This Short Talk Bulletin deals about Masonic protocols and
courtesies, I thought this was an excellent reminder.
Conventions are the rules which society makes for itself, without the force of
law, by which its members live together with the least friction. It is not a sin
to eat with one's knife or to keep one's hat on in the house. But these are not
"good form" or good manners.
Masonry has developed its own conventions, by which its members act in lodge and
the anteroom. Not to proceed according to their dictates is not a Masonic
offense; it is merely a lack of Masonic manners.
As you passed through the Third Degree you received instructions in the Ritual
and the obligation. You were carefully taught those essential things which a man
must know in order to be a Mason. But unless you belong to a most unusual lodge,
or had a most wise brother for a mentor, it is doubtful if you were told much
about these little niceties of lodge conduct. You are supposed to at, tend your
lodge and learn by observation.
Not all brethren are observing, however. It is not uncommon to see some brother,
old enough in Masonry to know better, crossing the lodge room between the Altar
and the East. He might have observed that his brethren did not do it; but it is
more difficult to note the absence of an act than to take cognizance of
Brethren do not pass between the Altar and the East in lodge. It is a
convention; there is no penalty for its infraction. It is a courtesy offered the
Master. It is rooted in the theory that, as the Great Lights and the Charter of
the lodge are essential to the regularity of the meeting, as these are the
particular care of the Master, and as their place is upon the Altar, the Master
should never be interrupted in his plain view of them, even for an instant.
Well informed brethren do not take seats in the East without invitation. All
brethren within the tiled door are equal; the officers are the servants of their
brethren and not their superiors. All seats, then, might well be considered open
to all. But Masonry exacts long services of her officers; Past Masters have
worked hard and long for the lodge they love. The Master recognizes their
devotion and their loyalty with a special word of welcome, and an invitation to
them to occupy a seat with him, in the East where they once sat. From this
pretty custom has developed the invitation to a "seat in the East" to
any distinguished visitor, or some member the Master wishes especially to honor.
If all in the lodge helped themselves to seats in the East there would be no
opportunity for the Master to offer that courtesy.
Brethren who respect the formalities of their lodge will not enter it undressed;
that is, without their apron, or while putting that apron on. The spectacle of a
brother walking up to the Altar, tying the strings and adjusting his apron while
the Master waits for his salute, is not a pretty one. A man who entered church
putting on his collar and tying his necktie could hardly be arrested, but he
would surely receive unflattering comment. The strangeness of the new badge of a
Mason and unfamiliarity with its meaning cause many to forget that it is as
important to a Mason in lodge as clean linen, properly adjusted, is to the man
in the street.
The Worshipful Master in the East occupies the most exalted position in the gift
of the lodge. A lodge which does not honor its Master, not because of what he
himself may be, but on account of the honor given him, is lacking in Masonic
courtesy. The position he occupies, not the man, must be given the utmost
respect, if the traditions of the Fraternity are to be observed.
It is, therefore, to the Master, not to John Smith who happens to be the Master,
that you offer a salute when you enter or retire from lodge. Like any other
salute, this may be done courteously and as if you meant it, or perfunctorily as
if you did not care. The man who puts one finger to his hat brim when he speaks
to a woman on the street compares poorly with his well brought up neighbor who
lifts his hat. Taking the hat off is the modern remains of the ancient custom of
knights who removed their helmets in the presence of those they felt their
friends, and thus, before those they wished to honor by showing that they
trusted them. A man removes his hat before a woman to show his respect. Touching
the brim is but a perfunctory salute. Similarly, the salute to the Master is
your renewed pledge of fealty and service, your public recognition before all
men, of your obligation. It is performed before the Master and the Altar to show
him your veneration for his authority, your respect for all that for which he
stands. To offer your salute as if you were in a hurry, too lazy properly to
make it, or bored with its offering, is to be, Masonically, a boor.
A man in lodge is the servant of his brethren, if he engages in any lodge
activity. Servants stand in the presence of their superiors. Therefore, no Mason
sits while speaking, whether he addresses an officer or another brother. This
does not refer to conversation on the benches during refreshment, but to
discussion on the floor during business meeting.
During the refreshment the Master relinquishes the gavel to the Junior Warden in
the South, which thus becomes, for the time being, constructively the East. All
that has been said about the respect due the Master in the East applies now to
the Junior Warden in the South.
It is illegal to enter or leave the room during a ballot; it is discourteous to
leave during a speech, or during a degree, except at the several natural periods
which end one section and begin another.
Smoking is permitted in some lodge rooms during the business meeting. Alas,
there are some which do not interdict it during a degree! You will, of course,
be governed here by the custom of your own lodge, although it is to be hoped you
will never lend the weight of your opinion toward establishing the custom of
smoking during the solemn ceremonies of a degree, unless, indeed, you would like
to smoke in church!
A courteous brother does not refuse a request made in the name of the lodge.
There are three duties which devolve upon the membership which are too often
"the other fellow's business." Every lodge at some time has a knock
upon the door from some visiting brother. This requires the services of two
brethren from the lodge on the examination committee. Some one has to do that
work. To decline it, on any ground whatever, is discourteous to the Master, to
whom you have said, in effect, "I don't want to do my share; let George do
it. I just want to sit here and enjoy myself while the other fellows do the
A degree cannot well be put on without the services of conductors. When you are
assigned such a piece of work, it is not Masonic courtesy to refuse, for the
same reasons given above. And if you are selected as a member of the Fellowcraft
'team in the Master Mason degree, the only reason for not accepting is that of
physical disability. Like other matters herein spoken of, refusal here is not a
Masonic offense. Neither is it a legal offense to drink from a finger bowl, seat
yourself at table before your hostess, or spit on your host's parlor floor! But
the convention of good manners is what makes society pleasant, and Masonic good
manners make lodge meetings pleasant.
One does not talk in church. God's House is not for social conversation; it is
for worship and the learning of the lesson of the day. A good Mason does not
talk during the conferring of a degree. The lodge room is then a Temple of the
Great Architect of the Universe, with the brethren working therein doing their
humble best to make better stones for His spiritual Temple. Good manners as well
as reverence dictate silence and attention during the work; officers and degree
workers cannot do their best if distracted by conversation, and the irreverence
cannot help but be distressing to candidates.
There is a special lodge courtesy to be observed in all debates to any motion.
One speaks to the Master; the Master is the lodge. One does not turn one's back
on him to address the lodge without permission from him. One stands to order
when addressing the chair; customs differ in various jurisdictions as to the
method of salute, but some salute should always be given when addressing the
Master. The spectacle of two brethren on their feet at the same time, arguing
over a motion, facing each other and ignoring the Master, is not one which any
Master should permit. But it is also one which no Master should have to prevent!
Failure to obey the gavel at once is a grave discourtesy. The Master is all
powerful in the lodge. He can put or refuse to put any motion. He can rule any
brother out of order on any subject at any time. He can say what he will, and
what he will not, permit to be discussed. Brethren who think him unfair,
arbitrary, unjust, or acting illegally, have redress; the Grand Lodge can be
appealed to on any such matter. But in the lodge, the gavel, emblem of
authority, is supreme. When a brother is rapped down, -he should at once obey,
without further discussion. It is very bad manners to do otherwise; indeed, it
is close to the line between bad manners and a Masonic offense.
Failure to vote on a petition is so common in many jurisdictions that it may be
considered stretching the list to include it under a heading of lodge
discourtesies. In smaller lodges the Master probably requires the satisfaction
of the law which provides that all brethren present vote. In larger ones, where
there is much business, and many petitions, he may, and often does, declare the
ballot closed after having asked, "Have all the brethren voted?" Even
though he knows quite well that they have not all voted. This is not the place
to discuss whether the Master is right or wrong in such action. But the brother
who does not vote, because too lazy, or too indifferent, or for any other
reason, is discourteous because he injures the ballot, its secrecy, its
importance, and its value. Few brethren would be so thoughtless as to remain
seated, or stand by their chairs, when a candidate is brought to light. Yet
indifference to one's part in this solemn ceremony is less bad manners than
indifference to the ballot; the former injures only a ceremony; the latter may
injure the lodge, and by that injury, the fraternity.
It is a courtesy to the Master to advise him beforehand that you intend to offer
thus and such a motion, or wish to bring up thus and such a matter for
discussion. You have the right to do it without apprising him in advance, just
as he has the right to rule you out of order. But the Master may have plans of
his own for that meeting, into which your proposed motion or discourse does not
Therefore, it is a courtesy to him, to ask him privately if you may be
recognized for your purpose, and thus save him the disagreeable necessity of
seeming arbitrary in a public refusal.
Lodge courtesies, like those of the profane world, are founded wholly in the
Golden Rule. They oil the Masonic wheels and enable them to revolve without
creaking. They smooth the path of all in the lodge, and prove to all and sundry
the truth of the ritualistic explanation of that "more noble and glorious
purpose" to which we are taught to put the trowel.
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