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masonic matters

Masonic Funerals

by Ed Halpaus
Grand Lodge Education Officer
Grand Lodge of A. F. & A. M. of Minnesota

"Thank you for being." A traditional greeting of the Seneca "The world is not a playground; it's a schoolroom. Life is not a holiday but an education. And the one eternal question for us all is how better we can love." Henry Drummond  

I don't mean for this issue of Masonic Matters to be any kind of a downer, but I would like to mention Masonic Funerals, and the death of a Brother. One of the rights a Master Mason has is the right to a Masonic Memorial, or Masonic Funeral Service. The Funeral Ritual here in Minnesota says something to the effect that it is the custom of the ancient fraternity at the request of a Brother or his family to accompany the body to its final resting place, and there deposit it with Masonic honors.

Well if a Masonic Burial Service is your wish please let your wife, adult children, and your Lodge know what your wishes are. Many times when a Brother dies his family doesn't know that the Lodge will conduct a Masonic Memorial Service, and sometimes the Lodge is one of the last places to find out about a Brother's death. Also many times after the funeral is done and the Lodge is notified the Secretary, or Master, will ask and the family will say "if we had known we certainly would have wanted the service for Dad."  

Well it is a Memorial Service that is done most of the time, and it can be done at a later time at the Lodge if that is what everyone would want, but in my opinion, it is better if it is done at the time of the need.  

My Lodge, Helios Lodge #273 of Cambridge, Minnesota has a "Masonic Last Rites Request Form for a Brother to use if he would like to. This form would be filled out and a photocopy given to the Lodge, and the Brothers children, and the original, of course is best left with the Brother and his wife. If you would like a copy just let me know and I will ask our Secretary Emeritus to e-mail the form to you, I'm sure he has it on his computer, or if not I have a copy here in my office, and I will photo it and send it out by snail mail if I have your mailing address.  

One of the items on the form is who you would want to be Pall Bearers. I was wondering where does that term come from? We all know that a Pall Bearer is one who attends the coffin at a funeral, but they are so called because of the old custom of holding up the corners, or edges, of the Pall carried over the coffin. An archaic definition of the word Pall is a covering of a rich cloth, often of velvet, as a canopy, or for spreading over a coffin.[i]  

"When we refuse to extend a helping hand, we sever our connection to the very things that can make life so joyful." Elwood P. Dowd  

Back in 1997 when our now immediate Past Grand Master of Minnesota, M.W.B. Terry Tilton, was the Grand Chaplain. He read a letter written by Most Worshipful Brother Benjamin Franklin, which he had written to his Brother's Stepdaughter, Miss E. Hubbard, at the passing of her Stepfather, John Franklin. I think it is really a good letter containing something that we as Masons would want to keep in mind when we are faced with a loss. As Brother Tilton said in his Necrology report that year: "I wish to quote from that letter dated Philadelphia, February 23, 1756 in which he [Benjamin Franklin] so beautifully, and succinctly reminds us of God's eternal plan.  

" I condole with you. We have lost a dear and valuable relation. But it is the will of God and nature, that these mortal bodies be laid aside when the soul is to enter into real life. This rather an embryo state, a preparation for living.  

A man is not completely born until he is dead. Why then should we grieve, that a new child is born among the immortals, a new member added to their happy society? We are spirits. That bodies should be lent to us, while they can afford us pleasure, assist us in acquiring knowledge, or in doing good to our fellow creatures, is a kind and benevolent act of God. When they become unfit for these purposes, and afford us pain instead of pleasure, instead of an aid become an encumbrance, and answer none of the intentions for which they were given, it is equally kind and benevolent that a way is provided by which We may get rid of them. Death is that way. We ourselves in some cases, prudently choose a partial death. A mangled painful limb, which cannot be restored, we willingly cut off. He who plucks out a tooth, parts with it freely, since the pain goes with it; and he, who quits the whole body, parts at once with all the pains and possibilities of pains and diseases which it was liable to, or capable of making him suffer.  

Our friend and we are invited abroad to a party of pleasure, which is to last forever. His chair was ready first, and he has gone before us. We could not all conveniently start together; and why should you and I be grieved at this, since we are soon to follow, and know where to find him?"  

Adieu, B. Franklin[ii]  

"The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease." Brother Voltaire  

One more little bit of Masonic information on the subject of death and dying before I move on to more pleasant subjects is this, and to me it is very interesting: In the early rituals of the 1700's the story in Masonic Lodges was that "certain Fellow-Crafts, while pursuing their search, discovered a grave covered with green moss and turf, when they exclaimed, Muscus Domus, Deo Gratias, which was interpreted, 'Thanks be to God, our Master has a mossy house." So because of that a Mason's grave has been called "Muscus Domus." Of course this is no longer part of the ritual of Masonry, but it is interesting, and if you ever hear the term you will know where it came from and how it was used.[iii]  

"The only people with whom you should try to get even are those who have helped you." John E. Southard When does a man become a Mason? And when is a Mason considered and counted as a Mason & member in your Jurisdiction. Here in Minnesota a man becomes a Mason when he completes his First Degree, but he is not counted a member of the Fraternity until he has completed his Third Degree and he has signed his name to the Lodge By-Laws. I think that's pretty much the case throughout the United States. For example, Lyndon Johnson is not listed as a Masonic President of the U.S. because he only took the Entered Apprentice Degree. [I have an interesting comment on Brother Johnson, but I will put it an the end of this information on Voltaire.] But then there are others who are listed as Masons even though they were only Entered Apprentices. One example is our Brother Voltaire.  

Our Brother Benjamin Franklin was present and took part in Voltaire's initiation into Freemasonry. Brother Voltaire's full name was Francious Marie Arouet de Voltaire, he died on May 30, 1778 at the age of 84. Some things you will read about Voltaire will say he was an atheist, but in 10,000 Famous Freemasons it says this on that subject: "He gained fame as the defender of victims of religious intolerance and was a master of satire.

This won him the condemnation of the established church, who labeled him an 'atheist,' and who still ban his books until this day." [Being in 1957 when the book was published.] However, on his estate he had a church built, and he dedicated it to God, and on his deathbed he is quoted as saying "I die adoring [one translation says 'worshiping.'] God, loving my friends, not hating my enemies, but despising [detesting] superstition."[iv] Those aren't the actions or words of an atheist.  

At his initiation Voltaire entered the Lodge escorted by Brother Franklin. Due to Voltaire's age the usual preparations were dispensed with and thus on April 7, 1788 Voltaire was made a Mason at the Lodge of Les Neuf Soeurs at Paris,[v] France[vi], just about 2 months before his death. It is not recorded that he was ever made a Master Mason. Yet when a list of Famous Masons is made, Voltaire's name is listed among them, and he is quoted as a Mason quite a bit, even though the quote may have been made prior to his becoming a Mason.  

O.K. here is the interesting story I have about Brother Lyndon Baines Johnson, (LBJ.) A few years ago the tapes made in the Oval Office of LBJ were declassified and released. As a consequence they were broadcast on many TV News Programs here in the U.S. One of the TV News Programs I have tuned in to over the years is called Niteline, and after the tapes were reviewed Ted Koppel had some, (about 3,) guests who were Presidential Historians to listen and comment on the selected tapes for the show. In one tape just after LBJ had been sworn in he was on the phone with Brother J. Edgar Hoover, (who was at the time head of the FBI,) and LBJ asked him if he had his assurance that steps, and procedures were in place to protect the President. LBJ stresses in the conversation that it was imperative that no harm comes to the President, Hoover answered, "Yes, Mr. President," LBJ then commented something to the effect that that was good and then said, "we are Brothers you know." To which Hoover answered, "I know Mr. President."  

At that the tape was stopped, the host of the program commented that it appeared that President Johnson wanted to make certain that the assassination of JFK wasn't followed up with one on the current President, and then he asked if they knew what was meant by the phrase, "We're Brothers you know" to which the historians answered that they didn't know what he meant by that, but thought it might have something to do with both being in government service. Well you and I know what he meant by that phrase, don't we?  

"A practical nurse is one who marries a wealthy patient, and retires." E.J. Lofgren  

Another famous name I came across in the 10,000 that is listed on many lists of Famous Masons is Nathan Bedford Forrest, Confederate General in the War Between the States. In 10,000 Famous Freemasons it says he was an Entered Apprentice in Angerona Lodge #168 at Memphis, Tennessee. No other information is given about his receiving any other degrees. He died October 29, 1877 at the age of 56. You might like to know this; he was born in Bedford County Tennessee. I wonder if that county was named for some of his ancestors, or for Bedford England?  

"It isn't half as far from virtue to vice as vice versa." Maynard Speece  

Have you ever heard of a Lodge of Entered Apprentices? Sure you have, but I mean a Lodge with no Master Masons? Well there was one in Virginia, U.S.A. This Lodge of Entered Apprentices began in 1754 as a "Time Immemorial Lodge," and it was originally an Entered Apprentice's Lodge, with no name, and it was located in Port Royal Virginia. However, it did get a name, and it applied for a Charter. In about 1755 the Lodge asked for a charter from Kilwinning Lodge in Scotland, which it received, and much later is was listed as a Lodge on the rolls of Virginia as Kilwinning Cross Lodge #2[vii]. (Now as #2-237,) The minutes for April 28, 1768 say this: "R.W. James Robb, Master for the night, opened an Entered Apprentice Lodge, and after going through our lecture and signing a cheerful song, as common among Masons, the Lodge was adjourned to Lodge in course."  

From the Minutes in 1772: "After filling the offices for eighteen years with other than Master Masons, on March 26, 1772, the Lodge adopted a by-law which declared that 'each officer shall be a Master Mason." And after 50 years of existence the Lodge in 1804 had for the first time Deacons in Lodge, which was mentioned in the minutes for November 27, 1804, the minutes say; "One of them being present, he was raised to the sublime degree of a M.M."  

All the minute books of this Lodge were lost during the Civil War here in the U.S., but in 1915 they were found in an antique shop in Philadelphia and purchased for the sum of $250.[viii] They covered the period from 1754 to 1859. Minute Books of a Lodge do contain some interesting reading, and especially in the case of this Lodge.  

"My act of kindness is small but pretty good. Every day, say at least one kind thing to everyone you talk to. This isn't hard to do and it makes God, you, and the people you talk to feel good." A fifth-grade boy  

Here is something many Christian Anti-Masons don't seem to remember: from the Christian Volume of Sacred Law; James 4: 11 & 12 (NLT) "11.Don't speak evil against each other, my dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize each other, and condemn each other, then you are criticizing and condemning God's law. But you are not a judge who can decide whether the law is right or wrong. Your job is to obey it. 12. God alone, who made the law, can rightly judge among us. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to condemn your neighbor?"  

Have you visited the Website of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota Lately? It has been redone and updated, and there is some good information on the site. When you visit the site click on the little white square with a plus, or minus in it to open & close the sections. Open the portals box and then click on LEO Resources. When you're on the LEO page use the little white box to open the sections and take a look at all the stuff and links available. You might like some of what you see there.  

[i] New Century Dictionary Vol. 1

[ii] 1997 Proceedings of the Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. of Minnesota - Eric Neetenbeek, Grand Master

[iii] Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, Vol. 2

[iv] Jewels of Masonic Eloquence and Stories

[v] 10,000 Famous Freemasons by William R. Denslow

[vi] According to Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia , 1995 ed. This was what is known as "The Lodge of the Nine Sisters."

[vii] There is information on this Lodge in Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia 95 ed. On pg. # 667 under Virginia.

[viii] Jewels of Masonic Eloquence and Stories.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014