Many of the important happenings of life are accomplished with
the aid of, or are accompanied by, solemn ceremonies.
Few of these are single entities; usually they consist of several ceremonies, connected
but distinct, together forming a more impressively complete whole when they are connected
Church services differ, but many if not most have a certain essentials in common: prayer;
a sermon; music; an offering-separate parts of a worship which, together form the whole.
V Graduation from school or college is a solemn ceremony, made up of several parts: an
assembly of graduates-to-be before their fellows, their relatives and friends; an address
by the President; a valedictory by a member of the class; the presentation of diplomas; a
prayer. These are part which, together, make up a complete whole.
A formal wedding in church, a burial, the consecration of a bishop, the inauguration of a
president, all are examples of complete ceremonies made up of several parts.
The ceremonies of Freemasonry are usually thought of but as "the three degrees,"
but each--Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason -is a complete ceremony made u
of several parts. So, also, are the public ceremonies of Freemasonry-corner-stone layings
and funerals, as well as those observances which are not concerned with making a Mason -
installation, reception, Grand Visitation, etc.
The separate ceremonies of the three degrees of Freemasonry are not for individuals only;
in general they are so arranged that many take part. They are not mere recitations to
which a candidate or a brother listens, inactive, but formalities of dignity and
importance which gain in both by the active participation of candidate and brethren.
The two most important events of a man's life occur without his volition of consent; he is
born, eventually he dies, and he has nothing to do with either (unless he commits
suicide). But all else of importance that occurs to him during his life time (acts of God
excluded) are to some extent a matter of his choice. He goes to school, takes a job, gets
married, has children, engages in politics or the reverse, becomes active in the affairs
of his city, state, nation, all of some extent at least of his own desire, intention and
It is the same in the lodge. What happens to him there, what he there accomplishes, is
because of intention and desire. The ceremonies of Freemasonry emphasize that fact by
including him in active participation, whether he comes fresh as an initiate or is already
Some Masons have objected to two of their most familiar ceremonies, opening and closing,
as "time taking" and some Grand Lodges have permitted their elimination in the
first land second degree. In some Grand Jurisdictions a Master may "call off"
from the Master's degree to the first or second and "call on" again at its
conclusion, thereby eliminating the opening and closing ceremonies of the first and second
degrees. Other Grand Lodges however, insist hat these formalities are as important as
those of opening and closing on the third degree and insist on their inclusion.
The opening and closing ceremonies for the third degree are generally considered as
vitally important; so much so that only the Grand Master or his representative especially
authorized, may omit them and open and close in brief form. *This , when done by a Grand
Master, like all his opening and closing ceremonies is in "ample form") The
formalities of lodge opening and closing serve to remind all of the antiquity, the
solemnity, the beauty, the importance and the sacredness of the whole system of
Freemasonry. As all the brethren as well as officers take part in these observations, all
have a continual reminder that they are as much a part of Freemasonry as Freemasonry is a
part of them.
The Candidate meets his first ceremony in the preparation room. It is not until later that
he appreciates the meaning of that preparation. At first it is something new, strange, at
times "queer." Later, as the explanations come to him, he sees it as inevitable,
and so be it he is a man of feeling and understanding, becomes humbly proud that at the
beginning as well as later in the lodge he did and had done to him as was done to all good
brothers and fellows who went this way before.
Follow immediately two ceremonies, linked together, and yet actually separate; those of
entrance and reception.
Entrance is not a mere opening of a door and passing through; it is accomplished by
prescribed forms with words and actions of meaning. If these do not serve to impress a
candidate that he is about to engage in a great and important undertaking, it must be
either that he is of course fiber which cannot be impressed with what is spiritual, or
because of the poverty of imagination which permits some officers to do work other than
The same may be said of reception. The first time an initiate steps within a lodge, his
reception is not a perfunctory act; it is fraught with meaning and must make "a deep
and lasting impression."
In these ceremonies Freemasonry is very wise; first impressions are always lasting
impressions. Preparation, entrance, reception, three parts of one whole, can make a mental
picture which does not fade. So done, they are beautiful; done otherwise and they are a
shame to the lodge which permits poor work.
Circumambulation is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, of the several ceremonies of
Freemasonry. The ritualistic explanation is simple enough and of course the act does
permit continued and lengthy inspection. But the explanation is so obviously made to fit
the fact, was so obviously composed by men who had lost the knowledge of the real meaning
of the ceremony, that few brethren are now satisfied that the ritualistic explanation
conveys all the truth.
Whether in a Masonic lodge, any other society or a church, circumambulation is an humble
imitation of the form of worship of those ancient men to whom the sun in the sky and fire
on the stone altar were God.
Man imitates that which he respects, venerates or fears. Ancient man could imitate the sun
by fire on the altar; he could imitate the sun's movement by his own. The sun appeared to
rise in the east, turn towards the south, then again towards the north to disappear in the
west. Therefore, in his worship early an traveled about his fire on the altar east to west
by way of the south, and west to east by way of the north, in imitation of the only god he
From that far day to this, men have circled about or within their holy place from east to
west by way of the south, though many if not most forget the reason for their movements.
Operative Freemasonry of the Middle Ages had valuable secrets which could not be
communicated to the profane without injustice to the Craft. A boy served an apprenticeship
of seven years before becoming a man, and if he proved his skill and character, being
admitted as a Fellow of the Craft. Operative Masonry was to be his life work. With it he
was to earn his living and provide for his family. By means of what he knew, and his
acceptance, first as an Apprentice, then as a Fellow, he was able to travel "in
foreign countries" there to prove himself and again receive "a Master's
All this he did as the result of training, experience, knowledge. To protect both the
reputation of the Craft and the earning power of the individual workman, it was essential
that the secrets of the operative art be well and closely guarded.
Hence the importance given to secrecy in early initiations; the stress upon the dire
consequences of betrayal of trust; the condign punishments which a foresworn Craftsman
With the foregoing in mind, it is easy to understand that Speculative Freemasonry in her
ceremonies kept the emphasis upon the importance of the secrets of a Freemason. The Craft
still binds its devotees with the most solemn of covenants to preserve its esoteric
aspects from those not of the Fraternity.
From another view-point it seems at times somewhat unfortunate that many brethren see the
heart of the ceremony of obligation purely as a pledge of secrecy; an agreement to submit
to penalties if secrecy is broken.
Secrecy is important now, as it was in an older day. But the pledges which an initiate
takes upon himself; the agreements he enters into with his fellows to do certain acts, the
covenant he makes not to do other certain acts, are far more important. Few Masons have
told that which they were not upposed to tell; more, alas, have failed in one or more
particulars in performance of their obligations.
To give a pledge for performance is as old as history. In an older day a pledge of life or
of limb was given. Holding the hand aloft was a sign "you may cut off my hand if I
fail." Oddly, it survives in the childish exclamation "by golly!" today - a
modernizing of "I swear by god" (god-the hand). Knights in armor held aloft
their swords to pledge allegiance to their King - they pledged both the right to use the
sword and the hand that held it.
In a court of law, a witness lays his hand upon the Bible to swear to tell the truth, the
whole truth and nothing but the truth. It is supposed to bind a man's performance
spiritually. But the law also provides a punishment for perjury. Freemasons use the Great
Light on their Altars in their ceremonies of obligation, but there are also provided
As very informed Freemason knows, these penalties are wholly symbolic. It is their
spiritual meaning, not their practical application, with which Masons are concerned.
Although the ceremony of obligation-that which, as long last, makes a man a Mason-is the
very core and center of the Fraternity, and the pledge to secrecy, though a vital part of
it, is still but a part, not the whole.
This ceremony, perhaps more than any other of Freemasonry's observances, engages the
active participation of every brother present. None are excused, or wish to be, all take
an active part. All, constructively, live again the sacred and solemn moments of
obligation; all thus reobligate themselves with every candidate they see partake of the
rites of which "the mysteries of Freemasonry are safely lodged in the repository of
When at long last the initiate leaves the Altar of Obligation, it should be-must be-with
the thought that behind him he leaves something which he no longer needs, and that from
the holy place he has taken something which will henceforth be a part of him.
Thus thought of, the central ceremony of the three Masonic initiations becomes high and
holy observance; which make a great change both in the mental outlook and the spiritual
inlook of those fortunate enough to take part.
In the Entered Apprentice Degree occurs the Rite of Investiture, in which the newly
obligated Mason receives the badge of a Mason, the lambskin, or white leather apron.
In many Grand Jurisdictions the Apron Lecture is elaborate and beautiful; hence the name
"lecture" fits it badly. What is then offered the candidate is a teaching, an
exhortation, an inspiration-perhaps even a vision. "Lecture" seems to name it
for much less than it really is.
The ceremony is of vital importance, for here at last is visual, physical evidence that
this man is approved by his fellows. He has passed the scrutiny of a committee; he has
passed the ballot of his lodge; he has been permitted to worship at Freemasonry's Altar
and has taken the first of Freemasonry's vows. Then there is presented to him the sign and
seal of the Fraternity that these are accomplished facts.
There is no other "badge of a Mason." A man not a Mason may cover his coat with
pins, wear a Masonic ring, hang watch charms of square land compasses upon him, with never
a right so to do. He can obtain that right only in a lodge, and he cannot receive at any
other hands a lamb skin apron with any meaning attached, save in a Masonic lodge.
Hence the ceremony of investiture becomes a real worth; only less than that of obligation,
putting the sign and seal of value upon that has been up to now but a pledge of the word
and an obligation of the spirit.
The Rite of Destitution is also very old; to remind those of "the household of the
faith" to be charitable to their fellows is a doctrine as honored as sit is ancient.
And perhaps no Rite of Freemasonry has been more misunderstood.
It is easy to translate it as "alms to a beggar." But if charity began and ended
with a quarter in the cup of the blind pencil vendor on the street, it would hardly
persist beyond the grave through the boundless realms of eternity!
The Rite of Destitution, taught in an unspectacular way with simple every day objects, is
intended to lay on the shoulders of the initiate the obligation of charity of thought,
help for the helpless, the strong arm for the feeble. A man who faces any real trouble is
in a destitute condition though his wealth is of seven figures. A Mason may contribute to
relief in many other ways than by a ton of coal or a ten dollar bill! Heartaches are not
eased with money; worry is not assuaged with food. He who receives the Tire of Destitution
as it is intended to be understood, knows forever afterwards that a Mason's charity begins
with the spirit, continues with the letter. "The gift without the giver is bare"
was written of the Pharisee who bestows a coin to get rid of a nuisance. "Organized
charity, cold as ice, in the name of a cautious, statistical Christ" was written of
public relief offered in the name, but not in the spirit of brotherhood. Masonic charity
comes first from the heart, then from the picket-book. He who so understands the Entered
Apprentice's Rite of Destitution does indeed "know what it is all about."
The Master Mason's Degree is composed of three sections; the first two have several parts.
For obvious reasons it is difficult to write of these, but with the foregoing pages in
mind, no Mason will have difficulty is resolving both the first and second sections into
their separate ceremonies. He may name them as he will, but all will understand
If those of the second section are here denominated reception, petition, drama or
impersonation, raising and communication. All of these are integers in a complete whole,
yet each is as distinct as it is sacred in purpose.
Without reception, there would be little point to the drama; without petition, there would
be none of that deep feeling of exaltation which any candidate with an open spirit must
feel; without the drama there could be no raising; unraised, there could be no
communication. It is with the hope that thus analyzing one of the most inspiring
ceremonies ever to evolve from the minds of men will aid all who behold it more completely
to appreciate and value its solemnity and power.
The beauty of the Fraternity is not only in its three degrees and their several
ceremonies, but their combination in one great system of initiation which forms "a
beautiful, perfect and complete whole."
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