The Masonic Trowel

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From Labour To Refreshment !

by Clifford W. Parkin

Those who have read their Book of Constitution carefully, particularly the Old Regulations, will be impressed perhaps with the care bestowed on the arrangements for the Annual Feast on the day dedicated to the memory of St. John the Evangelist or, alternatively, St. John the Baptist. No less than 12 of the 39 Articles refer to or make plans or prescribe conduct for this annual dinner or celebration. True the occasion is for purposes in addition to providing refreshment for the bodies and minds of the brethren but, nevertheless, full emphasis is laid on the importance of a bountiful repast as a foundation for good fellowship and wise decisions.  

There is much truth in the old saying that the quickest way to a man's heart is through his stomach. A well-fed person is open to argument. When the mind and body are weary, everything becomes burdensome; the tired brain seems incapable of grasping new thoughts and solving problems. It is astonishing how good food, wine and warmth will restore vitality and stimulate the mind to action. Fresh ideas will then appear reasonable; perhaps even a sense of gratitude may develop toward those who had the courage to announce them. So it was that the festive board became a focal point by which unanimity of understanding might be reached.  

We must also realise that in communal eating and drinking there will arise a feeling of thankfulness for favors already received. Conversation encourages retrospect, a fine tonic for tired nerves and frustrated ambitions. Self--satisfaction can be. condoned in such circumstances. In looking back at past achievements we realise the progress made; that spurs us on to greater effort. Small wonder then that our predecessors gave such careful thought to refreshment arrangements. They had ample precedent by recalling the gigantic feast with which King Solomon regaled his people after the building of the Temple was completed.  

Modern custom however has reduced the undue importance attaching to excessive eating and drinking in celebrating special events. The present generation is too concerned with careful diet and slender waist lines to risk havoc by unregulated feasting. Probably also our physical constitutions have deteriorated since the period when the Old Regulations were framed. Yet, though habits have changed, the refreshment hour has an appeal for Freemasons. The banquet is almost a thing of the past, being reserved for special occasions, but a modest "snack" to which the brethren may apply themselves with confidence after the lodge is closed, is an attraction and an asset to lodge life.  

The Rev. George Oliver, a distinguished and learned writer of the early eighteen hundreds, in his work "Masonic Jurisprudence", re-counts the important part played in Lodge work by refreshments in ancient times. On a long table or tables in the Lodge room were placed, not only the emblems of the Order, but also materials for bodily sustenance. Eating, drinking and smoking then took place in the actual Lodge. Each section of the lectures had an appropriate toast allotted and at its end those present were called from labor to refreshment. The particular toast was then  

offered and a bumper drained; this was called the "charge"; (compare the modern command to "charge" your glasses".) Frequently the honours were accompanied by a suitable song, following which the J.W. recalled the brethren to labor. This was a diverting method of assimilating the somewhat lengthy lecture; it may also have averted any tendency to drowsiness. In modern times, however, any suggestion as to eating and drinking, even smoking, in the Lodge Room would seem an act of sacrilege. This change emphasizes the difference between Speculative and its predecessor, Operative, Masonry; the shelters or lodges of the skilled stoneworker were for real use, being located adjacent to the structure in course of erection. Consequently creature comforts were regarded as worthy of as much care as working tools; high noon was an important time in the working day; refreshment restored the energy necessary for efficient workmanship. Since 1717-23 we have raised the status of the Masonic Lodge to almost equal that of a place of worship. As result our refreshment activities take place in another convenient room adjoining the Lodge.  

It is a most commendable custom this setting aside a period for exchange of good-fellowship over a meal, even though the banquet and dinner have made place for the more rational light refreshment provided by most Lodges. The present fare is in keeping with the lateness of the hour during which brethren are free to partake. There is a delightful mixture of Craft formality mingled with freedom from restriction which makes for relaxation. The W.M. still rules the proceedings but lets the really human side of his personality prevail; restraint gives place to the utmost geniality. Even the newest E.A. feels that he is now meeting all his recently acquired brethren more truly on equal footing, really on the level. A well-laid table arouses in everyone certain emotions, previously suppressed; a kinder disposition towards all the guests quickly develops so that the idea of Brotherly Love becomes a reasonable proposition, translatable into action. What does all our Craft work amount to if we fail to arouse a spirit of appreciation for the Brotherhood of Man. With this thought in mind every brother should really exert himself to make the Refreshment Hour a real climax of the evening.  

No specific rules are laid down for procedure. The J.W. arranges detail while the stewards prove their sense of stewardship by acting as servers. (This is reminiscent of Monastery life; our practices are said to have been largely influenced by abbots and priors when operative brethren were building for them). A special invitation has been extended to visitors to join the gathering inasmuch as the prevailing "right to visit" does not necessarily imply any obligation to extend hosp4tality. Visiting brethren should be made to feel right at home if they have not been generally introduced in the Lodge Room. Here especially is opportunity to demonstrate the "hail-fellow, well met" attitude which leads to better personal acquaintance. In seating there should be effort to have visitors and regular members intermingle so that companionship may be helped.  

A few toasts with short, bright speeches, witty anecdotes (in undoubted good taste), a little music - preferably of the "community sing-song" type - all these will help to make the programme pleasant. The bond of fellowship thus established can be exemplified to the full by the singing of "Auld Lang Syne" in closing. If these proceedings can be contained within the hour and concluded by 11 p.m., it will encourage an optimistic anticipation of the next regular monthly communication.  

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Last modified: March 22, 2014