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THE OFFICE OF THE CHAPLAIN
Bro. and Rev. Lee S. Donohue is an ordained Presbyterian Minister in Canada and serves the Grand Lodge of Quebec as Grand Chaplain. --Editor
The office of Chaplain was instituted in the early years of English Speculative Masonry. The English term "Chaplain" refers to a priest, minister or other clergy officiating in a private chapel. It is this office which is charged with the offering of holy prayer. It was adopted when men of great intellectual curiosity--authors, musical composers, architects, philosophers, churchmen, men of the aristocracy, from both royalty and the nobility--were streaming into the vast pool of enlightened men who had been attracted to this peculiar and unique organization which they learned had been founded on the purest principles of piety and virtue. In Masonry were men, congregated together, who were devoted to the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God, and engaged in the search for truth, the relief of the indigent, and the protection of virtue.
Masonry is not a religion. Masonry is not a religious order or religious organization of any kind. Masonry is not meant to replace religion in a man's life. Be that as it may, however, prayer is an essential part of the form, substance and content of Masonic assemblies and meetings. Men in the Masonic Order denied the right of dictation by any church and were conscious of the tendency to persecution by governments under whose protection they resided. In this vein, they initiated the prohibition of religion and politics as discussion topics within the Lodge. This prohibition is jealously guarded to this day. Masonry, nevertheless, is so far interwoven with religion as to lay men under obligation to pay that rational homage to the deity which at once constitutes their duty and their happiness. It leads the contemplative to view with reverence and admiration the glorious works of creation and impresses them with the most exalted ideas of the perfection of the Creator.
Charles Darwin opened a new window on scientific and theological study with the publication in 1859 of his contribution to modem science entitled On the Origin of Species, followed in 1871 by his book Descent of Man. This window looked out on a harvest of concepts and principles un-imagined in the intellectual life of man. Where God's laws were interpreted to mean that all living organisms were created to adapt with each other and fit perfectly into their own environment, Darwin removed God and his natural laws and in their stead he placed the principles of common ancestry of humans and apes and his explanatory theory of natural selection. This almost unbelievable concept burst upon the quiet lives of the Western world's scientific community like an exploding asteroid of gargantuan proportions and set off a firestorm of frenzied activity in every study and laboratory in Europe and America, resulting in an unprecedented revolution in philosophy. But God, having been rejected by science for almost 150 years, has now been reintroduced in a new dimension by one of the greatest living scientists of our time, Stephen Hocking.
We recall that Freemasonry formally organized in 1717 in England, less than 300 years ago. It is still being defined and publicized as the most widely distributed secret society in the world, having an active membership of over three million men attached to thousands of lodges spread over every habitable portion of the globe--until quite recently when other diversions laid claim to men's leisure hours.
There are various theories of the origins of Freemasonry and where this great fraternal organization may have had its roots. But we cannot sell short the fact that the English associations of operative builders of the Middle Ages, with their traditions and peculiar customs, the possession of a grip and a password and other characteristics, marked the evolution from the operative science into the speculative Craft that we know today. The fables which carry the fraternity back to the building of King Solomon's temple, to the era of Isis and Osiris in Egypt, and to other momentous incidents in history, all impart lessons that support and form the core of the ritual, charges, lectures and being of the Order.
German, French, Scandinavian and other continental intellectual movements migrated around Europe and contributed their influence to Masonry. The Roman colleges of artificers and the great architects and engineers of the Roman armies of occupation left an impress that can still be detected in the Work.
The influx of new membership----anti-quarians, historians, mystics and intellectuals of every stripe who were attracted to the fraternity at the time of the Enlightenment-----brought with them and contributed to the lodges their own special gifts in interpreting holy writ, the classics and the emerging sciences. We have a classic example in the Book of Joshua 10:12 where Joshua prayed that the Lord would stop the sun. One result of this story was the rounding out of the Masonic symbolic degree ceremonials to substantially the forms in use today, particularly in the signs practiced in the Fellowcraft Degree. Traces of symbolism from Operative Masonry are preserved by the Craft and superimposed on the work of the Masonic ritualists. Also discernible are the great contributions made by the Rosicrucians, Kabbalists, Gnostics and Pythagoreans, as well as the great debt owed by Masonry to ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Oriental philosophies.
It was the wide extension of British commerce throughout the world that brought the Craft into vogue through the activity of the army and the navy, who were the prime medium of carrying the fraternity into the furthermost British colonies, into various recesses of Europe and across the oceans to North America. In Canada, particularly in Quebec, working lodges in Wolfe's army were of Scottish, English, and Irish Constitutions. The Lodge of Antiquity, Number 1 on the registry of the Grand Lodge of Quebec, owes its original charter to the latter of the above Grand Lodges.
From these early beginnings we now define the Chaplain's role in Masonry, which is to interpret the spirituality of the ritual to the Master of the Lodge and through him to all Lodge members. He is to assist in elevating the moral, ethical, and intellectual level of the members of this community, and in going beyond his constituency, to all ranks in society. In this office it is essential that he be conversant with the history, aims, purposes and fundamentals of the Order in general and with his Lodge in particular, paying special attention to the membership as individuals with their own particular needs and problems. His prayers unite the Brethren in a mystical bond of fellowship whose faculties are, at this time, directed toward God, the Supreme Being, to whom all must submit, and whom we ought most humbly to adore.
The only time a candidates' particular religion is of importance to the Order is when he takes his obligation on the sacred book of his own religion, the better to deem it solemn and binding. His religion is otherwise of no concern to anyone. But it is the concern of the Office of Chaplain to see that the Holy Bible is in its place on the altar when the lodge is opened--for the Bible, and the Square and Compasses, represent the Three Great Lights by which a Mason must walk and work.
The Chaplain is aware that a good man will find there is goodness in the world; an honest man will find there is honesty in the world; and a man of principle will find principle and integrity in the spirit and hearts of others. The role of the Chaplain is to promote thorough, faithful, and honest endeavor to improve. In so doing, he makes his greatest contribution to the Lodge. For we believe that there is a God; that he is our Father; that he has a paternal interest in our welfare and improvement; that he has given us powers by means of which we may escape from sin and all its temptations; and that he destined us to a life of endless progress toward perfection and a knowledge of himself.
If we believe this, as every Chaplain should, and if we impart and transmit this to the Brethren, we live calmly, endure patiently, and labour steadfastly as conquerors in the great struggle of life.
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Last modified: March 22, 2014