
things a little better. Masonry is deeply involved with helping people
more than $1.4 million dollars every day in the
United States, just to make life a
little easier and the great majority
of that help goes to people who are not Masons.
Some of these charities are vast projects, like the Crippled
and Burns Institutes built by the
Also, Scottish Rite Masons maintain a
nationwide network of over 100 Childhood
Language Disorders Clinics, Centers,
and Programs. Each helps children afflicted by such conditions as aphasia,
dyslexia, stuttering, and related learning or speech disorders.
Some services are less noticeable, like helping a widow pay her electric bill or
buying coats and shoes for disadvantaged children. And there is just about
anything you can think of in
between, but with projects large or small, the Masons
of a lodge try to help make the world a better place. The lodge gives them a way to
others to do even more good.
Masonry does things "inside" the individual Mason. "Grow or die" is a great law of
all nature. Most people feel a need for continued growth as individuals. They feel
they are not as honest or as charitable or as compassionate o
r as loving or as
trusting or as well
informed as they ought to be. Masonry reminds its members
over and over again of the importance of these qualities and education. It lets men
associate with other men of honor and integrity who believe that things like
honesty, compassion, love, trust, and knowledge are important. In some ways,
Masonry is a support group for men who are trying to make the right decisions. It
is easier to practice these virtues when you know that those around you think they
, too, and will not laugh at you. That is a major reason that Masons
enjoy being together.
Masons enjoy each
company. It is good to spend time with people you can
trust completely, and most Masons find that in their lodge. While much of lodge
activity is spent in works of charity or in lessons in self
development, much is also
spent in fellowship. Lodges have pi
cnics, camping trips, and many events for the
whole family. Simply put, a lodge is a place to spend time with frien
For members only, two basic kinds of meetings take place in a lodge. The most
common is a simple business meeting. To open and close the
meeting, there is a
ceremony whose purpose is to remind us of the virtues by which we are supposed
to live. Then there is a reading of the minutes; voting on petitions (applications of
men who want to join the fraternity); planning for charitable functions
events, and other lodge activities; and sharing information about members (called
"Brothers," as in most fraternities) who are ill or have some sort of need. The other
kind of meeting is one in which people join the fraternity
one at which the
"degrees" are performed.
But every lodge serves more than its own members. Frequently, there are meetings
open to the public. Examples are Ladies Nights, "Brother Bring a Friend Nights,"
public installations of officers, cornerstone laying ceremonies, and
meetings supporting community events and dealing with topics of local interest>
A degree is a stage or level of membership. It is also the ceremony by which a man
attains that level of membership. There are three, called Entered Apprentice,Fellowcraft, and Master Mason. As you can see, the names are taken from the craft guilds. In the Middle Ages, when a person wanted to join a craft,such as the gold smiths r the carpenters or the stonemasons, he was first apprenticed. As an apprentice, he learned the tools and skills of the trade. When he ad proved his skills, he became a "Fellow of the Craft" (today we would say"Journeyman"), and when he had exceptional ability, he was known as a Master of the Craft.The degrees are plays in which the candidate participates. Each degree uses
symbols to teach, just as plays did in the Middle Ages and as many theatrical productions do today. (We will talk about symbols a little later.) The Masonic degrees teach the great lessons of life
the importance of honor and
integrity, of being a person on whom others can rely, of being both trusting and trustworthy, of realizing that you have a spiritual nature as well as a physical or animal nature, of the importance of self
control, of knowin
g how to love and beloved, of knowing how to keep confidential what others tell you so that they can
"open up" without fear.
It really is not "secretive," although it sometimes has that reputation. Masons
certainly do not
make a secret of the fact that they are members of the fraternity.
We wear rings, lapel pins, and tie clasps with Masonic emblems like the Square
and Compasses, the best known of Masonic signs which, logically, recall the
fraternity’ s early symbolic roots
in stonemasonry. Masonic buildings are clearly
marked, and are usually listed in the phone book. Lodge activities are not secret
picnics and other events are even listed in the newspapers, especially in smaller
towns. Many lodges have answering machine
s which give the upcoming lodge
activities. But there are some Masonic secrets, and they fall into two categories.
The first are the ways in which a man can identify himself as a Mason
passwords. We keep those private for obvious reasons. It i
s not at all unknown for
unscrupulous people to try to pass themselves off as Masons in order to get
assistance under false pretenses.
The second group is harder to describe, but they are the ones Masons usually mean
if we talk about "Masonic secrets." The
y are secrets because they literally
be talked about,
be put into words. They are the changes that happen to a
man when he really accepts responsibility for his own life and, at the same time,
truly decides that his real happiness is in hel
It is a wonderful feeling, but it is something you simply
explain to another
person. That is why we sometimes say that Masonic secrets cannot (rather than
"may not") be told. Try telling someone exactly what you feel when you see a
utiful sunset, or when you hear music, like the national anthem, which suddenly
stirs old memories, and you will understand what we mean.
"Secret societies" became very popular in America in the late 1800s and early
1900s. There were literally hundreds of
them, and most people belonged to two or
three. Many of them were modeled on Masonry, and made a great point of having
many "secrets." Freemasonry got ranked with them. But if Masonry is a secret
society, it is the worst
kept secret in the world.
The answer to that question is
We do use ritual in meetings, and because there is always an altar or table with the
Volume of the Sacred Law open if a lodge is meeting, some people have confused
Masonry with a religion, but it
is not. That does not mean that religion plays no
part in Masonry
it plays a very important part. A person who wants to become a
Mason must have a belief in God. No atheist can ever become a Mason. Meetings
open with prayer, and a Mason is taught, as on
e of the first lessons of Masonry,
that one should pray for divine counsel and guidance before starting an important
undertaking. But that does not make Masonry a "religion."
Sometimes people confuse Masonry with a religion because we call some Masonic
ldings "temples." But we use the word in the same sense that Justice Oliver
Wendell Holmes called the Supreme Court a "Temple of Justice" and because a
Masonic lodge is a symbol of the Temple of Solomon. Neither Masonry nor the
Supreme Court is a religion
just because its members meet in a "temple."
In some ways, the relationship between Masonry and religion is like the
relationship between the Parent
Teacher Association (the P.T.A.) and education.
Members of the P.T.A. believe in the importance of educatio
n. They support it.
They assert that no man or woman can be a complete and whole individual or live
up to his or her full potential without education. They encourage students to stay in
school and parents to be involved with the education of their children
. They may
give scholarships. They encourage their members to get involved with and to
support their individual schools.
But there are some things
do not do. They do not teach. They do not tell
people which school to attend. They do not try to tell
people what they should
study or what their major should be.
In much the same way, Masons believe in the importance of religion. Masonry
encourages every Mason to be active in the religion and church of his own choice.
Masonry teaches that without religio
n a man is alone and lost, and that without
religion, he can never reach his full potential.
But Freemasonry does not tell a person which religion he should practice or how
he should practice it. That is between the individual and God. That is the function
of his house of worship, not his fraternity, and Masonry is a fraternity, not a
Bibles are popular gifts among Masons, frequently given to a man when he joins
the lodge or at other special events. A Masonic Bible is th
e same book anyone
thinks of as a Bible (it is usually the King James translation) with a special page in
the front on which to write the name of the person who is receiving it and the
occasion on which it is given. Sometimes there is a special index or in
section which shows the person where in the Bible to find the passages which are
quoted in the Masonic ritual
Many of us may think of religion when we think of ritual, but ritual is used in
every aspect of life. It is so much a part of us that we just do not notice it. Ritual simply means that some things are done more or less the same way each time. Almost all school assemblies, for example, start with the principal or some other official calling for the attention of the group. Then the group is led in the Pledge of Allegiance. A school choir or the entire group may sing the school song. That is a ritual. Almost all business meetings of every sort call the group to order, have a reading
of the minutes of the last meeting, deal with old business, then with new business.That is a ritual. Most groups use Robert’s
Rules of Order to conduct a meeting. That is probably the best-known book of ritual in the world.There are social rituals which tell us how to meet people (we shake hands), how to join a conversation (we wait for a pause, and then speak), how to buy tickets to aconcert (we wait in line and do not push in ahead of those who were there first).There are literally hundreds of examples,and they are all rituals.Masonry uses a ritual because it is an effective way to teach important ideas
the values we have talked about earlier, and it reminds us where we are, just as the ritual of a business meeting reminds people where they are and what they are supposed to be doing. Masonry’s ritual is very rich because it is so old. It has developed over centuries to contain some beautiful language and ideas expressed in symbols. But there's nothing unusual in using ritual. All of us do it every day.