The following article comes from the book *Alberta Workshop* which is a compilation of the theme speeches of the first 25 years of the Masonic Spring Workshop held each April in the Mountains west of Calgary, Alberta. Bro Tom Jackson (Pennsylvania) called this the best workshop available to rank and file Masons anywhere.
Bro. M.N. MacIver
Brethren: The theme on which I have been asked to address you this evening is "Responsibility to Our Obligations"
The Masonic Order has, over the years, been accused of being a "Secret Society." We have all heard, at one time or another, this statement made or, seen it written by uninformed individuals and, particularly, those who through their lack of knowledge concerning the Craft, would demean and discredit our Craft. The usual reply to such an accusation is - "We are not a secret society but we do have secrets". It is these secrets that, we as Masons, are honour bound to guard and, as our obligations are a part of our Secrets, we are committed to safeguard and to maintain the duties and responsibilities contained therein.
Let us, for a moment, consider just what is meant by the word 'obligation'. One definition I have read stated, "An obligation is a solemn pledge made on a man's honour by which he ties himself to a society and, at the same time, ties himself to the duties and responsibilities imposed on it." Another definition, as provided by Websters Dictionary, states as follows:
1. The action of obligating oneself to a course of action. 2. Something as (a formal contract, a promise or, the demands of conscience or custom) that obligates one to a course of action.
The word 'obligation', as you are well aware, has other meanings but, for our purpose this evening, let us just consider the two definitions I have given, as being applicable to our Masonic Obligations.
We are all, as Master Masons, familiar with our Masonic Obligations but as time passes and unless we are involved in degree work, or attend our Lodge regularly, there is a tendency for the memorized word to fade and the lines to be forgotten. Though this may be a fact of life, what must be realized by all Masons as an indisputable fact is, our Masonic Obligations are taken without a time limit or a time frame, but rather for the remainder of the individual Mason's natural life. No matter what the circumstances, the pledge taken can never be laid aside or repudiated. The fact that a Mason may demit, be suspended or expelled from his lodge, his Obligations remain as a life long duty and responsibility - a commitment taken before God and man.
What about this person who desires to become a Mason, participate in our Order and be bound by our Obligations, a part of our Masonic Law? There are certain qualifications necessary for every applicant for Freemasonry. It has been said that Freemasonry is not for every man, and when we consider the qualifications required for admission, it can be readily realized that some men will be excluded. He must be of the full age of twenty-one years, he must be free-born, be literate and have no physical defects that may render him incapable of conforming to what the Degrees require of him, believe in the existence of a Supreme Being, a life hereafter and, come well recommended. Of the foregoing, there is only one qualification where in recent years some leeway has been allowed and that is in regard to physical defects. Such cases must always be referred by the Lodge receiving the application to the Grand Lodge for the approbation of the Grand Master.
For some years now, a decreasing membership in our Order has caused concern to the individual Lodges and to the Grand Lodge. This is not peculiar to just the Grand Jurisdiction of Alberta but throughout the world. Naturally, this causes concern to all truly dedicated Masons, and rightly so. However, much has been spoken and written about this all too true fact. But for the moment I would like to leave the matter of declining membership and come back to it later with some possible suggestions and solutions.
I stated previously the necessary requisites for a petitioner to Freemasonry and I would like to discuss for a moment or two the last one quoted, namely, "well recommended". One of the requirements on our Application for Membership in a Masonic Lodge is, - that two members of a lodge must sign the form on behalf of the petitioner; in other words, become his sponsors into that Lodge. You might say that both sponsors being known to the Lodge, therefore, it can be taken for granted that the person they are sponsoring for membership should be an acceptable candidate. Unfortunately, there are cases where I have had to question just how well did the sponsors know the candidate - were they certain of his good morals, that his integrity was above reproach, that he was truthful in all things - that he was the type of person the sponsors would welcome into their own homes - and importantly, into the body of Freemasonry? All too often sponsors fail to ask themselves these questions and in their zeal to add to lodge numbers, sponsor individuals who fall short of the basic requirements required of those who would be Masons. The responsibility of sponsors must be clearly and fully understood by all who take on this most responsible undertaking. A question they should ask themselves is - Am I prepared to guide and counsel, if necessary, this applicant - will I be in attendance when he is taking his degrees, to indicate to him my support in the great undertaking on which he is about to embark - will I be present on his initiation to offer my congratulations and introduce him to the members of the Lodge, to show him that he has joined a Fraternity of 'good men' where Fellowship and Brotherly Love prevails? If they can answer in the affirmative to all these questions, then, as far as this application is concerned, they have carried out the duties required of them.
Having progressed thus far, it could be assumed that the petitioner could proceed without undue delay. Regrettably, my Brethren, at this point, all too often, there is a breakdown in the processing of the application. I refer here to the appointment by the Worshipful Master of the Lodge, members of the Investigating Committee, who should be knowledgeable, experienced Brethren, who have a genuine interest in the Craft and the type of applicant that should be granted admission. Men who can handle an interview with Tact and Sensitivity, who can discuss and answer questions that the petitioner may have regarding Freemasonry, as well as inform him of the duties and obligations that will be expected of him should his application be accepted. One of the most important points that the Investigating Committee should insist on is that, if the petitioner has a spouse, she should be in attendance; should she have any questions, they should be answered as forth-rightly as possible; any misunderstanding or misconception she may have of our Fraternity can be laid to rest. And, most importantly, if her husband is received into Freemasonry, she should understand what will be expected of him as a member of the Fraternity. All too often this has not been done and regrettably, down the road if a member becomes involved, possibly, as an officer of the Lodge or, an active participant in the work of the Degrees, the time necessary to carry out those duties is resented by the spouse or the family, causing problems that could eventually force the member to leave the Lodge and become just one more number in those lost to demits and suspensions.
Assuming now that the report of the Investigating Committee is Favourable, the petitioner will be informed of his acceptance by the Secretary of the Lodge and advised when to appear for his initiation. The petitioner has now become a Candidate. He will, at the appointed time, present himself to the Lodge for his initiation. How many present remember that night when they first entered a Masonic Lodge - at work - to be received for membership. Certainly, most were somewhat apprehensive of what was to come; if they were received warmly on their arrival by the Worshipful Master and their sponsors, they would be, to some degree put at ease and if other members of the lodge greeted them warmly their self confidence would be strengthened and they would then be in a better frame of mind to participate in the ceremony which was to take place. In my opinion the reception on that first evening, the manner in which the degree is performed and the subsequent congratulations of the Brethren will go a long way towards the attitude of the candidate to his degrees and his conception of the Masonic Order for the rest of his life. In contrast, may I quote to you an experience I had when attending a Lodge in my year as Grand master. On entering the ante room of the Lodge, I endeavoured to greet the Brethren there, and this included shaking hands with one who was sitting on a chair in the corner of the room. When Lodge was opened, although the attendance was rather sparse, I looked forward to the Entered Apprentice degree which was to be performed during the evening. You can well imagine my feelings when I was told that the degree would not take place as there were not enough Officers or Members present and the candidate would be sent home. The candidate was the chap sitting quietly in the corner that I had greeted earlier. I have often wondered what the prospective candidate thought upon being told that he would have to return on another night. Has this ever happened in your Lodge? If so, who is responsible for this happening? The Worshipful Master - the Past Masters - the Officers of the Lodge? Have they in fact lived up to their obligations? It is to be hoped such a happening is rare indeed, and that Officers and Members in our Lodges recognize their responsibilities to the Craft.
Let us assume that the prospective candidate has received his Entered Apprentice degree and will in due course, proceed through the Fellowcraft and Master Mason degrees. During this period of time in most cases three months, but in reality some six hours, he has, to all intent and purposes become a Master Mason. You and I, my Brethren, know that this is so, but only technically; the Lodge having performed the required Ritual, each degree being followed by the prescribed examination. But what has the candidate really absorbed? We can all remember receiving our degrees, each containing Obligations, Lectures and Charges, some of quite a length, then being informed that some memory work has to be done, which if required for one month hence, leaves no time to contemplate the lessons of Masonry contained in the Lectures and Charges. I would put this question to you - at what stage or time is the candidate to be informed of the depth of Freemasonry; when will he learn of the theological values, namely Faith, Hope and Charity or, of our three great tenets or teachings, Brotherly Love Relief and Truth? Some might suggest, direct him to the Secretary's desk where he can purchase a copy of The Work and, by a perusal of that work the mystery of Masonry will be opened up to him. This suggestion would be like telling me to purchase a book on auto mechanics so that I could repair my car. How much better it would be if he was to learn the lessons of Masonry in the Lodge and from the example of his Brethren. Now that the newly raised Mason can approach further enlightenment in a more relaxed manner he should be instructed that our obligations are the foundation of our disciplinary law. As much of our Ritual is symbolical, it may be a natural assumption of a newly raised candidate to feel that the obligations are also merely symbolical and are a kind of formality of ceremony. This is not true, for the obligations are in force in the same manner as all other definite law; they are in fact, themselves law in its most definite and specific sense. It should be made abundantly clear to all new Masons that their obligations will always remain binding. The conduct of all Masons is not left to the guidance of any vague mood or uncertain feeling, but is to be governed accordingly to strict and clearly stated rules.
Let us now for a moment consider the penalties of our obligations. I am sure that all Masons, before gaining Masonic knowledge, have questioned these penalties in relation to the principal tenets of our Fraternity. simply stated, it must be understood that these ancient penalties related to ancient times, when all crimes fell into the category of heresy or treason. By heresy was meant some violation of the religious principles, moral and ideals of the State or Church. By treason was meant some crime against the political and legal authority of the State. Punishments, familiar to everybody for three or four centuries, became so identified with the two types of crimes that they became synonymous with them. For this reason, we ever remember our ancient penalties, deducing that any crime against Masonry is either heresy - that is, a violation of its teachings; or treason - that is, against the authority of a Lodge or Grand Lodge, or against our laws or statutes. The penalties are a symbolical presentation of that truth, because a Mason may be punished for violating the official teachings of Masonry, as surely as for violating its written Laws.
When we accept that the penalties in our obligation are traditional, it would be erroneous for us to believe that there are no punishments in force for violations against our teachings and our written laws. Our Constitution and Laws provide for penalties ranging from reprimand, suspension for a definite or an indefinite period, to expulsion. I would point out to you, most emphatically, at no time does our Fraternity transgress upon the province of the civil authorities, which would be a violation of our Landmarks, but within its own province it is itself a system of law and order. A body of unwritten law is in force within it; the Lodge and Grand Lodge may make and interpret the laws; certain Lodge and Grand Lodge Officers enforce the law; and both the Lodge and Grand Lodge have legal provisions for the trial of cases; to hear testimony, decide innocence or guilt and affix penalties. It is of the greatest importance that each Mason is aware of these facts, to enable them to form their conception of Freemasonry.
In recent years it would appear that the Grand Lodge has had to deal with an increasing number of cases of Brethren being charged with Unmasonic conduct. We must wonder if most of these trials might never have been necessary, had both been more cautious in our evaluation of petitioners. It is for this reason I discussed earlier the great responsibility involved ni sponsorship of petitioners and that it is our duty to be sure that the sponsors themselves are worthy Masons. We cannot over-emphasize the necessity of a searching and impartial investigation of the qualifications and the sincerity of every petitioner.
Several years ago I attended a conference at which several papers were presented and in one of these papers, the suggestion was made - do away with the obligations - thereby relieving the candidate from the necessity of memory work - all in the interest of processing candidates for Freemasonry in a quicker time period. Although I believe the statement was made with tongue in cheek, it was a startling statement to hear and needless to say the reaction was immediate and loud, to say the least. If nothing else, it caught the attention of all present and made all present stop and think of the importance of our obligations. What would our Fraternity be without them? Does that statement make YOU stop and think? Are our obligations being taken seriously?