Number 327 – May 10, 2011
Papers and talks from the Old LEO
The Purpose of Masonry
By Ed Halpaus, FPS
What is the purpose of Freemasonry? Why has the fraternity continued to exist for so many centuries, and why do we, you, me, and countless others throughout the centuries, love Freemasonry so much?
A while ago I was in the company of some Masons who had the opinion that the purpose of Freemasonry, what we as Freemasons and members of a Lodge were there to do, was to make more Masons. These Brothers said we were expected to bring in new members; that was the work we were to do.
Hearing that, my mind recalled something I heard years ago: A new Mason went to the Master of his Lodge and asked him when he would begin the work of a Freemason. 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, “Degrees are 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,” and the Master said, “This is the only Masonic work I know of.”
When I first heard that story I felt that it was sad. I think it’s sad because it is so true that there are times when a Mason gets into a leadership position in his Lodge and does not really understand what the work of Freemasonry is, or what its purpose is.
The purpose of Speculative Masonry is not to get more men into Masonry but rather to get more Masonry into men.[i] Membership in our Lodges is extremely and vitally important; “population means production.” Having said that, the most important aspect of membership is to deliver to the Masons in our Lodges what Masonry has to teach, and to give our brethren what they came into Freemasonry to receive: This improves member satisfaction and retention.
It is important to share what Masonry has to offer with all initiated regular Masons; unfortunately, many times the mentoring and educating on the lessons of Masonry ends very soon after the new Mason receives his third degree. From the beginning of the ritual of the First Degree the candidate is told that Masonry is a Course of Hieroglyphical and Moral instruction. As the Candidate stands for the first time in front of the Altar and the Three Great Lights of Masonry, he is told that the design of the Masonry is to make its votaries wiser, better, and happier. After hearing what Masonry is in his first degree it’s logical the new Mason will expect to receive the lessons of Masonry.
“Masonry teaches in signs and symbols, in pictures and parables”. When we joined Masonry we did so to learn, to improve ourselves, and to subdue our passions. 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: This is one way to convey that the Lodge will provide Masons to mentor the new Mason. We were also told 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[ii] among Masons: this tells us that what Masons can learn from Freemasonry is valuable; if we will take what we learn and apply it, we can become the better men we hoped to become when we signed our petition.
In Freemasonry we have degree work, and we have the work of a Freemason; they are not the same. Freemasonry is an organization that honors work; when our Lodges are open we are said to be at labor, and we wear aprons much like the workmen of old did. The comparison of the apron worn by our ancient brethren and modern speculative Freemasons is well said in the degree work of the first degree. However, the symbolism of the apron is interesting; a small part of the symbolism is that a Mason is said to be properly clothed when he wears his Masonic Apron arranged for his degree, in some other jurisdictions white gloves are necessary to be properly clothed. I like the requirement of white gloves and white apron to be properly clothed, because of what they symbolize; the white gloves symbolize clean hands, and the white apron symbolizes a clean heart.[iii]
Many times when a longevity award is presented to a brother it will be mentioned that he has labored diligently in the quarries of Freemasonry for all these many years. Freemasons like to labor. There is a Latin expression from long ago: Laborare est orare; meaning to Labor is to pray.
The working tools of Speculative Masonry are for us to work on ourselves; to be good men who strive to become better as we progress in the science of Freemasonry. Masonry is not an end in itself; it is not a degree mill. Our work as Freemasons is to work on ourselves; we strive to fit ourselves as living stones, which can be used for good and useful employment in the Celestial Lodge where the Supreme Architect presides: Freemasonry is a means to that end. However, try as we will we never will arrive at perfection; we never will be like the perfect Ashlar; that is some of the symbolism of the broken column. The broken column symbolizes that when the end of our life arrives, whether in a young or old age, death will find us with work yet to do, our work will never be finished when we are working on ourselves, but that doesn’t mean we should stop working on ourselves.
“The great design unfinished lies, our lives are incomplete.[iv]” While this realization might be sad there is another symbol that will give us hope. The evergreen, which is the Acacia plant in Freemasonry, is a symbol of initiation, innocence and the immortality of the soul. The wood from this plant, (called Shittah wood,[v]) was ordered by God and used by Moses and Bezaleel [BEZ uh lel] on the construction of the Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant, the Table for the Shewbread, and other sacred furniture. It was believed that Acacia was incorruptible, because insects and other destructive creatures would stay away from it.[vi] An interesting and telling fact from the old rituals of Freemasonry was about the Acacia plant and the symbolism of the immortality of the soul. From those old rituals a Mason would say; “Acacia is my name,” meaning he had an immortal soul.
As far as the Mysteries of Masonry are concerned, Joseph Fort Newton had this to say: “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, its service to mankind, and that if all its rites were made public today it would still hold the hearts of men.”
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 Lodge leadership to lead the way and explain the lessons and mysteries to them, so that they may improve themselves and their lives.
In 1998 the Grand Lodge of Minnesota conducted a survey of Masons raised in the previous 5 years; those who were considered inactive. In the survey these Masons were asked why they were inactive and, what would help them get active? The answers were telling. One of the reasons identified is that Masonic Lodges don’t always deliver what they promise. Which means that the lessons of Masonry were not communicated and explained to the new Mason beyond him getting his degrees, also in some cases the fellowship talked about and expected just wasn’t there.
Past Grand Master Ed Waldon, at a Midwest Conference on Masonic Education, quoted the ritual; “The design of the Masonic institution is to make its votaries wiser, better, and consequently happier:” He was talking about Lodge mission statements, and said; that was the Lodge’s Mission. I believe it is: A helpful question for Lodge Government to ask when faced with a decision might be: “Will this help make Masons Happier, Wiser, and better educated, or better off than before? If the answer is yes, then it might be something to pursue because it is in the mission of Masonry: Our mission includes teaching our votaries the lessons behind the allegories and symbols of our craft.
I would suggest, as did Brother and Reverend Joseph Fort Newton, that the mission of masonry includes making friends, to make their lives, and ours, better, and to help and encourage Masons to make their lives a quest for truth, righteousness, and character. Freemasonry upholds every noble and redeeming ideal of humanity, it is one of the forms of heaven on earth.
One of the purposes of Masonry is to unite men into our Brotherhood through initiation and instruction.
[i] Paraphrase of what the late PGM Ed Waldon used to say.
[ii] Consequence in this context means “The act, or fact, of following as an effect or result upon something antecedent.” That implies that we as Masons need to lead, and teach our new Brothers in the explanations of the allegories of Masonry.
[iii] Masonic concordance of the Holy Bible #476D
[iv] Masonic Concordance of the Holy Bible #796C
[v] Shittim is plural for Shittah
[vi] Masonic Concordance of the Holy Bible #81E
Words to Live by: “What do we live for if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?” George Eliot
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