From The Grand Lodge Of Texas
We are all very familiar with today's Masonic banquet, which is quite common.
Generally speaking, these affairs are geared toward having a nice social
gathering, enjoying Masonic fellowship, lots of introductions, and hearing a
Masonic speaker. For the most part, we invite our friends and families to these
activities to promote our fraternity. On a lesser scale, we often have meals
and/or refreshments preceding or following our stated meetings. While these
meetings are usually limited to our lodge members, the purpose is no more than
feeding our bodies and enjoying the Masonic fellowship. Masonic Feasts were very
different from the current Masonic banquet where Masons gathered to enjoy the
fraternal spirit of Freemasonry and indulge in feasting on food and wine.
The feast has a long history in society from family feasts to religious feasts.
These fellowship gatherings were special occasions centered on special days or
events and were elaborate compared to our present-day family gatherings. These
feasts were more than an opportunity to eat, drink, and be merry. They were an
opportunity to solidify spiritual or family ties. Instead of spending a couple
of hours together for New Years, Thanksgiving, or Christmas dinner or an
afternoon of outdoor activities on Memorial Day, Independence Day or Labor Day,
the old family gatherings might last several days. The religious feasts would
also generally last several days, much different from today's potluck dinner or
Freemasons of the 18th century practiced the general custom of convivial society
at dinners and banquets of toasting or drinking to the health of various people,
things, or ideals. This practice among Masons developed beyond a custom and
became almost a ritual to be regularly observed with scheduled toasts. The Table
Lodge developed out of this custom where eating and drinking went on somewhat
concurrently with the degree work with the toasts presented in a particular
order with the consent of the Master. These Table Lodges were often tiled lodge
meetings in which the brethren enjoyed the fellowship of the meal and toasts
while participating in a Masonic educational experience with appropriate degree
The early Masonic Feast was also an elaborate event. Masonic Feasts have much in
common with the Table Lodge except there was no concurrent tiled meeting. The
Feast was so important to the early lodge that many activities revolved around
these special gatherings. One must remember the early Masonic lodges, prior to
the creation the Grand Lodge of England in 1717, were very small with only 8 to
25 members. This small number allowed the brethren to develop close Masonic ties
and, as a result, these brethren loved their lodges. The Masonic Feast provided
an opportunity for Masonic fellowship, which allowed friendship and affection to
grow and flourish into brotherly love. Out of this festive spirit, the Mason
developed a strong tie to his lodge. The lodge was a home: warm, comfortable,
luxurious, and full of memories. No lodge member had to be coaxed to attend his
lodge; he didn't go to lodge grudgingly or out of a sense of duty. He went
because he was drawn like a magnet. He looked forward to gathering with his
fellow brethren to enjoy that special Masonic fellowship. Just imagine, a lodge
of ten members who are whole-heartedly committed to their lodge, who love their
lodge. Masonically, this lodge is larger and more powerful than the lodge of 100
men who are nothing more than members who occasionally attend meetings.
The lodges that founded the Mother Grand Lodge of England in 1717 outlined only
two purposes in their constitution. One was to establish a center of union and
harmony. The second was to revive the Quarterly Feasts. This indicates the
importance placed on the Feast in the early lodge. These Feasts were
distinctively different from the modern Masonic banquet. Only Masons could
attend these special feasts, and oftentimes, they were held as tiled meetings,
thus the Table Lodge. No profane could attend these special Feasts no matter how
high or noble his position was in society. In fact, in some of the older
documents, even the idea of a lodge hosting a banquet with lodge funds for
non-Masons was prohibited. The Masonic Feast was purely a Masonic gathering for
fellowship and education.
The early Mason was accustomed to elaborate and extensive Feasts that might
encompass several days. To give you an idea of the magnitude of a Feast, a
partial bill of fare for a banquet (50 people) in 1506 included the following:
36 chickens, 1 swan, 4 geese, 9 rabbits, 2 rumps of beef tails, 6 quails, 50
eggs, 4 breasts of veal. The meal would be enjoyed in a formal gathering where
the master would preside over the ceremonies attending the meal and direct a
series of toasts.
The Feast revival envisioned by the English brethren creating the Grand Lodge of
England was evidently successful, as by 1722 Freemasonry was a significant
enough movement in London that it became the brunt of various parodies. These
parodies were based upon the drinking and toasting habits of the lodge members.
And since they were parodies, perhaps they were exaggerated. An example is an
anonymous poem entitled "The Free Masons" which explains the Masons' toast.
They drink, carouse, like any Bacchus
And swallow strongest Wines that rack us;
And then it is they lay Foundation
Of Masonry, to build a nation.
They various Healths strait put around,
To ev'ry airy Female Sound;
But Sally Dear's the Fav'rite Toast,
Whose Health it is they drink the most…
This poem refers to Sally Salisbury, a woman of the evening, whose name was
well recognized in London. Many ribald and mildly salacious songs and poems were
written about Masons and served as amusement for the non-Masonic population. In
addition, Masons conjured up their own rather risqué songs which became part of
their gatherings, all in the name of enjoyment.
As Masonry came to the United States, these parodies followed to our country,
which caused Masons to stand out in the Puritan atmosphere. It also created an
image of drunken revelry to the public. Indeed, Masonic singing and toasting led
to some of the earliest condemnations of our Fraternity. However, not all
Masonic toasts and poems expressed risqué sentiments. The following "Toasts and
Sentiments" from Vinton's Masonick Minstrel demonstrate the true Masonic spirit.
· May ev'ry Mason RISE in the EAST, find refreshment in the SOUTH, and be
so dismissed in the WEST, as to find admission into the middle chamber to
receive the reward of a GOOD MAN.
· Love to ONE, friendship to a FEW, and good will to ALL.
· The Brother who stands plumb to his principles, yet is level to his
· To HIM, who all things understood, To HIM, who furnished the stone and wood,
To HIM, who nobly spilt his blood - in doing of his duty; We hail the day! We
hail the morn! On which those three great men were born! Who did the TEMPLE
thus adorn With WISDOM, STRENGTH and BEAUTY.
However, the critics of Masonic Feasts, which may have gotten a little out of
bounds at times, led most US grand lodges to eliminate the excesses of unbridled
exuberance to prevent offending society and counter many charges against the
Fraternity. As a result the true Masonic Feast purely for Masonic fellowship,
slipped into oblivion. Masonic meetings today are much more somber (and
certainly more sober) than those of our ancient brethren and our Masonic Feasts
have all but disappeared from the Masonic landscape.
Masonic meetings today can be cold, boring, and lacking enthusiasm, if they are
devoted to lodge business and degree work without opportunities for Masonic
fraternalism and fellowship. Even the strongest mystic tie will break under the
strain of monotony, dullness, cheerlessness, and repetition. A lodge needs a
fire to be lit in it, and the only way to have that warmth is to restore the
Masonic Feast. When it is restored, good fellowship and brotherly love will
follow. And where good fellowship is, members will fill up an empty lodge room
not only with themselves but also with their gifts, not out of a sense of
obligation, but because they have a love and commitment for their lodge like our
The Masonic Feast may have been tamed over the years but enthusiasm for
Freemasonry burns brightly in many lodges. Consider instituting the Masonic
Feast in your lodge where one can enjoy Masonic fellowship and engage in a
Masonic educational experience. A Masonic Feast provides us with an all too rare
privilege of participating in the ancient custom of Masonic toasting where we
can continue a tradition of good cheer and fun from Masonry's earliest days.
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