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masonic matters

Masonic Work

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

“There were those who thought that the power of Masonry lay in her secrecy; some think so still, not knowing that its real power lies in the sanctity of its truth, the simplicity of its faith, the sweetness of its spirit, and its service to mankind, and that if all its rites were made public today it would still hold the hearts of men.”
Brother Joseph Fort Newton

It has been said that the purpose of Freemasonry, as a fraternity, is not to get more men into Masonry but rather to get more Masonry into men.[i] While I believe that is a true statement, I also believe that getting more Masonry into our members does not need to be exclusive of bringing more men into Freemasonry. Freemasonry is an important and worthwhile institution and I think every man who would like to be a Freemason should have the opportunity to petition a Lodge.

Some time ago I met a Mason who said that the purpose of Freemasonry was to make more Masons. He said we were expected to bring in new members; that was the work we were here to do.

As I listened to what he was saying I couldn’t help but remember an old story, I’m sure you’ve heard it too, about a new Mason who had seen nothing but degree work since he had been made a Mason. One day he met with the Master of his Lodge and asked him when he would begin learning the work of a Mason. He said, “Since I’ve taken my degrees, I’ve seen quite a few other men take their degrees, that’s all we’ve been doing in Lodge since I joined, and I’ve been wondering when I will begin the work of a Freemason?” “Well,” the Master said, “this is the work of a Freemason, taking part in the degrees and bringing more men into Masonry.” The new Mason said “I thought there was more to the work of a Mason.”

Have you heard that before? I think I first heard that story when I was a very young Mason, and the point of the story, when it was told to me, was that there was more to Masonry than degree work. In fact, there has been over the years a feeling that learning the proficiency was not that important when it comes to learning about Freemasonry, and I have heard it suggested that the degree work is not that important, and that it could be read out of a book just to satisfy the formality of degree work and after going through the degrees, the new Mason could then get down to the task of learning about Freemasonry.

From the beginning of the ritual of the First Degree the Candidate is told that Masonry is a Course of hieroglyphical and moral instruction. It is true that “Masonry teaches in signs and symbols, in pictures and parables”. We were told in the charge of the First Degree that if we are to improve in Masonic Knowledge we are to converse with well-informed Brethren, who will be always as ready to give as we will be ready to receive instruction, to keep sacred and inviolable the mysteries of the fraternity, as these are to distinguish us from the rest of the community, and to mark our consequence among Masons.[ii] Consequence in this context means “The act, or fact, of following as an effect or result upon something antecedent.”[iii] That implies that we as Masons need to lead and to teach our new brethren in the explanations of the allegories of Masonry. When we joined Masonry we did so to learn, to improve ourselves, and to subdue our passions. We Freemasons, I would say, no matter how long we’ve been in the craft, still have an eager and receptive mind when it comes to learning what Freemasonry has to teach us.

It is fairly well known in education circles that a receptive mind is affected by suggestion and repetition. The rituals and the degree work of Freemasonry provide constant repetition of the ‘most beautiful and dramatic lessons in Moral Science - provided, and this is important, provided that the Mason seeing the degrees and ceremonies knows what the symbolism of those ceremonies mean.’[iv] “Where the meaning of the symbolism is not known, Masonry is but little more than a mere fraternal organization and her transcendently beautiful, dramatic lessons are almost if not entirely wasted.” [v]

When the meanings of the ceremonies, symbols and degree work are being learned and are known by Freemasons this constitutes ‘Masonic Work.’ The constant training and learning, by watching and participating in the degree work and rituals of Freemasonry, along with instruction and learning, of what all of that along with the symbolism contained in them, is the Masonic Work being taught by suggestion and repetition. Understanding and contemplation of our rituals helps the Freemason to be able to translate the actions and the words of our degree work into those real teachings which he can use to affect his own life. When that happens he is in possession of that ‘Masonic Light by which Masons work and then, and not until then, is he able to do real Masonic Work,’[vi] which is the changing and alteration of his subjective mind by the understanding and intelligent repetition of the lessons to be learned in that Course of Hieroglyphical and Moral instruction, taught according to types, emblems, and allegorical figures.

The mysteries and the secrets of our “Gentle Craft” are hidden rightly enough - they’re hidden in plain sight. Where better to hide something than in plain view where it will be overlooked by most, even those who should know. Masons are searching and aching for leadership to lead the way and explain the lessons and mysteries to them, so that they may improve themselves and their lives.

“The Mason on the sidelines must understand what he sees, or it cannot produce any impression which could sink down into his subjective mind there to add itself to other previous and similar impressions and, so become part of his character.”
Brother Prentiss Tucker

From the Great light of Masonry = “Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” Deuteronomy 4:6 NIV

[i] Paraphrase of what the late PGM Ed Waldon used to say.
[ii] Charge of the First Degree Minnesota
[iii] New Century Dictionary
[iv] The Lost Key by Prentiss Tucker 1927 Edition
[v] ibid
[vi] ibid

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Last modified: March 22, 2014