Rituals and Man

Julian H. Cambridge, 32°

As we contemplate the word ritual and its meanings, it becomes difficult not to think of man, and when we think of man it becomes difficult not to think of ritual. From time immemorial, man and rituals coexisted. Man is, in fact, a ritual being. One would then ask, what are these ceremonial acts and why are they an inherent part of our nature?

Stated simply, rituals convey meaningful symbolic and moral lessons, lessons about our strengths and weaknesses, high aspirations and basic flaws. Rituals arouse the inner nature of man and afford him opportunities to receive glimpses of his true self. These ceremonial acts, therefore, awaken within us emotions which are usually dormant and insights which are often shrouded.

From the very early stages of our realization of ourselves, we become aware that there is something outside of us which is much larger than ourselves. We realize that there is a macrocosmic world of which we are the microcosm and from which we cannot separate ourselves without hazarding great damage to our spiritual selves. In an attempt to connect and understand these two worlds, the macrocosmic and microcosmic, and his relation to it, man from the beginning of his existence has employed rituals.

As we look around and observe meaningful incidents, it becomes quite evident that rituals are constantly being used. There are rituals for birth, growing up and assuming adult responsibilities, graduation from schools, marriage, our demise, and many other occasions. Since rituals are such a necessary and paramount part of us, they must be accurately expressed.

To accomplish this, we use language, gestures, acts, symbols, and costumes. When these modes of expression are effectively applied, man's inner nature is aroused, and he glimpses the immortal and imperishable parts of his dual nature. He discovers the strengths which enable him to embark on the hero's journey, not as a courageous act, but as self- discovery. Through ritual, man finds within himself the sources of character to meet his destiny.

The origins of these ceremonial acts, their development and evolution, are difficult to discover and define despite the fact that the use of ritual is universal and immemorial. There is little doubt, however, that the earliest rituals evolved around the cycles of nature and man. They sought to explain the existence of the world, the sequence of seasons, the growth of crops, the nature of animals, human society, and man himself.

Indeed, every culture, nation, and institution has developed ritual forms to fit its reason for existence, its microcosm, into the larger macrocosm or reason for all existence. Ultimately, ritual provides a focus, a core, a reason for being, and such is the case with our own Fraternity, the august and noble Order of Freemasons.

Therefore, to think of Freemasonry is, forthwith, to contemplate ritual. To think about Freemasonry without at the same time thinking about ritual is like thinking about birds without wings or cars without wheels. Wings allow birds to fly; wheels enable cars to move. And so rituals inspire and teach us moral lessons and cause us to fly above, move around, and pass through the stale and negative episodes which confront us each day of our lives. Freemasonry without proper, effective, and emotionally moving rituals is not Freemasonry at all. It is true that rituals can become exoteric and dry. If rituals merely remind us of the opening and closing of Lodge or other routine ceremonies, then we have failed to grasp what rituals communicate to us.

What rituals rightly performed and executed accomplish is to resuscitate those dormant but divine qualities which are within us, thus enabling us to accomplish the task to which the Great Architect of the Universe has assigned us. For ceremonial acts to be effective, they must evoke within us the utmost we are capable of accomplishing.

It therefore behooves us to pay very close attention to rituals and what they teach us. More importantly, we must make a whole-hearted effort to live a life in congruence with our Masonic rituals and the lessons they impart to us. There are many concerns expressed about the future of Freemasonry. My answer to these concerns is: more of us must make a true effort to apply at every opportunity the lessons we are continually taught by Masonic rituals. If and when we do, our non-Masonic friends and other associates will see Masonry's Light shining in us and will ask to share in it.

Man is ethical in potentiality even if, unfortunately, not in actuality. His capacity for ethical judgement — like his capacity for reason and the other unique characteristics of the human being — is based upon the consciousness which rituals evoke within him. If we practice the lessons of Freemasonry, I assure you our lives will be resplendent and the future of our Fraternity will be secured, for the basic step in achieving inward freedom is to apply the insights imparted to us through our Masonic rituals.