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masonic feasts

From The Grand Lodge Of Texas

We are all very familiar with today's Masonic banquet, which is quite common. Generally speaking, these affairs are geared toward having a nice social gathering, enjoying Masonic fellowship, lots of introductions, and hearing a Masonic speaker. For the most part, we invite our friends and families to these activities to promote our fraternity. On a lesser scale, we often have meals and/or refreshments preceding or following our stated meetings. While these meetings are usually limited to our lodge members, the purpose is no more than feeding our bodies and enjoying the Masonic fellowship. Masonic Feasts were very different from the current Masonic banquet where Masons gathered to enjoy the fraternal spirit of Freemasonry and indulge in feasting on food and wine.

The feast has a long history in society from family feasts to religious feasts. These fellowship gatherings were special occasions centered on special days or events and were elaborate compared to our present-day family gatherings. These feasts were more than an opportunity to eat, drink, and be merry. They were an opportunity to solidify spiritual or family ties. Instead of spending a couple of hours together for New Years, Thanksgiving, or Christmas dinner or an afternoon of outdoor activities on Memorial Day, Independence Day or Labor Day, the old family gatherings might last several days. The religious feasts would also generally last several days, much different from today's potluck dinner or church social.

Freemasons of the 18th century practiced the general custom of convivial society at dinners and banquets of toasting or drinking to the health of various people, things, or ideals. This practice among Masons developed beyond a custom and became almost a ritual to be regularly observed with scheduled toasts. The Table Lodge developed out of this custom where eating and drinking went on somewhat concurrently with the degree work with the toasts presented in a particular order with the consent of the Master. These Table Lodges were often tiled lodge meetings in which the brethren enjoyed the fellowship of the meal and toasts while participating in a Masonic educational experience with appropriate degree work.

The early Masonic Feast was also an elaborate event. Masonic Feasts have much in common with the Table Lodge except there was no concurrent tiled meeting. The Feast was so important to the early lodge that many activities revolved around these special gatherings. One must remember the early Masonic lodges, prior to the creation the Grand Lodge of England in 1717, were very small with only 8 to 25 members. This small number allowed the brethren to develop close Masonic ties and, as a result, these brethren loved their lodges. The Masonic Feast provided an opportunity for Masonic fellowship, which allowed friendship and affection to grow and flourish into brotherly love. Out of this festive spirit, the Mason developed a strong tie to his lodge. The lodge was a home: warm, comfortable, luxurious, and full of memories. No lodge member had to be coaxed to attend his lodge; he didn't go to lodge grudgingly or out of a sense of duty. He went because he was drawn like a magnet. He looked forward to gathering with his fellow brethren to enjoy that special Masonic fellowship. Just imagine, a lodge of ten members who are whole-heartedly committed to their lodge, who love their lodge. Masonically, this lodge is larger and more powerful than the lodge of 100 men who are nothing more than members who occasionally attend meetings.

The lodges that founded the Mother Grand Lodge of England in 1717 outlined only two purposes in their constitution. One was to establish a center of union and harmony. The second was to revive the Quarterly Feasts. This indicates the importance placed on the Feast in the early lodge. These Feasts were distinctively different from the modern Masonic banquet. Only Masons could attend these special feasts, and oftentimes, they were held as tiled meetings, thus the Table Lodge. No profane could attend these special Feasts no matter how high or noble his position was in society. In fact, in some of the older documents, even the idea of a lodge hosting a banquet with lodge funds for non-Masons was prohibited. The Masonic Feast was purely a Masonic gathering for fellowship and education.

The early Mason was accustomed to elaborate and extensive Feasts that might encompass several days. To give you an idea of the magnitude of a Feast, a partial bill of fare for a banquet (50 people) in 1506 included the following: 36 chickens, 1 swan, 4 geese, 9 rabbits, 2 rumps of beef tails, 6 quails, 50 eggs, 4 breasts of veal. The meal would be enjoyed in a formal gathering where the master would preside over the ceremonies attending the meal and direct a series of toasts.

The Feast revival envisioned by the English brethren creating the Grand Lodge of England was evidently successful, as by 1722 Freemasonry was a significant enough movement in London that it became the brunt of various parodies. These parodies were based upon the drinking and toasting habits of the lodge members. And since they were parodies, perhaps they were exaggerated. An example is an anonymous poem entitled "The Free Masons" which explains the Masons' toast.

They drink, carouse, like any Bacchus
And swallow strongest Wines that rack us;
And then it is they lay Foundation
Of Masonry, to build a nation.
They various Healths strait put around,
To ev'ry airy Female Sound;
But Sally Dear's the Fav'rite Toast,
Whose Health it is they drink the most…

This poem refers to Sally Salisbury, a woman of the evening, whose name was well recognized in London. Many ribald and mildly salacious songs and poems were written about Masons and served as amusement for the non-Masonic population. In addition, Masons conjured up their own rather risqué songs which became part of their gatherings, all in the name of enjoyment.

As Masonry came to the United States, these parodies followed to our country, which caused Masons to stand out in the Puritan atmosphere. It also created an image of drunken revelry to the public. Indeed, Masonic singing and toasting led to some of the earliest condemnations of our Fraternity. However, not all Masonic toasts and poems expressed risqué sentiments. The following "Toasts and Sentiments" from Vinton's Masonick Minstrel demonstrate the true Masonic spirit.

· May ev'ry Mason RISE in the EAST, find refreshment in the SOUTH, and be so dismissed in the WEST, as to find admission into the middle chamber to receive the reward of a GOOD MAN.

· Love to ONE, friendship to a FEW, and good will to ALL.

· The Brother who stands plumb to his principles, yet is level to his brethren.

· To HIM, who all things understood, To HIM, who furnished the stone and wood, To HIM, who nobly spilt his blood - in doing of his duty; We hail the day! We hail the morn! On which those three great men were born! Who did the TEMPLE thus adorn With WISDOM, STRENGTH and BEAUTY.

However, the critics of Masonic Feasts, which may have gotten a little out of bounds at times, led most US grand lodges to eliminate the excesses of unbridled exuberance to prevent offending society and counter many charges against the Fraternity. As a result the true Masonic Feast purely for Masonic fellowship, slipped into oblivion. Masonic meetings today are much more somber (and certainly more sober) than those of our ancient brethren and our Masonic Feasts have all but disappeared from the Masonic landscape.

Masonic meetings today can be cold, boring, and lacking enthusiasm, if they are devoted to lodge business and degree work without opportunities for Masonic fraternalism and fellowship. Even the strongest mystic tie will break under the strain of monotony, dullness, cheerlessness, and repetition. A lodge needs a fire to be lit in it, and the only way to have that warmth is to restore the Masonic Feast. When it is restored, good fellowship and brotherly love will follow. And where good fellowship is, members will fill up an empty lodge room not only with themselves but also with their gifts, not out of a sense of obligation, but because they have a love and commitment for their lodge like our ancient brethren.

The Masonic Feast may have been tamed over the years but enthusiasm for Freemasonry burns brightly in many lodges. Consider instituting the Masonic Feast in your lodge where one can enjoy Masonic fellowship and engage in a Masonic educational experience. A Masonic Feast provides us with an all too rare privilege of participating in the ancient custom of Masonic toasting where we can continue a tradition of good cheer and fun from Masonry's earliest days.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014