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Some Thoughts About Etiquette

by H. L. Haywood
April 1958

There are men of great wealth, many have said, or of eminence in a profession, or the head of a state, who have the name of Mason and, if so, doubtless have attended lodge. Why did they do so? If of wealth, would it not be pleasanter at home? If in a profession, would not the time of one whole evening be elsewhere more profitably employed? Why should the head of a state attend at some small, obscure lodge two or more evenings each month? Could he not more interestingly spend his hours?

Perhaps! The fact remains that they, and men of their sort, attend lodge. It is for those who do not know a Mason or a lodge to explain why. Those brothers know why. There is in Masonry now a quality that has been in it since the memory of man runneth not to the contrary, for our craft is so very old that we have nothing left from its first beginnings to tell us how old it is. Anyhow, nothing in writing. Yet we have its Ritual, and it manifestly is old how old, no reader of these lines could be persuaded to believe.

In this fact alone, perhaps, is the answer to the question, "Why do they attend lodge?" There is in the Ritual itself something of which no Mason ever tires. Let a Lodge learn to enact the Ritual as it calls to be enacted, with love and reverence, correctly, by trained brothers, and that Lodge will, without further ado, avoid a troublesome non attendance problem.

There are some men who understand very little about comfort, because they have never known it. Not often does such a man become a Mason; certainly he ought not, since Freemasonry can mean little to a man without refinement. If any Mason finds his own lodge too uncomfortable, it will become his duty to remain away, lest he wrong himself.

To sit for three hours on a painful chair or bench, to have unshielded light glaring before him, to breathe air stale with putrid dust, to have to look at stained walls or a ragged carpet or at furnishings scratched and never polished, all this he knows would be inexcusable for himself to endure two whole evenings each month. Such statements call for no proof, but if they did, a proof is at hand: members do in fact remain away.

There is in comfort something seldom or never understood, for it is in a man not to torture or injure his own body; and discomfort is in itself a consciousness of that sort of evil thing, and therefore cannot be tolerated by men of character.

If a lodge have in attendance at its Called and Regular meetings fewer members than it should have, it may be that they remain away not from Masonry but from an uncomfortable place as the same men also remain away from other uncomfortable places, uncomfortable homes, uncomfortable churches, or uncomfortable restaurants. If a man of refinement cannot endure discomfort, still less can he find it possible to endure bad manners. Nobody ever yet has found a way to say why men such as Masons ought to be and are somehow offended by ill-bred associates, whether they wish to be or not. Often enough ancient Freemasons instructed their young apprentices in being gentlemen, and from them demanded instant obedience to Masonic etiquette. This they were impelled to do because they were men of the fine arts and, hence, men of culture, and any boorishness around them became insupportable.

For a man to pass between the Worshipful Master and the altar, for a Secretary to converse aloud or to rattle his papers with a foolish affectation of importance, for members themselves to converse while a degree is being enacted, or for a Master to sit back on his shoulder blades with his knees crossed and his hat on the floor, or for like reasons of indecorum, who is it that can enjoy his attendance at a lodge where so little respect is shown to Masonry itself?

There were days, possibly, in war when George Washington sat in a lodge convened in a tent, or above a store, but there is never a doubt why he could thus take an evening away from himself and his army. Somewhere around him, he always knew beforehand, would be gentlemen at ease among themselves, and in his presence. He would have absented himself otherwise, and immediately. So would he do now. So would, and should, any other man of culture. It demeans a man to sit in the midst of boorishness. And nothing could be more necessary to any lodge and its attendance than an established observance of that necessary Masonic Etiquette that is itself a Landmark, was required by all the Old Charges and in the first BOOK OF CONSTITUTIONS published, and is so necessary to any acceptable rendition of the Ritual.

In a Regular Communication where no degrees are to be conferred, a Master might expect a lesser attendance than on other nights. There should be no reason for him to do so. Long ago, long before there was a Grand Lodge, when a lodge was organized around its own copy of the Old Charges, Masons used a Regular Order of Business. In a sense our own Order differs from a lodge of 1600 A.D., but not substantially, nor should the literal definition of the' words be pressed too hard. Every candidate is given to understand, when he starts his journey, that he is engaging himself to do Masonic work thereafter. The Order of Business has always been the means by which that engagement could be satisfied. It means a work to be done, of one or another kind, by each member, the lodge officers no more than others.

There is in the Order of Business itself something with certain Landmarks implied and every Grand Lodge always requires that a lodge shall invariably comply, that it may revoke a Charter when disorder is permitted. Therefore a Lodge itself becomes uneasy if it has a Master of disorderly habits who begins or ends capriciously, who slurs over the opening and closing ceremonies, or who does not challenge unruliness on the floor. If such occurs, a lodge's uneasiness is justified because its members will begin to stay away. There are some reasons for non attendance that appear to be unimportant, although the mere words themselves belie the appearance, since anything that leads to non attendance cannot be unimportant. What some lodges require now and then is to survey its whole system of lodges notices. What if a Master and his Wardens know where and when a degree is to be conferred if the members do not know it? How can they know it unless notified? There are hidden discouragements to attendance if the necessary notices are neglected. A Master must not let them be overlooked, because that would be a discourtesy to his own members.

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