Protocol and Decorum
on Masonic Etiquette
Masonic Education Series Handbook
Concord Lodge #307 Vienna, Virginia 1995
Meaning of Masonic Etiquette
Masonic Etiquette is, by definition, something that is not to be left to an
individual to see or to carry out according to his own taste; he conforms to it
because it was formally adopted as a conventional requirement for acceptable
behavior (whether he sees a good reason for doing so or not).
An act of Masonic etiquette is some movement, action, courteous gesture or
speech performed at a given time and place, in a certain manner, and according
to rule, fixed and imposed by the Fraternity itself. Since the rules are for the
good of the Craft as a whole, it affects each member. An organization such as
ours adopts these rules because we need them to carry out our good works in an
atmosphere of harmony. They are not empty and meaningless, arbitrarily enacted
and imposed for the mere sake of performing them.
The rules have been time-tested A N D they work!!
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Information on Masonic Etiquette
If a Master is in doubt about the correct form of etiquette for some
particular occasion he has several authoritative sources of information upon
which to draw. He should consult the Manual of Lodge Programs and Protocol, the
Mentor's Manual, the Officers Manual, the Manual of Ceremonies or the
Constitutions of Masonry. He may confer with his older members, such as Past
Masters, who usually have had experience of the kind needed on this occasion.
He may consult with the Grand Provost, members of the Committee on Masonic
Education, or District Educational Officers (DEO). They have broad personal
experience, familiarity with and ready access to several books on Masonic
Etiquette. Sometimes these books may be too general in their treatment of
certain topics and lack detailed explanations for specific application to a
particular situation to be immediately useful.
They are, nevertheless, valuable in providing general rules and principles
which can be applied across the board. The DEO can usually be counted upon to
help identify the appropriate source of authoritative rule. In addition, he is
acquainted with the "personality" of the District and can help you
develop a suitable course of action. He could confer with the Grand Lecturer,
Division Lecturer, or District Instructor of Work.
Although most of forms of etiquette are not confined to ritual, yet they
belong to the same general field of study, and most experienced ritualists are
also usually very well informed on the rules and practical application of
etiquette, protocol and decorum.
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Aged and Infirm
If a member is infirm he should be assisted to enter the Lodge and to salute
on the arm of the Junior Deacon; and if he requires it, a special chair or
special seat should be provided for him.
However, it is not fitting or proper to attract undue attention to his
infirmity by paying him special heed, remarking on his presence, etc. If an
older member cannot attend Lodge, some mention of him should be occasionally
made at a Communication and the Master should see to it that he is visited and
otherwise reminded that he is present in the minds of his Brethren. A visitor
should occasionally come to him as a Lodge emissary, speaking officially in its
behalf, not as a private friend only, and for that reason should act as he would
act in Lodge, and in Masonic decorum.
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In American Jurisdictions the Altar stands at the center of the Lodge room.
It is a place of prayer, a pedestal that the Great Lights rest upon. The three
Lesser Lights stand beside it; the obligation is taken in its presence; the
Worshipful Master greets the Candidate across it; and it is, in addition, a
symbol and emblem of religion. Members and visitors stand before it to salute
the East when entering or leaving the Lodge.
Masons when near it stand with dignity and act with reverence. It should not
be draped or covered with flags, bunting, banners, or draperies of any kind
which carry the insignia of any association other than the Lodge or Grand Lodge.
It should be kept clean, its paint or varnish not marred, cracked or scratched.
The top and kneeling pad, if upholstered, should never be allowed to become
ragged, run-down or shabby. The ground between it and the East is a sacred
precinct which is not crossed by officers or members during Lodge
Communications, except for the Deacons and Chaplain during certain ceremonies.
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The anteroom is a part of the Lodge room. It is not a separate place,
therefore the decorum and etiquette of the Lodge room governs it too. Since the
Tiler is in charge of it, he is responsible to the Master to see that etiquette
is observed. It should be clean and neat, with no litter lying about, the
furniture in place, aprons correctly placed and stored, and nothing piled in it
which does not belong there. Loud talking, joking, noise and needless moving
about are considered inappropriate.
The Tiler should introduce himself to a visiting Brother the moment he enters
the Anteroom, and should see to it that he has a seat, if he must wait before
entering the Lodge or while waiting for the examining committee. The door to the
Lodge room is in the Junior Deacon's custody not the Tiler's; the Tiler should
never open it or talk through it until after knocking. When a member enters
Lodge through the Anteroom after the Lodge is open he is to observe a Ceremony
of Entrance, and this ceremony is initiated by the Tiler according to a fixed
process, and the method is never altered for any member or officer.
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The Ballot is secret, sacred, and inviolate. When a Ballot is taken the act
is momentous for the Candidate and significant for the Lodge. It is an official
act by each member in turn and by the Lodge as a legal body. The Ballot has
legal sanction and must be conducted according to solemn rules. It is etiquette
for the Lodge Room to be in complete silence, without whispering, or discussion
of the Candidate while waiting to cast your Ballot or any information about how
a member has voted.
The officers should remain at their stations and places in silence and
dignity. Such of them as participate in spreading, inspecting, and declaring it,
should act in strict decorum. The period of etiquette and decorum doesn't end
when you've cast your vote. It includes the declaration of the results by the
Master, the restoration of the Ballot Box, and the return of the participating
officers to their places.
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It is difficult to establish a hard and fast line between etiquette and
decorum. Both deal with propriety and good behavior.
However, there is a sharp contrast between the focus and principles of the
two. In etiquette a Mason is controlled by rules of manner and behavior at
certain times and places in which he has no voice because they are governed by
Masonic Law and usage. The principle of decorum stands at the opposite pole, for
it includes manner and behavior in the Lodge room and our personal lives, as it
is in each of us to decide and control. The essence of it lies in a Mason, when
present in Lodge, not attracting undue attention to himself and not creating a
Thus, it is etiquette to speak kindly to and about each other; and while that
is an act of good manners, it is one required by the rules of the Fraternity. It
is decorum not to whisper or in any way, disturb your neighbor during the
conduct of business. That is good manners as required by a man's own sense of
good taste and dignity. If he talks aloud, disturbing the Lodge, HE does it, and
it is therefore for HIM not to. He must decide his own decorum in the same way
that the Craft decides his etiquette. There are points at which the two
converge, such as when the Master must act to restore order and dignified
He should reprove all disturbances quietly, promptly, without personal
feeling, and attracting as little attention to the matter as possible. A glance
of the eye or a soft tap of the gavel's handle is most often sufficient for the
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District Deputy Grand Master
A District Deputy on an official visit is received with an etiquette which
reflects the fact that he is the personal representative of the Grand Master.
When he is present in the Lodge room it is as if the Grand Master was there in
person. When he enters the Anteroom he announces his presence to the Tiler.
The DDGM is not required to announce a visit in advance. It is a good
practice, however. A committee is formed to escort him into the Lodge. He is
presented at the Altar and conducted to the East; Grand Honors are rendered;
after which he receives the gavel. The Lodge is symbolically in his charge,
until he returns the gavel and directs the Master to continue with his work.
a. He is never permitted to seat himself on the sidelines, unless it is at
his own (specific) request.
b. A Master cannot fail in his practice of protocol if at all times he
extends to the District Deputy the ceremonial forms that are established as
proper and correct in his official dealings with the Grand Master.
c. Proper deference to the DDGM includes allowing him the protocol of
"final comment". No one should rise to speak on any issue after the
DDGM has completed his prepared remarks. Worshipful Masters are reminded to
encourage their members to make announcements from the sidelines before the
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If a visiting Brother unexpectedly arrives who, because of his title or
standing in the Craft or some similar reason, is one that the Master desires to
introduce to the Lodge, he may follow any of the following procedures.
a. Have him presented at the Altar by a committee of his peers;
ceremoniously conducted to the East and saluted. You may request that he be
seated in the East.
b. Instruct the Senior Deacon to conduct the visitor to the Altar and
introduce him there (if he isn't a Past Master); after which he may be
conducted to the East or back to his seat.
c. Ask him to rise at his seat and introduce him to the Craft there, if he
feels more comfortable that way. Please remember that the Master must stand
and remain standing until the completion of this ceremony if the Brother is a
Past Master or holds title or office in a Grand Lodge.
In the Mentor's Manual, MW A. D. Smith, Jr. wrote that it is not proper to
call upon the Senior Deacon to present guests who are Masters or Past Masters
though some have confused one of the duties assigned to the Senior Deacon as
being connected with the introduction of distinguished guests.
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Entrance During Meetings
No member of the Lodge or visiting Brother should enter from the Preparation
room. When entering from the Ante-room after Lodge is open he waits until
signaled by the Tiler, steps through the door and advances to the Altar in due
form; the Worshipful Master acknowledges the salute either sitting or standing.
It is a ceremonious action on the side of both the Lodge and the Brother, and
protocol requires that it be correctly performed.
If a Brother ignores the formality, or is unfamiliar with it, the Senior
Warden may whisper instructions in his ear for him to follow.
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Etiquette Regarding Officers
An office has a station or place of its own in the Lodge, with duties,
responsibilities, and dignities inherent in it. The etiquette and protocol
accorded to an officer represent the properties of the office, and is not
directed to the officer personally.
A sloppy manner of saluting, of approaching the East (or any other station),
of standing, and of speaking to an officer, is a reflection on the Lodge for a
failure to give to the office that respect which belongs to it. If a Master
exacts of every member, and of every other officer, a faithful rendering of the
form of etiquette that is to be accorded to his own office, it will create a
more faithful observance of the form at every other station or place.
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Examination of Visitors
The substance of an examination is fixed by the Constitutions of Masonry and
our Methodical Digest. The manner in which it is to be conducted is the focus of
etiquette and protocol. The Examining Committee withdraws with the visitor to a
private place. They are in an official relationship with him and therefore their
manners are formal.
They must keep in mind that their only purpose is to satisfy themselves that
the visitor is, or is not, a Master Mason in good standing from a Regular Lodge
under a Grand Jurisdiction with whom we are in amity. They are NOT called upon
to test his proficiency in the ritual or to be personally inquisitive. If the
Examining Committee has the right to satisfy itself that a visitor is a Master
Mason in good standing in a Regular Lodge, the visitor also has a right to make
sure that the Lodge he comes to visit is itself a Regular Lodge.
He may, therefore, ask to see its charter. But what if the Lodge is already
in session and the charter is hanging on the wall over the Secretary's desk?? It
is etiquette to grant his request to see the charter; on the other hand it is
etiquette that we not disturb the Lodge by going to fetch it. In such an impasse
(dilemma) the etiquette of the Lodge should take precedence. The visitor should
be told in a friendly manner, that if he wishes to examine the charter, he must
come at another time, and before Lodge is opened.
If the visitor satisfies the committee, and if the visitor himself is
satisfied, the visitor as yet possesses no right to enter until after the
Worshipful Master has consented. The Committee should conduct the visitor to the
Anteroom and introduce him to the Tiler who in turn ceremoniously hands him over
to the Junior Deacon. Visiting is a privilege, not a right (to seek to visit a
Lodge is every Master Mason's right) and a Master may for good reasons of his
own, refuse admittance to any visitor (except the DDGM and Grand Lodge
If the Master does refuse, Decorum requires that he call the Senior Deacon to
his side and privately instruct him to go to the Anteroom to instruct the Tiler
not to admit the visitor. A visitor may be refused admittance for reasons that
do not reflect on him personally. Such an occasion might be when a particularly
sensitive piece of Lodge business is about to be conducted or if a reprimand is
to be administered.
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Landmarks and Etiquette
Before I'm taken to task by my Brethren, let me state at the outset that I
know the Grand Lodge of Virginia has not adopted and published any single list
or set of rules that are "labeled Landmarks." To me, however, a
Landmark is some principle, law, or usage which belongs to Freemasonry and as
such if it were to cease, Freemasonry would cease with it. Therefore, the phrase
"observe the Ancient Landmarks" is, to me, another way of saying,
"Do not act in such a way as to destroy Freemasonry." I believe that
our "Landmarks" are enumerated.
They are to be found in the Book of Constitutions adopted by Grand Lodge in
the year 1791. These "Landmarks" have a place in history. They focus
on certain fundamental, ageless practices of ethical and moral behavior. There
are some who say that Masonic etiquette, as a whole, is a basic principle and
itself can be considered a Landmark.
If etiquette were to drop out of Masonry, the Craft as we know it would
deteriorate, disintegrate and in short order would cease to exist.
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Letters to Grand Lodge Officers
Protocol dictates that any correspondence intended for the Grand Master,
District Deputy Grand Master, Grand Secretary, other Grand Officers, or members
of Grand Committees in their official capacities which call for an official
reply, shall be addressed in full and correct form.
Even if a Grand Officer or Committeeman may be an intimate friend this rule
is binding because, since the letter calls for official action, it may be
referred to other Grand Officers, may go into an official file, or may even
appear afterwards in printed records, in which event personal familiarity is out
of place. It is also a courtesy to a Grand Officer to include in the letter the
writer's Lodge (its name and number), address, and also its District.
Since there are many Lodges in our Jurisdiction, no Grand Officer can be
expected to carry each and every one in his memory. The letter should state the
writer's own position in the Lodge, whether as a member, officer, past officer,
or committeeman. To include such data in the correspondence may save the
recipient the time and trouble to look it up. Also, and sometimes this point is
important, makes a more prompt reply to your inquiry possible.
In some instances a letter addressed to the Grand Master or Grand Secretary
may contain subject matter which will effect another Grand Officer or will be of
special interest to him. In that event, a photo-copy or clean carbon copy may be
mailed to the latter. When this is done, the correct form is to append a
postscript to the letter to that effect, in this form: "A copy of this
letter has been sent on this date to so-and-so."
If a member of a Lodge writes a letter in which the matter should, in
courtesy, to be known by the Worshipful Master, a copy is mailed to him and the
fact is noted in a postscript on the original letter.
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A hat is presented to the Worshipful Master during his
Investiture as reminder to the Lodge that it his province, alone, to remain
covered, while the rest of the Brethren remain uncovered during Lodge sessions
and other ceremonial occasions. The origin of this beautiful tradition is said
to have been founded upon the wearing of a crown by King Solomon as a visible
mark of refined dignity and authority.
It is said, that the Master recognizes only three superiors;
The Great Architect of the Universe, Death, and the Grand Master. He should
always remove his hat during prayer, in the presence of death (including .
announcements), and the Grand Master (or his Deputy).
The Master's hat should generally match his dress; formal
(silk) hat for full dress, a Homburg style with a Tuxedo, and an ordinary hat
for ordinary dress. Frivolous caps should never be worn
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Non-Masons at Masonic Affairs
On Masonic occasions where non-Masons are invited, there are three rules of
etiquette and protocol to be applied:
a. Non-Masons are not asked or expected to participate in any ceremonies or
formalities which are themselves Masonic.
b. The non-Masons are present as guests; the Masons are the hosts; the
guest-host relationship is therefore observed.
c. There are some usages of etiquette which belong to esoteric Masonry and
are never employed when non-Masons are present. Other usages are not esoteric
and as such may be employed as are appropriate, at the discretion of the
Worshipful Master. The order-of-precedence protocol observed during Masonic
processions, for example, are non-esoteric and may be used when non-Masons are
present and at a Masonic banquet when ladies are guests.
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Objections From the Floor
If a Lodge member believes that he has good cause to object to something that
is occurring, or believes that something said or done wrongs himself or another,
or questions the appropriateness or legality of something said or done, there is
a specific way that rules of Masonic Etiquette and the practice of decorum would
have him act:
a. He rises and salutes the Master.
b. He waits until the Master recognizes him.
c. He states his objection, criticism, etc., in as few words as possible.
d. He salutes and is seated.
e. The Master makes a reply or takes action.
f. The proceedings are resumed.
In any event it is not for the member himself to decide or to take action,
for that belongs to the Master. He merely states his objection and does not
elaborate or discuss it, unless requested to do so by the Master. The member
himself is finished with the episode when he has spoken and re-seated himself.
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Past Grand Titles
In American Grand Jurisdictions there are one or two common variants of the
uses of each Masonic title; the correct form for a particular Grand Jurisdiction
can be found in its Proceedings, usually under the heading "Roster of
In the majority of Grand Jurisdictions the titles run as follows:
a. The Grand Master has the title of "Most Worshipful". This is
written or printed in full, or may be abbreviated in the form "MþWþ".
A Grand Master is not usually addressed "Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of
the State of A-B-C"; but as "Grand Master of Masons IN the State of
b. A Past Grand Master has the same title. Care should be given to the form
used during introductions. He can be introduced as Past Grand Master of Masons
in Virginia. But, if there are other Past Grand Masters present, he should be
addressed as "Most Worshipful (full name), Grand Master of Masons in the
year 19xx". Don't fall into the inadvertent trap of saying, "MþWþ
(full name) Past Grand Master in the year 19xx". Why?? Because that was the
year he was our Grand Master. He didn't earn the status of Past Grand Master
until his successor was duly elected and installed!
c. The same general principles apply, when referring to or addressing our
appointed District Deputy Grand Masters. d. Every Mason carries the title
"Brother". This title is employed in Lodge whenever a Mason is
addressed or referred to. It is considered a major breach of good manners and
propriety to address or refer to him as "Mr. Blank", or
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In many societies an office holder reverts to the same status at the end of
his term which belonged to him before. The rule in Masonry is different.
A Lodge member who has held the highest office in the Lodge has for life a
Masonic position of his own. It has its own identity and recognition and carries
with it the title of "Past Master". Past Masters have a standing in
Masonic Law; certain duties may be assigned to them. In etiquette they are
entitled to a deference which belongs to their position; in protocol they are
entitled to a certain order of precedence. On their own part, Past Masters are
bound to the same rules of etiquette that is observed toward the Worshipful
Master by all other members of the Lodge.
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The preparation room is a sanctuary for the Candidate and the officers
preparing him. It is necessary that it be closed-in and that its privacy is
strictly preserved. It is a breech of good manners for the candidate to be under
view or made the subject of unkind remarks. The officers preparing him act with
dignity and are not expected to discuss with him anything in the Degree he is
being prepared for.
It is proper to review any Degrees that he has already taken and coach him to
respond to questions in the same form and tense that they are asked. For
example; "Is it,....etc.? Answer "It is." ; "Do
you,....etc.? Answer "I do," Instead of "yes, sir" and
"no, sir" which in Lodge sounds unsuitable.
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Quiet in Lodge
When during its proceedings a Lodge is disturbed by any officers or members
who are conversing, rattling papers, etc., the Master gives a light tap of his
gavel and asks for quiet.
If the proceedings are necessarily brought to a standstill, until something
necessary to the proceedings has been done, and the Master sees that the wait
will last for some period of time, he may tap his gavel and say, "Be at
your ease". In that event, and no other case is private conversation,
roving about, informal visiting, etc., within the bounds of propriety and
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If it ever becomes necessary for a Master to rebuke a member who has been
unruly, he may do so after Lodge is closed, in person, and in private.
If it is required that a rebuke be administered while the Lodge is in
session, the method to be used is at the Master's discretion but, the etiquette
required of him is that he shall deliver it in a friendly, even-handed manner.
Decorum dictates that it shall be dispensed in a way that will not attract undue
attention to the matter or create an additional disturbance.
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The etiquette governing the conferral of Degrees is strict. There shall be no
talking, whispering, or laughing, or any disturbances during the Degree work.
It is not an occasion for mirth. There should be no needless moving about.
The officers participating shall never step out of their roles/parts, to hold
conversations, to make private comments, to indulge in pantomime, or to make
remarks about the candidate. Nothing outside the Standard Work taught by the
Grand Lodge Committee on Work shall be substituted for any portion of it. If
costumes are worn they must be correct and appropriate.
Detailed arrangements are always completed before the Degrees begin and not
improvised while the Degree is in progress.
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Speaker in the Lodge
If a speaker comes a long distance and appears at the request of the Lodge,
the Master should ensure that he is met at the airport, train or bus, or at some
specified time and place if he comes in his own car; that he is called for and
conducted to the Lodge; and that he is comfortably seated in the Lodge.
He should be introduced by the Master, and such information shall be given
about him as will make the Lodge to feel acquainted with him before he begins
his address. The Master, or some officer designated by him, should remain at his
side after Lodge is closed. He should be escorted to his hotel, train, or to his
car if he came that way. If he has training aids or other baggage he should be
given assistance transporting them. At that or a subsequent meeting the Lodge
should adopt a suitable resolution of thanks, a copy of which should be mailed
to him by the Secretary.
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A Master's title of "Worshipful Master" in his own Lodge or in
another Lodge or Jurisdiction is an official title, and wherever he goes it is
entitled to recognition. If his own Grand Lodge is in Annual Communication his
title gains him unchallenged admittance to the floor; if he visits another
Lodge, it receives deference due his rank.
If a Master is a member of a body in another Rite (the Royal Arch,
Consistory, etc.) his title hasn't any legal lineal precedence (no such body has
an office of Worshipful Master) but, should be extended as protocol (i.e., the
ceremonial forms and courtesies that are established as proper and correct in
official dealings). The converse is also true when the Presiding Officer of a
body in another Rite visits a Craft Lodge or when he sits in it as a member.
Although his title has no official standing, the application of Masonic
protocol requires his "correct" title to be used, as a practice of
good manners, when introductions are made.
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Unusual Lodge Circumstances
An unprecedented situation may suddenly arise in any Lodge. The Master may be
caught unprepared by a condition that he and the Lodge had not encountered
before, and not know of any pre-set rule to go by.
In most instances etiquette is not involved. In some, etiquette is the
substance of the matter. Let's suppose that you have a visitor from another
Grand Jurisdiction, where Lodge customs differ radically from our own, and the
visitor does something or says something unexpected. In that event the Master
does not first address himself to the visitor but to his members. He explains to
them that the visitor is acting according to the rules or customs in fashion in
his own Jurisdiction. By indirection, he makes it clear to the visitor in what
way he has acted uncommonly in this Lodge.
IF THE VISITOR IS NOT AT FAULT, WE SHOULD NOT EMBARRASS HIM. IT IS THE AIM OF
ETIQUETTE NOT TO EMBARRASS HIM!!
Once in a while a particularly sensitive, unprecedented condition may arise.
In these cases there is a general principle for the Master to apply. He stops
the proceedings where they are and addresses himself to the Lodge. He may:
a. Ask them to be at ease for a short time, and take the needed opportunity
to quietly reflect on the situation;
b. Call a member to his side for private consultation;
c. Call off, if more time is needed; or,
d. If appropriate, assign the problem to a committee for research and
Only after he has sorted through all the facts, explores the possible
solutions and weighs them carefully to determine their long- term consequences,
he will make and announce his decision.
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Visiting the Sick
Expression of good Masonic etiquette is not limited to assemblies of the
Craft. Certain etiquette belongs to the individual Mason: For example; when a
Mason visits a Brother who is ill, or infirm, or for other reasons is confined
to his home.
a. He will ask for permission in advance, in order to make sure of not
arriving at an inconvenient time;
b. Will present himself as coming from the Lodge;
c. Will begin by bringing greetings of the Lodge; and
d. Will adapt the length of his visit and nature of his talk to information
received from the family.
There need be no report made of the visit to the Lodge unless the Brother
visited requests there be, or the visitor believes the Lodge is entitled to news
or may wish to tender some official act of courtesy.
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Worshipful Master and Etiquette
The Worshipful Master is the officer whose first duty it is to see that
nothing is ever allowed to harm the Lodge which is entrusted to his care. For
that reason he cannot tolerate a careless practice of etiquette.
If, upon coming to the East, a Master finds that indifference to, or a casual
practice of etiquette has crept into the Lodge he should find an early
opportunity to address the subject with his officers and members. What is the
place of Masonic etiquette in the Craft?
It has no SPECIAL place! It has every special place!
It is ALWAYS ob- served whenever or wherever Masons assemble, or speak, or
act in the name of the Craft! For that reason it is described as
If it belonged to the Ritual of the Degrees a Master might conceive it to lie
outside the span of his responsibility, and hold that it is only in the care of
the Grand Lodge or Grand Officers; but it is in the ritual as elsewhere and in
no sense peculiar to the Ritual alone. The Grand Lecturer, the Grand Provost,
and their Committees may consult and advise concerning a Lodge's practice of
etiquette, but they cannot interfere.
The Worshipful Master has full responsibility for etiquette, as he has total
charge of all things in the Lodge. And, like all leaders, the WM may delegate
authority, but the responsibility resides with him alone. Our Brother, Harry S.
Truman, said it best, "The buck stops here!!"
The Worshipful Master is Master of the Lodge's etiquette in the same sense
that he is Master of the Lodge. It is as much his duty to govern the Lodge in
etiquette as in its business, its balloting, its debate, its conferring of
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