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Getting at the Meaning of the Ritual

by Bro. Louis Block, P. G. M., Iowa
The Master Mason - FEBRUARY 1925

AS MASONS we have all been taught that "Truth is a divine attribute and the foundation of every virtue."  

But what is Truth?  

'Tis a question not so easy to answer.  

Some nineteen or twenty centuries ago humanity's Master of Life upon being brought to trial before Pontius Pilate and asked if He were a king made this cryptic answer: "For this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth." To which Pilate replied with his now famous question: "What is truth?" The record is silent as to whether the Master attempted to answer the question, or whether He was even given an opportunity of doing so.

One of our beloved teachers of former days, a professor of "mental philosophy," as it was then called, was fond of defining Truth as being "A precise statement of the exact juxtaposition of things," a definition that, when you come to think about it, is, after all, not so very far from Einstein's alleged new discovery of the theory of "Relativity."  

THE GREAT PHILOSOPHER Francis Bacon, talking about the subject of truth, put it in this wise:  

"The inquiry of truth, which is the love-making or wooing of it; the knowledge of truth, which is the presence of it; and the belief of truth, which is the enjoying of it - is the sovereign good of human nature."  

Now Masonry, whether we realize it or not, is nothing but a voyage, or a journey, in search of the truth. Never a candidate has been made a Mason without being first told that Masonry consists of a course of ancient hieroglyphically and moral instruction taught according to ancient usages by types, emblems, and allegorical figures. The trouble is that most of us have forgotten that fact due, perhaps, to the further fact that although the statement is made at every initiation it is invariably made in the preparation room where the assembled Craft do not get to hear it.  

This is true despite the fact that there is not a statement in the entire Ritual that the Mason needs so much to hear and to heed as he does this very one.  

The fact that we have so many "phonograph Masons," so many "mechanical Masons," is largely accounted for by the failure of the great majority of the Craft to grasp and comprehend this great affirmation made at the very outset of the great symbolical journey in search of the Light. According to this first of all definitions, of itself, Masonry is nothing if not figurative, or "speculative," as we are fond of putting it. Types, emblems, and allegorical figures! What does that mean?  

It means that Masonry is at bottom a thing of poetry, of drama, of symbol, and allusion, a thing of thought, of inspiration, of exaltation, a thing, in its last analysis, not of the body, but of the soul.  

It means further that Masonry scarcely ever imparts her truths by plain, bold, blunt, direct statements. On the contrary, she seems to prefer the method of indirection, of hint, suggestion, allusion.  

SHE PURPOSELY REFRAINS from making her propositions too plain for fear of destroying that alluring fascination which attends all mysteries and leads on, and holds the attention of, man's hungry mind. She makes it impossible for the neophyte to begin to grasp her great truths, nor does the time ever come when even the learned Mason dares to say he has wholly fathomed her mysteries. As Brother Pike has so well said, "the symbol conceals," and will reveal itself only to the faithful thinker, the earnest liver, the humble servant, and the self sacrificing lover, of his kind. Her great truths do not float idly upon the surface, but lie deeply submerged, and are to be discovered only by the delver and the diver. Look back upon your own experience as a Mason and you will recall that at the outset you saw but little, and were for a long time as one groping in a fog. If you saw the light at all, it was but as a dim glow glimmering afar in the distance. It was only theoretically that the ritual had brought you from darkness to light. Light as a fact was still to be sought and found. Many lodge members have not found it, some never will find it, and for these the "lost word" will forever remain lost. O yes, they know the words, the signs, the names, and outlines of the symbols, but they don't know what these mean.  

Now Masonry was never born, but it grew. It did not spring like the fabled Aphrodite fully matured from the foam of the sea, but it grew, slowly through the ages, rising bit by bit like a coral island from the depths of the great sea of human thought, human pain, and human hope. It is the work of "the joined hands of comrades" toiling through the ages, slowly lifting toward the sky the house not made with hands. Much, very much, of human experience has been packed away in it - it is filled with a most inspiring working philosophy of life, but that philosophy does not lie on the surface.  

It is hidden even from the Mason himself, and naught but search and study will ever bring it to light.  

We cannot live Masonry's truths until we first see them. Some of her star-crowned secrets we never would have seen at all, but for the keen eyes of some helpful brother who showed them to us. We need to help one another to see, to be unto each other as eyes unto the blind, for we are all earth-bound mortals groping for the light,  

"The Light that never was on land or sea."  

Each one of us stumbles along Life's hard highway in search of the Holy Grail, breathing as he goes the little child's prayer:  

"Lead us Heavenly Father,  

Lead us Shepherd kind,  

We are only little children,  

Weak and young and blind,  

All the way before us  

Thou alone dost know,  

Lead us Heavenly Father,  

Seeking as we go."  

There is but one way to Masonic sight and that is by the road of study. It is not enough to learn the ritual - we must study it. By that I mean that we must learn its origin and its history - how it came to be - why it came to be - just why it is, what it is and not something else - we must not only learn the story of its growth, but the meaning of its terms, the significance of its symbols, and last, but most of all, what it should mean, and do, for what Emerson so eloquently calls "the hour and the man that now is."  

It will not be irksome. It will not be hard work, even when systematically done. In fact, Masonry at its heart and core is so marvelously interesting, that once you have had a real taste of it, it almost studies itself.  

The one thing needful is to begin, to get started. We don't need to begin in a large way. In fact, small beginnings are often the best, the safest, the surest, for  

"The lofty oak from a small acorn grows."  

Even so did our great Library grow - from the gathered seed of a small handful of books, watered and warmed by the untiring enthusiasm of a great Masonic teacher, a Mason who could see, and tell plainly what he saw - Theodore Sutton Parvin, of blessed memory.  

IN EVERY LODGE, be it ever so small, there is on a small scale at least, just that same sort of an enthusiast. You all know him. You can pick him out. The queer chap of hungry and inspiring mind, the fellow who has never been satisfied with the mere surface of things. Perhaps you call him the lodge crank - but never mind that. It's the cranks that make the world turn round. Treasure him, for he is a distinct lodge asset. Get hold of him, get him started, and he'll get you started - started toward examining, thinking, and discussing, your Masonry, trying to find out what it is all about anyway. If he's wrong don't agree with him, but contradict him, differ with him, dispute the correctness of his conclusions, but above all get a discussion started. It will show that you are alive, not merely dead, and walking around just to save funeral expenses. Ten to one if you say he's wrong he'll not only make you prove it, but make you study to be able even to do that, and that will be good for both you and the Craft.  

Take for your subject some symbol, some sentence in the ritual. When you've Actually gotten at work at it you'll be surprised at the interest you've stirred up in things Masonic. Your lodge will be just like Brother Kipling's "Mother Lodge" where  

" - Man on man got talkin',  

Religion and the rest,  

An' every man comparin'  

Of the God 'e knew the best."  

Let me illustrate what I mean. One night in my home Masonic Study Club a good brother spoke to us about the "Forty-seventh Problem of Euclid." We had often wondered what business that sort of thing had in the Masonic ritual anyway, and had passed it up as a problem too hard to solve. But when the lecturer had finished and the following discussion had closed, we knew. We had been shown. We had been made to see. We knew why he was called "the great Pathagoras," this Master workman of the mind, who was content with naught but true work, good work, square work, who taught his brethren how to locate their temples so that the rising sun might light up the image of the god enshrined therein, and last, but not least, how this great symbol stood for God the Father, Man the Son, and the Holy Spirit of sweet sympathy binding both in eternal and ineffable union - a mighty symbol of the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man!  

And the lecturer of the evening was not a doctor, not a lawyer, not a professor, not a preacher, not a professional man at all, but only a plain business man, altho' a great and good one withal, but he had let the Light so shine in our souls, and made this dry mathematical symbol so radiant with inspiration for us all, that we would never again come upon it without being thrilled by the thoughts it would stir up within us, for here was one emblem, at least, of which at last we felt we knew the meaning.  

Now this very same thing can be done in every lodge if we are only in earnest about it, care enough about it to really bring it about.  

If we are ready to begin there is no end to the help placed at our command.

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