Masonic Temple's Blue Room, Fort Smith, Arkansas

The Symbolic (Blue) Lodge

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The Symbolic Lodge (also known as the Ancient Craft Lodge, the St. John's Lodge, and most commonly as the Blue Lodge) is the fundamental body of Freemasonry. No other part of Masonry is accessible until one has received the three degrees of the Symbolic Rite. Admission to membership in the Lodge, as in any body of Masonry, is by petition. Freemasons do not recruit members. (Some jurisdictions have allowed a very limited form of inquiry by a Mason to a friend who might be qualified to become a Mason.) A man who wishes to join the Lodge must request a petition from a Brother. The basic qualifications for membership are that a man be of lawful age (which depends on the jurisdiction; in some states it is 18, and in others, 21), believe in a Supreme Being, be of good character, and request the privilege of membership of his own free choice. There is a fee for the degrees (not unlike tuition for other kinds of instruction), and at least a portion thereof must accompany the petition in most jurisdictions. Once a petition has been received, the applicant's character will be investigated by a committee appointed for that purpose. After the committee's report is received, the candidate will be ballotted on at a meeting of the Lodge. A unanimous ballot is required for election to receive the degrees. (In some jurisdictions, no more than one negative vote.) Not everyone is elected. (It is for this reason that traditionally the applicant must request the privilege of petitioning; in case of rejection, he cannot claim that his friend solicited his membership but was unable to keep his promise.)

The Degrees of the Symbolic Rite

An applicant whose ballot is favorable will be contacted by the Secretary of the Lodge as to when to appear to receive the first degree, that of Entered Apprentice. The EA degree is conferred in a ceremony that takes about two hours (the length depends on the jurisdiction, as ritual differs from state to state). The EA degree provides information on the duties of every Mason and conveys details of the symbolic structure and origin of the Lodge. After receiving the EA degree, a statutory time period must elapse before the next degree can be conferred. There is also a certain amount of material that the candidate must commit to memory in order to be qualified to receive the next degree.

The Second Degree, Fellowcraft, follows a similar pattern to that of the EA degree, although its ritual is, of course, different. The FC degree informs the candidate of additional responsibilities associated with his more advanced status, and extends the boundaries of Masonic knowledge beyond the Lodge to practical applications in the world at large.

Again, a statutory time period must elapse, and material must be learned, before the candidate can proceed beyond the FC degree.

The final degree of the Symbolic Rite is the Master Mason Degree. This degree is somewhat more lengthy than the others, as befits its character and significance. It requires further duties of the aspirant, who will become a full member of the Masonic fraternity when this degree is received, and because the holders of this degree are qualified to serve in leadership roles, the degree provides peculiarly Masonic instructions relative to such undertakings.

For a final time, there is material to be memorized in association with the MM degree; in some jurisdictions, this task must be completed prior to petitioning any other organizations within Masonry.

Although the degrees subsequent to the Master Mason Degree are often referred to as "higher degrees," the MM Degree is actually the "highest" degree in Masonry. One can never be more of a Mason than a Master Mason, but one can become a better-educated Mason, which is the intent of the additional degrees of the York and Scottish Rites.

Lodge Organization

The Symbolic Lodge is governed by a Master and two Wardens, along with a group of other officers of appropriate responsibilities. Most lodges meet once or twice a month, but some, particularly those organized for special purposes (e.g., research lodges) may meet quarterly or less often. A meeting specified by the by-laws of the lodge is called a stated communication; a meeting held at some other time is termed a called communication. Most lodges (and other Masonic bodies) use an advancing line of officers; a Brother will serve one year in a position and then move up to a more responsible position the following year (if he has served conscientiously) in a regular pattern. This provides officers with experience at all levels of responsibility and allows for orderly planning of activities. It is also necessary that a Brother serve a year as either Junior or Senior Warden to be qualified for election as Master of a Lodge; the principle of line advancement in office provides this opportunity. The lodges within any particular jurisdiction are governed by a Grand Lodge, which has its own Grand Officers. The Grand Master of Masons in a jurisdiction is the final authority on all matters Masonic concerning the Craft in his jurisdiction. Most Grand Masters serve a one-year term. In the United States, a Masonic jurisdiction generally coincides with the boundaries of a state, but this is not necessarily the case in other parts of the world.

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