Friday, March 30, 2007

"...they will come." (Part 1: Ritual)
In my previous post I lamented the decline of "mainstream" American Freemasonry, and linked this to the devaluing of membership in our Fraternity. I would be nothing more than a whiner if I did not offer my ideas as to what can be done to solve this problem. Simply put, we need to emulate our European and Prince Hall brethren, and bring value back to membership. We need to stop watering our Craft down and transforming it into another version of the Lion's or Rotary clubs. In order to stop this, there are four main areas which, in my opinion, need the most focus : ritual, education, membership, and activities. This posting will concentrate on ritual.
Ritual is the backbone of our Craft, and it is what ties us together as Masons. How often, though, is the true beauty of our ceremonies lost upon the candidate and brethren due to poor or sloppy delivery? How much of the lesson is missed due to "short form" lectures? What becomes of us as Masons when we change our rituals to conform to the whims of political correctness? We can't expect our candidates to take the ritual seriously, if it is apparent that those delivering it do not as well. I realize that not everyone is a master showman who can make the words of the ritual come to life for the listener, however, being entered, passed, and raised in a Masonic Lodge is a momentous and solemn occasion, and the delivery of the ritual should reflect this. Perhaps Blue Lodges should emulate the Scottish Rite, and allow interested brethren, who are not officers, to participate in the ritual. Many times there are officers who are excellent Lodge administrators but poor ritual performers, and this could help alleviate such a problem. Let the brethren who truly desire to perform the ritual do it. They will do a much better job and the candidate will have a much better experience.
A second aspect of the ritual problem, that goes hand in hand with the first, is the "short form" lecture. Having served as a Junior Warden myself, I realize that the lectures are difficult to memorize. But, are we doing the candidates any favors by omitting portions of the lecture, and referring them to the monitor for the explanations? Reading something in a book, will not in my opinion, have the same impact as hearing it delivered as part of a degree ceremony. If a single brother cannot handle the whole lecture (which I admit is a possibility, although I have seen several superb lecturers who can), why not divide the lecture into parts, with two or more brethren delivering the lecture together? This could serve the dual purposes of dividing the task up into more manageable chunks and breaking up the monotony of hearing one person for the whole lecture.
Additionally, we should not change our ritual because someone might be "offended". What we do inside our Lodges is our business, and what the outside world thinks is of no consequence. Our ceremonies are ancient and solemn, and every part of them, including the penalties, is designed to inculcate serious moral lessons. The kind of person who might be "offended" by parts of our ritual is not the kind of person who should be welcomed into our Fraternity anyway. This is not the Lion's club, and we have an ancient and honorable tradition to uphold. By denying this, we are denying the very essence of our Craft.
As a final note on ritual, it wouldn't hurt to "spruce" things up a bit. For example, in European Lodges, they use tracing boards to illustrate the various symbols in the degrees. In my eight years of being a Mason, I have never seen anything similar, except maybe the staircase in the second degree. How many Lodges actually have a mosaic pavement or a starry ceiling? Many important symbols are not present in our Lodges, thus detracting from the atmosphere of the ritual. It might not always be possible to replicate all of these things, but we should at least make an effort to incorporate as many of them as we can. Just because we are an ancient Fraternity, does not mean that we shouldn't take advantage of modern technology such as computers and projectors to enhance the ritual experience. Properly done, these can serve to impress upon the candidate the solemnity of the ceremony.
Ritual is the foundation upon which we build our Craft. Poor performance, shortening, or watering down the ritual only detracts from its value, and by extension, the value of membership in Freemasonry. Taking our ritual more seriously is a key step in reversing the decline of American Freemasonry.


Blogger Traveling Man said...

I am the Senior Deacon in my Lodge, and have delivered the second section of the EA lecture, and am encouraging Brethren to learn the other parts not currently worked.

I did have to do a "short form" of the second section of the FC degree,(I had the flu and a 100deg. temperature) but am 90% on the way to the long form for the next.

To answer one of your questions, we have the mosaic pavement, and the starry cieling, complete with stars that light up in the pattern of the constellations on the day our Lodge building was dedicated. These stars light up and the lights can be manipulated to simulate night and dusk/dawn. If I do say so myself, it's very impressive.

I have noticed a current in our newly admitted Brethren to learn ritual. I would add to your comments that not only should the words be known, but understood which means discussing ritual at Stated Communications. It needn't be long, but steady low doses of ritual instruction should raise the level of understanding among Masons.

Excellent Commentary

Traveling Man

3:34 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

In my Jurisdiction, any Master Mason can take any part during a degree. It is not limited to Lodge Officers only. I am surprised to hear that it is where you're at. To give you an idea of how much we mix around to do the ritual: I currently sit in the East during some EA degrees, and MM degrees (first section only), act as one of the Fellowcrafts during the second section of the MM, the Senior Warden during the FC degree first section, and the Senior Deacon (lecturer) during the FC second section (stairway/middle chamber).

10:23 AM  
Blogger Prexy said...

To be honest, I don't know if this is a Masonic code thing or just Lodge practice (which is often harder to change than Masonic code). I have seen officers switching seats, but never a non-officer (at least one who wasn't a past master) participating in any officer specific part. Of course you get all kinds of brethren participating in the second section of the third, but other than that, I haven't seen much of what I suggest.

1:45 PM  

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