The musings of a previously unemployed Jewish Freemason. I write about the job search, about Judaism, and about Freemasonry.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Wilmshurst: The Positions of the Officers of the Lodge

In consideration of my new office of Inside Sentinel, I thought I would share what W. L. Wilmshurst has to say about the positions of the officers in the lodge. W. L. Wilmshurst was an English Christian mystic and Freemason, a regional lecturer for the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), who wrote many books and essays about the esoteric side of Freemasonry. His book, The Meaning of Masonry, should be encouraged reading for all new Master Masons. I don't consider him to be authoritative, but he is so insightful, and often so profound, that every mason should know about him.

Here is a passage from The Meaning of Masonry (in this link).

It is important to point out that the Senior Deacon in Wilmshurst's description performs the duties that in a North American lodge are shared between the Senior Deacon and the Marshall, and most of the work done by the Inner Guard (or Inside Sentinel) in his description is done by the Junior Deacon in a North American lodge. That makes his analogy a bit skewed for an American audience, but I think the principles still hold, and to my mind, the function of the three senior officers is more important to the analogy, and pretty much the same here as in England.

I like this psychological approach, and The Meaning of Masonry is full of examples of this. Wilmshurst is of the opinion, and I wholeheartedly agree, that the three degrees of Freemasonry describe the initiatory journey of any seeker of enlightenment. Wilmshurst posits that very few men in all of history have truly earned the Master Mason degree, that only a few in each generation are truly Fellowcrafts, and that only a small subset of the population are true Entered Apprentices, but that with some applied consciousness, Freemasonry can increase these numbers. This assertion of Wilmshurst's may seem crazy to a lot of masons, but read his book before you judge.

Last night was Lodge of Instruction. I stood up during the announcements and gave an abbreviated version of the previous post about Holocaust Remembrance Day. I don't know how other grand lodge jurisdictions do things, so please allow me to explain what Lodge of Instruction means in the context of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. While many more traditional grand lodges require every candidate to memorize his catechism or lecture for each degree, in Massachusetts, that is at the discretion of the Worshipful Master. To ensure that masons are well-educated in their degree work regardless of whether they memorize their degree lectures, each masonic district has a Lodge of Instruction, and candidates must take instruction there with a certified (certified by Grand Lodge) instructor on each degree. Let me give you an example.

Let's assume that Mr. A. B. petitions St. John's Lodge (considering that there are hundreds of lodges so named, and two in Massachusetts, I'm hoping this is sufficiently generic) in February. The brothers vote on him in March's regular communication, and he receives a clear ballot. In April, he is initiated an Entered Apprentice at St. John's Lodge and given a cipher book with the EA lecture. Depending on the lodge, he may be assigned a more senior brother to teach him the lecture, but in any case, he will attend the Nth District Lodge of Instruction at the end of the month, and a certified instructor there will teach him the details of the EA degree he just went through. When the instructor is satisfied, the Secretary of the Nth District Lodge of Instruction will sign a book the candidate receives the night of the EA ritual. This may happen before or after any exemplification for the EA degree the Worshipful Master may require for the candidate. In May, Brother A. B. will pass to his Fellowcraft degree at St. John's Lodge. Later that month, he will attend Lodge of Instruction, be instructed on the FC by a certified instructor, and get his book signed by the Secretary, before or after any exemplification for the FC degree. In June, he will be raised to the Sublime Degree of a Master Mason in St. John's Lodge. Later that month he will attend Lodge of Instruction twice, and have two lessons about the MM degree, and each time get his book signed by the Secretary, with exemplification for the MM happening at the pleasure of the Worshipful Master. Only after he gets those four signatures can he sign the by-laws of St. John's Lodge, receive a dues card, wear a blue-bordered apron when he sits in his mother lodge, and gain the privilege of visiting other lodges.

Each of the lodges in the district rotates who hosts the Lodge of Instruction in a given month. Each Lodge of Instruction has a Worshipful Master (usually a Past Master of one of the lodges in the district), Wardens and Deacons, a Chaplain, a Secretary, a Marshall, and a Tyler. I'm not sure if the other officers are required. Dinner is handled by the hosting lodge. The hosting lodge also suppiles a speaker for the evening's entertainment, who usually gives a talk on a masonic and/or historical theme. This speaker need not be a mason, in which case the Lodge of Instruction can be opened not on any degree, and guests may attend. Otherwise, the Lodge of Instruction is opened on the highest degree of the brethren present, including the candidates. Members of the hosting lodge wear blue-bordered aprons, and everyone else not an offier of the Lodge of Instruction nor a Past Master or Grand Lodge officer wears a white apron. Candidates, and the officers of the lodges in the district are required to attend, but any mason of first degree or higher in the district may attend.

This structure has an enormous amount of potential on several fronts. If there were time and interest, I would love to see one tyled and one untyled Lodge of Instruction a month. The untyled Lodge of Instruction would be open to the general community: men, women, children, whoever wanted to come. There would be a lecture or performance of some kind of general interest to the community. The tyled lodge would cover masonic instruction on a deeper level, involving history, ritual, and other masonic interests. If they were sufficiently interesting, the attendance would take care of itself. I would like to see more Lodge of Instruction events, and see them well attended with masons and the general public. We have a lot to teach.

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