Robert H. Starr
Samuel Gompers-Benjamin Franklin Lodge No. 45
You have now received the three Symbolic degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry and, I hope soon, such instruction in the work of those degrees as will enable you to pass a creditable examination therein-whenever you should visit lodges in this or other jurisdictions throughout the world where you are unknown and cannot be vouched for as a Master Mason.
You have also received, I hope, through the Lodge System of Masonic Education prescribed by our Grand Lodge an appreciation of the lessons we are trying to teach and are versed, at least to some extent, in the history, traditions, laws, customs and usages of the Craft. As a part of the Masonic Education program, you have been told of your privileges, your duties and your responsibilities as a member of your Masonic Lodge. Some of these may be enumerated briefly as follows:
(a) To hold membership in some lodge.
(b) To pay regularly and promptly such dues and assessments as your Lodge may levy.
To attend the communications of your Lodge, to join in its deliberations, to have a voice in its decisions and to assist in discharging its responsibilities, among which are:
Volunteer service on committees.
Donations to the Masonic Blood Bank, if eligible.
Assistance in conferring degrees.
Attendance and assistance at Masonic funeral services when summoned.
Your Lodge needs your help in these and many other ways. Masonry makes no demands; she provides opportunities, she gives you the key to a door, she opens a path to your feet, but she forces you neither to use the key nor travel the path. She beckons; you may follow or not as you please. If you follow, you will travel strange ways, but you will find them increasingly pleasant the further you go.
This paper is limited to providing information about some of the courtesies and etiquette of lodge life as generally, although not necessarily universally, practiced. Masonry has developed its own conventions, governed by tradition, custom and usage, by which its members act in lodge and in the anteroom and live together with the least friction. Not to proceed according to their dictates is not a Masonic offense; it is merely a lack of Masonic manners. Unless you belong to a most unusual lodge, or had a most wise brother for an instructor, it is doubtful if you were told much about these little niceties of lodge conduct. You are supposed to attend your lodge and learn by observation.
One of the prerogatives of a W.M. is to control the admission and retirement of both members and visitors to his lodge. Masons, entering a lodge give the due-guard to salute the W.M. at the Altar, if the lodge is at labor. This practice assures the W.M. that the brother knows on which degree the lodge is open. A brother making a wrong sign can be instructed immediately. He can readily determine this before giving the due-guard by observing how the square and compasses are placed upon the Holy Bible on the Altar. The salute informs the W.M. that the brother is a Mason of the degree on which the lodge is open; if he makes an inferior sign and cannot, on request, give the right one, the W.M. can then use other means to ascertain that no E.A. or F.C. is present in a Master Mason's lodge. The salute is a silent assurance to the W.M. and through him to the brethren: "I remember my obligations."
Brethren give a similar salute to the W.M. at the Altar upon retiring in order to get permission to leave. No one can enter or leave a lodge room while a lodge is at labor without permission. If the W.M. does not wish the brother who salutes to retire, he tells him so, instead of responding to the salute.
At refreshment the lodge is in charge of the J.W. in the South, which thus becomes, for the time being, constructively the East. The J.W.'s pillar is raised and the pillar of the S.W. is lowered. The same salutes are given to the J.W, as are usually given to the W.M. and for the same reasons, in the event a brother wishes to enter or retire.
The W.M. in the East occupies the most exalted position in the gift of the lodge. A lodge which does not honor its W.M., not because of what he himself may be, but on account of the honor given him, is lacking in Masonic courtesy. The position he occupies, not the man himself, must be given the utmost respect, if the traditions of the Fraternity are to be observed. It is, therefore, to the W,M., not to John Smith who happens to be the W.M., that you offer a salute when you enter or retire from lodge. Like any other salute, this may be done courteously and as if you meant it or perfunctorily as if you did not care. The man who puts one finger to his hat brim when he speaks to a woman on the street compares poorly with his well-bred neighbor who lifts his hat. Taking the hat off is the modern remains of the ancient custom of Knights who removed their helmets in the presence of those they felt their friends and thus, before those they wished to honor by showing that they trusted them. A man removes his hat before a woman to show his respect. Touching the brim is but a perfunctory salute. Similarly, the salute to the W.M. is your renewed pledge of fealty and service, your recognition before all your assembled brethren of your obligations. It is performed before the W.M. and the Altar to show him your veneration for his authority, your respect for all of that, for which he stands. To offer your salute as if you were in a hurry, too lazy properly to make it, or bored with its offering, is to be, Masonically a boor. Moreover, brethren should not approach the Altar with bundles or papers in hand. Some lodges permit smoking during a business meeting. Even here, however, a brother is not too respectful who makes a solemn salute to the W.M. before the Altar with a cigarette or cigar either in his mouth or in his hand.
In addressing the lodge for any purpose, a brother speaks to the W.M. The W.M. is the lodge. A brother stands to order when addressing the chair, gives salute (due-guard and penal sign) and begins speech only after the W.M.'s recognition. A brother does not turn his back on the W.M. to address the lodge without permission from him. He who seconds a motion rises and salutes when doing so. No brother should ever sit while speaking. Moreover, the spectacle of two brethren on their feet at the same time, arguing over a motion, facing each other and ignoring the W.M. is not one which any W.M. should permit. But it is also one which no W.M. should have to prevent!
Failure to obey the gavel at once is a grave discourtesy. The W.M. is all powerful in the lodge. He can put or refuse to put any motion. He can rule any brother out of order on any subject at any time. He can say what he will and will not permit to be discussed. Brethren who think him unfair, arbitrary, unjust, or acting illegally have redress; the Grand Lodge can be appealed to on any such matter. But in the lodge, the gavel, emblem of authority, is supreme. When a brother is rapped down, he should at once obey, without further discussion. It is very bad manners to do otherwise; indeed, it is close to the line between bad manners and a Masonic offense.
If an officer is absent, the officers below his station do not necessarily each move up a chair. There is no "advancement by right" for any office except that of W.M. The W.M. fills any vacancy by temporary appointment. In the absence of the W.M., the S.W. presides. In the absence of both the W.M. and the S.W., the J.W. presides. The W.M. may ask a P.M. or any brother he believes qualified to fill a temporarily vacant chair.
Except in procession during a degree, it is practically universal that brethren do not pass between the Altar and the East in a lodge at labor. Why? This courtesy is rooted in the thought that the W.M. should have the Great Lights constantly in view. In theory, the Holy Bible, Square and Compasses on the Altar are dedicated to God, the Master and the Craft and are in the charge of the Master. He draws inspiration from the Great Lights on the Altar to preside over the lodge and, therefore, at no time should his view of them be interrupted. This custom is but a pretty courtesy, but it is rooted in a fundamental conception of the Craft - that the Altar is the center of Masonry and that from it and the Great Lights it bears, flow all that there is of Masonic inspiration, truth and light.
You have observed that, in our jurisdiction, the Lesser Lights are placed in a triangular form about the Altar. It is customary not to walk between the Altar and a light. The theory is that the Altar and the three lights about it represent the Sanctum Sanctorum, or Holy of Holies, of the original tabernacle in the wilderness. Into this the High Priest could go, but only to return the same way. Brethren enter this symbolic representation in the lodge room, but do not use it as a passageway by passing through it.
In passing from the South to the North side of the lodge at labor, or vice versa, between the Altar and the S.W. in the West, a brother should look to the East and give the penal sign of the degree on which the lodge is open.
Brethren who respect the formalities of their lodge will not enter it undressed; that is, without their apron or while putting on that apron. Aprons should be put on before entering the lodge room. When, as sometimes happens on "big nights", there are not enough aprons, a handkerchief may be tucked in the belt to take its place. The spectacle of a late brother hurriedly entering the lodge room at the last moment, tying on his apron as he approaches the Altar is much on a par with a member of church entering it while putting on his collar and tie.
As you have already learned, the use of the apron is extremely old, not, as with the operative Masons, as a protector of clothing and body against tools and stone, but as a badge of honor. In all times and climes, it has been a badge of distinction. It is as such that a Mason wears it. The material of the Masonic apron - lambskin - is a symbol of innocence, as the lamb has always been. It is a courtesy much appreciated by all Tilers if brethren leaving the lodge room lay their aprons neatly in a pile or in the apron box, instead of dropping them anywhere for the Tiler to pick up and put away.
The etiquette which surrounds the ballot is a reflection of Masonic thought upon its value and importance. Brethren ballot one at a time after a salute to the W.M. No one should leave or enter a lodge room during the taking of a ballot, with the exception of the Tyler, if he is a member of the lodge. It is customary to present the box first to the W.M. for his inspection, then to the Wardens. The three principal officers ballot without leaving their seats. In some lodges the box is passed also to all officers and P.M.'s. What is customary is good manners. It is a gentle courtesy for the Master to ask the Tyler to enter and vote, his place being taken by another meanwhile. This is properly done after all but the Tyler have voted.
In all Grand Jurisdictions the ballot on candidates is secret and inviolable. It is considered un-Masonic for a brother to divulge how he intends to or has balloted or to attempt to ascertain how another will or has balloted. Peace and harmony are the foundations of all Masonic meetings. For Brother A to learn that Brother B has balloted or will ballot against his friend would disrupt that peace and harmony.
The rejection of a candidate is a blow to him who has applied. If everyone knew who had cast the black cube, the rejected man might speedily learn and cause of friction in the profane world would then have come out of a Masonic Lodge.
It is the duty of every member present to vote and the W.M. may oblige him to do so. A Brother who does not vote, because too lazy, or too indifferent, or for any other reason, is discourteous because he injures the ballot, its secrecy, its importance and its value.
The thoughts above outlined will disclose that good manners in Masonry, like those in civil life, are rooted in kindness and flower in good will. They oil the Masonic wheels and enable them to revolve without creaking. They smooth the path of all in the lodge and prove to all the truth of the ritualistic explanation of that "more noble and glorious purpose" to which we are taught to put the trowel.