HOW IS MASONRY ORGANISED?
The basic unit of Freemasonry is a Masonic lodge, of which there are many thousands across the world. Each lodge is a member of a Grand Lodge, based either on a State (as in the United States or Australia), or on a Country. Each lodge has a number of Officers, the three most important of which are the Worshipful Master (or simply, the Master), the Senior Warden and Junior Warden. Others include Secretary and Treasurer. So the Grand Lodge also has Officers, the main ones being the Grand Master, Deputy Grand Master, Senior Grand Warden, Junior Grand Warden, Grand Secretary and Grand Treasurer.
Each lodge elects a new Master annually, and subsequently, usually on a fixed date, the new Master is installed in the chair of the lodge, and the lodge officers invested. The Grand Lodge, in which each lodge is represented (usually by its Master, Past Masters, and two Wardens), meets regularly. Many Grand Lodges meet quarterly, though some only twice yearly, or even annually. Every year, the Grand Master is elected and installed, and the Grand Officers invested, although in many Grand Lodges the Grand Master (although usually elected annually) traditionally serves more than one year in the role. Those elected as Grand Master tend to be men who have made a significant contribution in the wider community. For example, if one looks historically at the Grand Masters of the six Australian Grand Lodges, there have been many State Governors, noted doctors, lawyers and businessmen among them.
Freemasonry is not one worldwide condominium. Each Grand Lodge is fully independent. That said, most Grand Lodges, even though their rituals are often different (although larger similar), maintain warm relations with each other. Any Mason, all things being equal, can visit a lodge anywhere in the world, and even join as a member.
WHAT DO MASONS DO IN LODGE?
Around the world, lodges meet at various times and on various days. Some lodges meet (such as in London) only three to four times per year, in other places monthly, or bi-monthly, and in many countries of Europe, weekly. It is common in the northern hemisphere for lodges to recess in June, July and August – in the southern hemisphere, in at least January. Worldwide, most lodges meet in the early evening.
Frequently, the main purpose of a lodge meeting is to work one of the three degree ceremonies of Freemasonry. The lodge is opened accordingly to its ritual, usually followed by administrative business (confirmation of minutes, correspondence, treasurer’s report), and as appropriate, the reception of visitors. Thereafter, the Master and officers of the lodge perform a degree ceremony. Occasionally, instead of working a ceremony, a lodge with have a guest speaker talking about some aspect of Freemasonry.
The three degrees (stages of progression) are: Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason, which are taken by a new member in that order. On the night he joins, the new member becomes an Entered Apprentice. At subsequent meetings he becomes a Fellow Craft, and then a Master Mason. There is often a gap of six to twelve months between receiving each degree. Each of the three ceremonies involves a ritual ceremony, which dates back several hundred years.
AREN’T MASONIC CEREMONIES SECRET?
The ceremonies of Freemasonry hark back to the operative lodges of the Middle Ages. The masons’ craft was then quite itinerant. In this era, few people could read or write, and there was no such thing as written qualifications. The problem of adjudging the claimed qualifications and experience of a person arriving to work at castle or cathedral under construction was obvious. This was solved by developing ‘modes of recognition’—signs and words, as well as grades of qualification (Apprentice, Fellow of the Craft, etc). Thus, when a stranger turned up at a building site, his qualifications and experience could be checked. These ‘modes of recognition’ have come down to us, and are incorporated in modern Masonic ceremonies.
Freemasonry is not a secret society, but it is a society with secrets: it contains some things that are restricted to members alone. The secrets in the three Masonic degrees are a very small part of the ceremony—a handshake, a word and a sign for each degree.
When you think about it, society in general is based to some extent on secrecy. The discussions of a company board meeting are secret. Discussions amongst a family group often contain privileged information. So it is with Freemasonry. That said, 95% of what occurs in a Masonic lodge is not secret.
In Australia, there is no secret where lodges meet and who their members are. Anyone can obtain a copy of the Grand Lodge’s Constitutions. Indeed, if you are interested enough, you can find a copy of Masonic ritual in many public libraries, or even buy a copy from a book shop. In the end, few bother. People tend to buy a book on golf only if they are interested in golf. Largely, the only people interested in Freemasonry are its members.
SO, WHAT ARE THE MASONIC CEREMONIES ABOUT?
As noted above, Freemasonry dates back hundreds of years. The three degrees of Freemasonry are largely based on the Old Testament story of the building of King Solomon’s Temple. All three degrees are sequentially linked in their teachings. The First Degree (Entered Apprentice) symbolizes one’s birth; the Second Degree (Fellow Craft), one’s transition through life, and the Third Degree (Master Mason) deals with the subject of death (to quote from the Third Degree ceremony: ‘to the just and virtuous man, death holds no terrors equal to the stain of falsehood and dishonour’). The ceremonies incorporate the use of the tools of operative masons (such as the square and compasses) to impart moral lessons. As an example, the following is the wording of the address on the Working Tools given to the candidate in the Second Degree. As will be noted, the address is one of great beauty, and imparts a number of moral truths:
I now present to your notice the working tools of a Fellow Craft Freemason. They are the square, level, and plumb rule. The square is to try and to adjust all rectangular corners of buildings, and assist in bringing rude matter into due form, the level to lay levels, and prove horizontals, and the plumb rule to try, and to adjust all uprights, while fixing them on their proper bases. But, as we are met not as operative but rather as Free and Accepted or Symbolic Masons, it is the moral to be derived from the contemplation of these tools to which I would direct your attention.
The square teaches us to regulate our lives and actions according to Masonic line and rule, and to harmonise our conduct in this life so as to render us acceptable to that Divine Being from whom all goodness springs, and to whom we must give an account of all our actions.
The level demonstrates that we are all sprung from the same stock, are partakers of the same nature, and sharers in the same hope; and, although distinctions among men are necessary to preserve subordination, yet ought no eminence of station make us forget that we are brothers, for he who is placed on the lowest spoke of fortune’s wheel is equally entitled to our regard, as a time will come—and the wisest of us knows not how soon—when all distinctions save those of goodness and virtue, shall cease, and death, the great leveller of all human greatness, shall reduce us to the same state.
The infallible plumb rule, which, like Jacob’s ladder, connects heaven and earth, is the criterion of rectitude and truth. It teaches us to walk justly and uprightly before God and man, turning neither to the right nor the left from the paths of virtue. Not to be an enthusiast, persecutor, or slanderer of religion, bending neither towards avarice, injustice, malice, revenge, nor the envy and contempt of mankind, but giving up every selfish propensity which might injure others. To steer the barque of this life over the seas of passion, without quitting the helm of rectitude, is the highest perfection to which human nature can attain, and, as the builder raises his column by the level and perpendicular, so ought every Freemason conduct himself towards this world, to observe a due medium between avarice and profusion, to hold the scales of justice with equal poise, to make his passions and prejudices coincide with the just line of his conduct, and in all his pursuits to have eternity in view.
In this sense the square teaches morality, the level equality, and the plumb rule justness and uprightness of life and actions. Thus, by square conduct, level steps, and upright intentions, we hope to ascend to those heavenly mansions whence all goodness emanates.
Ritual, United Grand Lodge of Victoria
WHAT DO MASONS DO WHEN THEIR LODGE MEETING IS OVER?
In most lodges, after a meeting is concluded, a ‘Festive Board’ is held. This is simply the Masonic term for a dinner or a supper. Some lodges regularly hold only a light supper after meetings, while others prefer a full dinner. Mostly, these repasts will be held in a hall within the Masonic building, but there are some lodges that move on to dine at a local restaurant. Virtually all lodges hold a full dinner after their annual Installation meeting.
As well as the repast, the ‘Festive Board’, in most lodges, involves a number of toasts. These are to The Queen, the New Member (as applicable), the Visitors to the Lodge, and the Tyler’s Toast.
The Toast to the Queen, which is always honoured, is not in any way a ‘political statement’. It does not imply that Freemasonry is a monarchist organisation! Freemasons are charged, as part of its teachings, to obey the law of land, and respect its legal institutions. In Australia, The Queen is Head of State. In other countries, as appropriate, the toast is to ‘The President’, or to whatever office heads its government.
The final toast is the Tyler’s Toast. The Tyler is the lodge officer responsible for looking after the admission of members and visitors to the lodge—the lodge ‘doorman’. His toast is to remember those members who, for whatever reason, are not present at the meeting. The wording is as follows: ‘To all poor and distressed Freemasons, where so ever scattered over the Earth’s broad surface, a speedy relief to their suffering, and a safe return to their native land should they so desire.’