Masonic Customs: Then and Now
A discussion of relevance regarding Masonic Customs in the 21st Century
presented at the
59th Annual Midwest Conference on Masonic Education, Omaha, Nebraska, April 26, 2008
Tim Couch, DDGL 34th Masonic District of Missouri
Actually, this first item is more of an interesting trend that showed up during the research for this presentation. It seems that every Lodge in North America that has been in continuous service for more than two hundred years began in a tavern or pub. In fact all four of the original Lodges that combined to form the Grand Lodge of England in 1717 held their meetings in the anterooms of taverns and pubs. While this is obviously not a Masonic Custom logic would seem to dictate that if we want future Lodges to last for hundreds of years
..well, I think you can see where this is going.
We have represented at this conference thirteen different Masonic jurisdictions, and obviously our Masonic Customs as we have defined them are going to differ, from slightly to somewhat, in all those jurisdictions. Just as our ritual from one State or Province to another is very familiar it is also considerably different. So it is with our Masonic decorum. Our ceremonies, though similar in function, are distinctly different in practice. Even manners can not be said to be the same all over the world.
So, there would be little point in our discussing the specifics of Masonic Customs. There are numerous sources for that specific information in each jurisdiction. Every Grand Lodge produces manuals on the various Lodge Programs and Protocols, Officers Manuals, Manuals on Ceremonies, and of course the Constitution and Bylaws. There are also very knowledgeable and wise committee members, Grand Lodge officers, District Officers, Past Masters and Brethren that can help sort out the proper way of doing things. Simply put, When in doubt, ask for help. As my wife has pointed out to me on numerous occasions there is no shame in stopping to ask for directions.
While there is little point in our discussing specifics, however, there are certain principles of our Masonic Customs that do encompass the whole. Most of these are simple common sense, but they need to be recognized as Masonic Customs because we sometimes forget to use our common sense.
If a Brother attending Lodge is infirm, whether due to age, illness, or injury, he should be assisted so far as he requires and so far as he will allow. If an infirm Brother is unable to attend Lodge meetings the Master should, on occasion, remind the Brethren of his situation and see that he receives an occasional visit from a representative of the Lodge.
The anteroom, or Tilers room, is a part of the Lodge room. The state and condition of the Tilers room is often the first impression a visiting Brother gets of the Lodge so it should reflect the care and respect the members have for the Lodge as a whole. By the same token the conduct of Brethren in the anteroom should reflect and respect the seriousness of the work being conducted inside. Loud talking, laughter, horseplay, anything that can be heard through the outer door will distract the Brethren working inside and detract from the meaningful experience we want for the candidate.
Likewise, the preparation room is a part of the Lodge room. In this room the candidate is prepared to take one of the most important first steps of his life. The room should be clean, uncluttered, and private. The conduct of the Officers attending the candidate should reflect the seriousness of the obligation that the candidate is about to come under. He does not need to know anything of what will happen within, only how and when to respond to those questions directed to him. All will be explained in due course.
Balloting on a petition is a sacred and secret event. When we place a white ball in that ballot box we are saying this is a man that I would be willing to risk my life for. Likewise, when we cast a black cube we are saying this man is unworthy of the same promises I have made to all other Master Masons. It doesnt get much more serious than that. Our behavior when Balloting on a petition should reflect the seriousness of the statement we make with that ballot.
The internal and not the external qualifications of a man are what Freemasonry regards. This little jewel of a Masonic Custom is so important that it is included in the 1st Degree Lecture and the 2nd Degree Charge. Illustrious Brother Albert Mackey considered it to be one of the Landmarks of Freemasonry. I heard it said recently that one of the causes of our declining membership in recent times is that we are not elite enough anymore, that we should be more restrictive in our acceptance of new members. Freemasonry is and always has been an elite organization. Not because only the elite of society need apply, but because Freemasonrys tenets and teachings appeal to that part of a man that aspires to greatness. Yes, we must cautiously and constantly guard against cowans and eavesdroppers, but we do not need to be more restrictive. We need to be more instructive. Freemasonry is not made up of elite men. Freemasonry makes men elite.
When, during the business meeting of the Lodge, a Brother has something to say it is Masonic Custom that he stand and receive permission from the Master before speaking. While the method of requesting that permission varies among jurisdictions it is uniformly Masonic that he is standing when he speaks. This is intended, I believe, to teach us several lessons.
First, if a man believes what he has to say is important enough to stand alone and speak his mind he deserves to be heard, and everyone in the room deserves the opportunity to hear him.
And, just as trivial matters have no place in the business meeting of the Lodge they can only serve as a distraction from the important things in life.