Vol. XVI No. 8 — August 1938

The Altar of Memory

(A “Different” Memorial Service)

Masonic memorial services in lodges often seem too gloomy and fail to attract the brethren. The following suggestions have been found to produce a Memorial Service of a character which the brethren like so well they make it an annual affair.

The keynote of the program is life, not death; immortality, not the grave; a living memory, not one of parting and sorrow. The ceremony is simple; it includes a short address by the master, a prayer by the chaplain, music, a short address on each departed brother by some brother of the lodge, preferably a personal friend of him whose memory is thus recalled. At the conclusion of each of these individual memorials, the celebrant lights a candle upon the “Altar of Memory” erected in the lodge between the usual altar and the East.

The suggested program will necessarily vary, according to the number of brethren who have passed to the Grand Lodge Above during the year. The addresses, prayers and memorials herewith presented are intended to be suggestive only, and must of course be changed to fit individuals.

Suggested Program

  1. Music: Choir
  2. Address: Master
  3. Prayer: Chaplain

“The Altar of Memory”

  1. In Memory of Brother: (Name) John Doe
  2. Music
  3. In Memory of Past Master: (Name) Richard Roe
  4. Music
  5. In Memory of Brother: (Name) Charles Coe
  6. Music
  7. Benediction: Chaplain

The “Altar of Memory” is made from any wooden box, of almost any size — two by three feet is ample — covered with a white cloth. Upon it are set as many candles as there are brethren to be recalled in the service. The candles may be in any form of candle holders, but preferably they should be alike. Arrange them in formal order — if three, in a triangle; if four, in a square; if five, a square with one in the center — if six, two rows of three, etc.

The candles should be new, and all the same length and either white or blue in color. They should be lighted and extinguished before the ceremony, so that they may ignite easily from the match or torch of the officer who lights them.

It is a pretty touch to strew a few flowers — preferably red roses — upon the “Altar of Memory.”

The candles may be lit, of course, from a match. But it is less distracting to use a small alcohol lamp which burns constantly. From this the candles may be lighted without the striking of matches.

Music adds much to this Service of Memory. For lodges which have a piano or an organ the problem is simple. Those which have not may use a phonograph, with records of sacred music or devotional songs. If a quartette is available, it adds materially to the ceremony to intersperse a verse of sacred music between the lighting of each candle. If no quartette can be had, a soloist may take its place.

Music is not essential, but its use adds to the atmosphere of such a ceremony a touch which nothing else can.

Probably because so many memorial services in lodges have been distressingly filled with grief and sorrow, many masters have found it difficult to secure a good attendance at such ceremonies. The remedy is found in the advance notices. If these stress the unusual character of the evening, and promise an uplifting, not a disheartening hour, the brethren will come. It stimulates attendance to use a postal card or letter notification, which arrives one day before the service, in addition to the preliminary announcement in the lodge trestleboard or notice.

Follows a suggestion for the first and second informations:

“The Altar of Memory”

______ Lodge will hold services in memory of those brethren who have left us during the year on (date).

No grief-filled, unhappy evening is planned. Masons believe in immortality. Those who have gone before, live! It is to perpetuate the happy memories we have of them, not to dwell upon the parting, that we will gather about an “Altar of Memory.” Come to this hour of quiet recollection of brethren we knew and loved. Come especially if to mutual membership in this lodge you added personal friendship, but come, in any event, because with these who have passed beyond our vision, you shared the Mystic Tie.

The notifying postal card:

Do not forget: on (date) Lodge will hold a Service of Happy Memory for those who have left us during the year for a Greater lodge. The master promises you a restful and quiet memorial hour, not a sad one.

  1. ______ Master
  2. Attest: ______ Secretary

Prior to the ceremony, the master appoints four brethren who will bring the Altar of Memory to the lodge floor. It is best placed halfway between the regular altar and the East. When the business session has been completed, and the ceremony is to commence the master instructs these brethren to place the Altar of Memory. The candles and flowers are already upon it, the candles not lighted. If the suggestion of a small alcohol lamp is followed, one of the brethren should light this before returning to his seat.

The master begins the ceremony, somewhat as follows:

“Brethren, we meet tonight, not to mourn those who have died during the year, but to recall to memory the good deeds and the joy we had with those who have but stepped ahead a step or two upon the path we all must tread.

“A poet has said: ‘God’s finger touched him and he slept,’ but a greater added ‘Is death the last sleep? No, it is the last final awakening.’

“Freemasonry believes in immortality. Our greatest ceremony is a teaching of a continued existence, a life after death. We believe that we die that we may die no more. To us life is the jailor, death the angel sent to draw the bolts and set us free.

“These of whom we speak tonight have indeed, as the Great Light puts it, ‘looked upon a pale horse and his name that sat on him was Death.’ These have, indeed, gone on the way from whence they shall not return. But our brethren who have left us still live; they live not only in the far land from which, mayhap, they look back to smile at us here tonight, but they live in our memories. It is to enshrine those memories in light, to keep them vivid in our hearts, that we are met tonight.

“Let us ask the Divine Blessing upon that which we are to do. Brother Master of Ceremonies, conduct the Brother Chaplain to the altar.”

Chaplain is conducted to the Masonic altar. He prays:

“Great Architect of the Universe, thou who knowest our downsittings and our uprisings, and understandest our thoughts afar off, we are met tonight in happy memory of men and brothers thou hast given us the privilege of knowing and of loving.

“We can do nothing for them now; they are past our ministrations, and beyond our praise. To them we can add no glory — to them we can offer no immortality. They need us not, but forever in this life need we them.

“Oh, thou, from whom no human heart hath secrets, thou who knowest now what is in our hearts, teach us to realize that death comes but once, and then not as a dread messenger, but as the herald of a new life. Help us to understand that if every moment of life is a step towards death, it is also a stride towards the life that is to be. Give us the wit to know that these who were beloved among us can see and take joy in us, though they are hidden from our mortal eyes.

“Pour down thy blessing upon this group of friends assembled to give testimony to their belief that those to whom good-bye has been said, stand but a hand’s breadth from us in the Great White Lodge over which thou dost preside.

“And, Oh thou most merciful and loving Father, help us to know the most profound of thy truths; it is not only life which is immortal, but also love. We ask these mercies in the name of the All Seeing Eye, Amen.”

Chaplain is conducted to his seat. If music is part of the program, here have an anthem sung.

The master then says:

“Brother, will you tell us of our friend and Brother ______ who left us on (date)?”

The brother called upon approaches the East and stands before it, facing the Altar of Memory. He speaks somewhat as follows:

“Brother ______ was raised a Master Mason in this lodge on (date). For ______ years he was a faithful attendant at our communications. He took his Masonry seriously, and responded to every call made in the name of brotherhood. Many of us here tonight can remember his visits when we were sick; never the funeral we held but he attended. Upon all committees to which he was assigned, he did his full share and more.

“Never aspiring to office, content to sit upon the benches, he nevertheless made a secure place for himself in the hearts of his brethren. His friendly smile, his hand outstretched, were familiar features of our meetings. He carried his brotherhood into daily life, and where he could, he gave a helping hand to those of the Mystic Circle to which he was proud to belong. As a citizen he was respected; as a church member he was loved; as a member of this lodge he was so interwoven with all our activities that for a time it seemed as if we could not carry on without him.

“But he who enters into immortal life cancels all debts, and pays all his obligations. We continue on the familiar way, not without him — only without his earthly presence. Every one of us is a better man for having known him; all of us are the happier for having had his company for a while upon our mutual way.

“To his memory, in token that he lives with and among us, though hidden from our mortal eyes, I light this candle (lights candle) as a token that his light still shines.”

Returns to seat. Music here.

The master then says:

“Brother ______ , will you recall to us again the beloved character whom we knew as past master who walked into eternal life on (date)?”

Brother approaches the Altar of Memory and says:

“Past Master ______ led this lodge in the year (date). He had been a member here for ___ years. None will ever forget his dignity in presiding, his care of our work, the gains he took to make the meetings interesting and well attended.

“Past Master ______ brought an unusual equipment to bear upon his responsibilities. A graduate of ______ University, a practicing lawyer, he had a ready tongue and a quick wit. He ruled this lodge firmly but with all possible brotherly kindness. He had no factions or schisms to contend with; as men always do, we responded wholeheartedly and gladly to his leadership.

“In personal character he was outstanding in our town. His home life was a model. His fellow citizens turned to him in secular matters for leadership, as did we. Charitable to a degree, ready and willing to serve his fellow men, few have ever left a finer legacy, or happier memory. I fight a candle for him, in gentle token that from his brains and heart still shines upon us the light of his splendid character.” Lights candle, returns to seat.

Music. The master then says:

“Brother ______, will you speak to us for a moment on the life and achievements of Brother ______ who entered the Great White Lodge on (date)?

Brother approaches the Altar of Memory and says:

“A poet of Masonry has written:

Father’s lodge had made a village; men of father’s sturdy brawn
Turned a wilderness to tillage, siezed the flag and carried on,
Made a village, built a city, shaped a country, formed a state,
Simple men, not wise nor witty — humble men, and yet — how great!

“Brother was ______ of that race. A simple man — never wise nor witty — a humble man — a man of the people. Yet who that knew him can forget him? Our brother had little education. He went to work on his father’s farm at twelve years of age. He had no opportunity for travel, and a life of hard work left little leisure or self improvement. But somewhere, in the fields, under the stars, pressing the earth with his feet, communing with nature, taking from wind and rain and snow and sunshine a strength many men never have, he made himself into a man other men learned to love.

“A humble man — aye, humble as regards social position, wealth or fame. But never humble to us, who found in his sterling manhood a strong staff on which to lean; who learned that his word was as sturdy as his body; his pledge to do, as good as the thing done.

“I do not recall ever having heard Brother ______ address the East in this lodge; neither do I recall any picnic, night of refreshment, outing or other jollification in which he was not the moving spirit in serving us. Nor can any of us ever recall hearing an unkind word from his lips, or knowing of a mean action.

“A humble man!! The term is one of glory for Brother ______ for in his humility he won a circle of friends of whom the best could be proud. To his memory I fight a candle, that we may all see that from where he is, his light still bathes and blesses us.”

The brother returns to his seat. Music is appropriate here. The master has the chaplain conducted to the altar. He asks the benediction:

“Almighty and Most Glorious Master Workman, pour down thy blessing upon these brethren who have here recalled the happy memories of men who are now within thy Greater Lodge. If there be those who yet grieve for the earthly presence of these who have gone ahead, comfort them. If tears still drop from blinded eyes for these whom thou has called from their labors in the earthly quarries, dry them, and make them to weep no more.

“We who here assemble offer thee our humble thanks for this evening of fellowship, for these happy memories, for the privilege of here affirming that our Mystic Tie with our departed brethren is not broken, only made the longer.

“And now that we are about to depart, in thy mercy, suffer thy servants to depart in peace. . . . Amen. . . .”

The Masonic Service Association of North America