The Empty Chair Ceremony
A Ceremony of Remembrance as Performed at Moira Lodge A.F. & A.M. #11 G.R.C. September 7th, 2001
The Empty or vacant Chair ceremony dates back to 1875, a decade after the close of the American Civil War when it was used in Masonic lodges to pay tribute to those who did not return from the war. Since then it has been used by many lodges at Remembrance Day to pay homage to those Brother Masons who fell during WWI, WWII, and other wars.
The version below is an amalgamation of some of these ceremonies, the Masonic funeral service of Ontario and some material added on for our particular use. What follows is a transcript of the ceremony as performed in Moira Lodge A.F. & A.M. #11 G.R.C. on November 7th, 2001.
Please feel free to copy it and modify it to suit your own ceremony of remembrance.
Set Up of Lodge
An empty chair is decorated with an officer's collar over the back. It is placed outside the door of the
A podium and wreath are placed in South East angle of the lodge.
Empty Chair Ceremony
WM: Brother Deacons you will approach the altar.
Deacons approach altar
WM: This evening we will be honoring the members of this lodge who fell during times of war. As they have gone on to the Grand lodge above and can no longer attend this lodge it will be your duty to escort their symbolic representation to us, that we may pay them the respect they are due.
WM: Brother JW, you will permit the Brother Deacons to retire.
JW & IG permit deacons to retire
ALARM caused by deacons returning with chair
IG: Brother JW there is an alarm
JW: Brother IG you will ascertain the cause of the alarm.
IG: Brother JW, Comrades and Brothers who have fallen in service of their country seek admission here, not in person, but through their spiritual presence they seek our continued remembrance. Through them they wish to honour the memory of our fallen Brother, William John Gillespie of the Canadian Infantry who fell at the Battle of Vimy Ridge. (Substitute for your own lodge)
JW: Worshipful Sir, Comrades and Brothers who have fallen in service of their country seek admission here, not in person, but it is through their spiritual presence that they seek our continued remembrance. They also wish to honour the memory of our fallen Brother, William John Gillespie of the Canadian Infantry who fell at the Battle of Vimy Ridge. (Substitute for your own lodge)
WM: You will admit them
WM raises Brethren
Deacons advance to altar.
WM: Brother Deacons you will advance to the east and place the symbolic representation of our fallen Brethren next to the podium.
Deacons advance to South East and place chair next to podium facing west
WM seats Brethren
WM: Brother Senior Warden, it is my command that in recognition of our fallen Brother's presence, and his status as a Master Mason, that the apron of a Master Mason be positioned as it would be were our Brother present in body as well as spirit. You, or a Brother, who has honorably served his country in uniform, will approach the seat of our Brothers' memory, and perform the honor.
SW approaches podium
SW: The Lambskin, or white apron, was the first gift of Masonry to our departed Brother. It is an emblem of innocence and the badge of a Mason. As our ritual tells us it is more ancient than the Golden Fleece or Roman Eagle, more honorable than the Star and Garter. This emblem I place on the seat of our deceased Brother, a symbol of recognition of his dedication to the highest ideals of the Craft during times of war.
Apron Placed on chair by SW
SW: By this act we are reminded of the Masonic ideals of our fallen Brother and his fellows. We see in clear vision the Noble thoughts, generous impulses, words of truth, acts of love and deeds of mercy. The Masonic Apron represents these highest aspirations of a Brother in all ways, as each Brother knows they give to man his only genuine happiness, his lasting satisfaction. To these precepts our Brother willingly and gladly subscribed.
SW salutes and returns to his chair
WM approaches the podium
WM: Our Brother William John Gillespie gave himself freely not only to the obligations of the Degrees of Masonry, but also to the obligations of service to his country in a time of war. He garnered the honors of his peers, his superiors and those who looked to him for leadership at home as well as on foreign shores. I now place these medals of honor as decorations to his Masonic Apron. It is said a Man is made a Mason first in his heart. The Mason may have earned honors before, or after he is raised to the Sublime Degree. But as the world sees, those honors do not decorate his Masonry, but rather highlight the spirit, which made both a Mason and a man of service.
WM places medals on apron returns to East
WM: Brother Chaplain you will approach the altar.
Chaplain advances to altar.
WM: The Evergreen is an emblem of immortality. Beyond this world of shadows, man has a glorious destiny, since, within this earthly tabernacle of clay, there abides an imperishable immortal spirit, over which the grave has no power nor death dominion. Brother Chaplain you will advance to the East, place the evergreen on our Brother's apron, a symbol of the immortality of his soul and recite for the Brethren the 23rd psalm.
Chaplain advances to chair and then to podium
The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name' sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: For thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
Thou annointest my head with oil; My cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever.
Chaplain salutes and returns to his chair
WM approaches podium
WM: The brother who we pay tribute to this evening was a member of this lodge. He was also a member of the Canadian infantry who fought valiantly for control of Vimy Ridge during the First World War. It was here that our Brother lost his life fighting for the freedoms we all can enjoy this evening in this lodge because of him and men like him. (substitute your own material here)
Brethren at this time of year it is traditional to wear the poppy as a symbol of remembrance, a tradition that was began as a result of the poem "In Flander's Fields" by John McCrae. While it is also traditional to read that classic poem at this time of year, I would like to break with that tradition and instead read a poem written by Miss Moina Michael.
Miss Michael was an American lady who was so moved by McCrae's poem that she went out and bought 25 red poppies. She wore won herself and sold the other 24 thus starting the poppy fund as we know it today. She also wrote a poem of her own in response to "In Flanders Fields", which I would like to now read to you.
Oh You who sleep
In Flanders' fields
Sleep sweet to rise anew
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high we kept
The faith with those who died.
We cherish too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies
But lends a luster to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders' fields.
And now the torch and poppy red
wear in the honour of the dead
Fear not that ye have died for nought:
We've learned the lesson that ye taught
In Flanders' fields
WM removes poppy and places on chair
WM returns to east
WM: Brethren we will now have two minutes silence for Brother William John Gillespie and for all Brethren who fell during foreign wars.
WM raises brethren
Moments silence signaled by 13 gongs of bell 10 seconds apart.
WM seats brethren
WM: Brethren this concludes our ceremony of remembrance. I declare that order of business closed.