Article by R ∴ W ∴ Brother Michael T. Salisbury, Grand Lecturer
Masonry is a system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. That sounds kind of complicated at first, but think about it. In essence, it states that Masonry is a code of ethics or standards based upon the principles of friendship and moral virtue, Brotherly love for our fellow man, relief of the distressed, truth, and charity.
These standards are presented to the newly made Mason through a series of degrees found in our Ritual. They are explained by giving examples or making comparisons based upon architecture, certain objects, and the working tools of a stonemason to symbolically represent these principles or ideals. For example, the square is the working tool we use to represent the principle of giving someone a square or honest deal. Every Mason takes a solemn oath and obligation, wherein we promise that we will devote serious effort to living our daily lives according to these standards.
All of this is presented to the initiate through our ritual ceremonies. Looked at in this light, the ritual is in effect the “Instruction Manual” for becoming a Mason. The whole system of Masonry revolves around the ritual in one form or another. A Lodge cannot transact business of any kind, not even the most mundane business like paying the bills, without being properly opened and closed in due and full form as laid out in the ritual.
Where To Start
It starts first at the top with the Worshipful Master, but also at the beginning, with the candidate. The first pieces of ritual every Brother must learn are his lessons. If we really want to get serious about our Culture of Excellence, why not start with the proficiency tests of our new-made Brethren? No candidate should be advanced to his next degree until he is truly proficient in the lessons of the degree he is laboring in.
Making a man a Mason is serious business. We put far too much emphasis on moving our candidates to the next degree within that minimum 28-day window. It’s not about how quickly you can make a man a dues-paying member, rather it’s about the type of Mason you have forged at the end of the process. There is no reason or excuse to rush a Brother through his degrees and short-change him in this experience. What we should be striving for is the Brother to have a good understanding of the symbolism and principles of the degree he just received as well as being able to recite his lesson with confidence and little to no prompting.
What should we expect in terms of ritual proficiency from our officers? There is one and only one real answer to this question: we should expect excellence!
The Worshipful Master must set the bar and the example. Everyone in the Lodge, from the members on the sidelines to the Senior Warden take their cues from him. When the Master does exemplary work, and sets the expectations for the same from his line, they will strive to live up to his example.
On the other hand, the Master who has not learned his part will find it very difficult, if not impossible, to get his officers to learn theirs.
Every officer in the Lodge swore an oath, on his honor as a Mason, that he would perform the duties of his office to the BEST of his ability. Based upon this oath, one would like to think that every officer of the Lodge would step up to the plate and make proficiency in the ritual work of his office a top priority.
When all is said and done, becoming a proficient ritualist boils down to committing about 30 minutes a day every day to working on ritual. I realize that everyone has a busy life, kids in sports, job demands, and family commitments. So where are you going to find 30 extra minutes to work on your ritual performance? How about 30 minutes just before bed?
Anyone, no matter where they are starting from today, can become a good ritualist if they will but dedicate the time and effort necessary to do so. You must allow adequate time for the task at hand. Bear in mind that it usually takes about 100 repetitions of the entire part to reach the stage where you “own it”. When it comes to allowing adequate time, think in terms of months; not days or weeks.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help in achieving this level of performance. The guys in the purple aprons, the Grand Lecturers and District Deputy Grand Lecturers, are here to assist you, not make your life harder. We are here to work with you to achieve outstanding results.
“Ok” is never good enough. Every lodge needs to develop their own culture of ritual excellence. It is not an exaggeration to say that the future of Freemasonry depends upon it.
Set the bar at “Outstanding” in your lodge!