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