Vol. XXII No. 6 — June 1944

Meet, Act, and Part

Three travelers stood at Artist’s Point in Yellowstone Park, looking at the mighty Lower Falls. “Lot of water going to waste,” said one. “And so noisy. Kept me awake last night!”

“Lot of water going to waste?” derided the second. “The waste is of power! I’d have every drop of that going through turbines!” The third man said nothing. His ears heard the heavenly choir of the most musical of falls, as his eyes beheld the glory of one of the greatest beauties in this or any other country.

Somewhat similar may be the attitude, more or less common, towards the opening and closing of a lodge of Master Masons. To one brother it is waste of words, an unmusical ritual which is an annoyance; to a second, a waste of the time which is money and, therefore, power. To a third it may be a rich sonority of word and phrase, a liturgy concealing hidden meanings the greater in beauty that they are unexpressed.

It is in the hope of at least hinting of these that these words are written.

There is hardly a Mason who has not used the phrase, “the beauty of the ritual,” but it is a safe wager that not one in ten could explain in what that beauty consists. The stilted phrases, the old fashioned words, the often clumsy sentences of another day and age do have a curious beauty of their own, for many, much more easily felt than described. There is always beauty in any act well performed, and officers who know their work and do it with precision and fluency, even if sometimes with the air of a talking machine or a parrot, can and often do produce a pleasing impression by their rendition of any Masonic ceremony, whether degree or those here under discussion.

But the real beauty of opening and closing lies not in the ritual but in its meanings; not in its precision of performance, but in its implications and its hidden voices. Listen long enough to the falls of the Yellowstone and you hear not only the rush and the roar of tons of falling water, but undertones and overtones, tinklings and babblings, little songs that are harmonics of a great diapason which make an anthem out of one great sound. So it may be for the attentive ear and the discerning mind in the short ceremonies of opening and closing a lodge.

Answer for yourself the question you have heard so many times — the first, the most important care in opening? Why is it asked? Is not the answer familiar to all? Surely the Master does not inquire because he does not know! Is it not asked and answered in the same spirit in which the mighty words of Job are used in the prayer to the Master’s Degree: “Thou, Oh God, knoweth our downsittings and our uprisings and understandeth our thoughts afar off.” If God knoweth these things, why trouble to tell Him so? If indeed He “understandeth our thoughts afar off,” why bother to inform him of them?

Obviously it is to reassure ourselves that in humility and reverence we make the prayer to Him. It is to reassure ourselves that we ask and answer the inquiry as to the necessity that we be only Master Masons assembled before our lodge is opened; that the mystic circle of brotherhood be broken by no alien thought or presence; that here, indeed, we are shut off from the workaday world in a sacred and secret and safe life of our own for a little while; a band of brothers within the charmed circle in which no secular or sectarian differences or distinctions may intrude.

Then the grave questions by the master, and the replies of the wardens. Aye, we know these answers, too. But do the answers mean to us only what they say, or is beneath them a reality which may be a sweet thought in our lives? Ask yourself — “why did I become a Master Mason?” If the answer is frank, the chances are that it was because a beloved friend, or father or relative was a Mason; or because you understood that Freemasons band together for good works in which you wanted to have a part; or that it was to have opportunity to form friendships. Are not all these encompassed in the ritualistic reason? Association with loved relatives and friends, the opportunity to take part in good work, the chance to fellowship with men and form friendships, are not these Masters wages? He who knows his work can prove himself in any English-speaking lodge anywhere in the world, and receive these wages there as well as in his Mother lodge — aye, even in “foreign countries.” Here, too, is the reminder that helping the unfortunate is not only for “here and now” but for “then and there,” abroad as well as at home. Thus the dialogue between officers becomes a short but pregnant epitome of a most important part of Freemasonry, one that is loved by all her brethren, though they may not have phrased it in thought.

Comes a time in the opening when all brethren present “look to the East.” What the Master there does, followed by all brethren, is not just a ceremony; it is a dramatic, even a startling reminder of certain sacred obligations, certain solemn promises, certain inescapable duties all Master Masons must take and make and agree to perform before they are raised to the Sublime Degree. In this, the very heart of opening, every brother present says to the Master, to the officers, to his brethren and to himself, in a way which speaks the louder that it is in silence: “I am conscious of my promises; I know my duty; I recall my obligation. Here in these presences and in the presence of the Great Architect by this ceremony I renew and repeat and reavow.”

Written in a thousand books, told in many Masonic Monitors, there is no secret in the fact that the Volume of the Sacred Law — in this country universally the Holy Bible — is upon the altar of every lodge. In some lodges the Great Lights are “displayed.” In others they are “opened.” In still others they are “uncovered”; in some “arranged.” Be the words what they may, in all lodges the Great Light is opened and the Square and Compasses (Compass in six grand lodges) are arranged. And in most lodges at this time the Lesser Lights are lit and the Letter G comes to light in the East, a triple reminder (in a Fraternity which makes so much of the number three) that no lodge of Freemasons can be opened without prayer, without Holy Writ, without the living presence of the Most High.

With an invocation, either ritualistic and abbreviated or lengthy and spontaneous, the lodge is declared opened.

It is then and not until then that the simple structure in the center of the lodge room becomes the Sanctum Sanctorum. It is, symbolically, the Ark of the Covenant of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, the Holy of Holies of King Solomon’s Temple, in which once a year and alone the High Priest pronounced the sacred name which we know only as JHVH, Jehovah. He is dead of soul and poor of imagination indeed who cannot see the Shekinah about the altar of Freemasonry at that beautiful instant when a roomful of men behind a closed door becomes an open lodge of Master Masons; the light by which the & is seen somehow metamorphosed into the Divine Light which makes of a Masonic altar a place apart in the lives of men.

So considered, opening a Master Masons lodge is much more than “a time-taking ceremony,” “a waste of time,” “a thing which must be done.”

Its greatest beauty is that all who go to lodge have a part in it. Master and wardens and chaplain are but mouthpieces of all who form the lodge. Without the brethren on the benches the ceremony may be performed, indeed, but it lacks something precious, something necessary, something which, unseen, like the wind which blows against the sail, is yet essential for successful lodge life, as breeze is necessary for the motion of the boat.

In the thoughts of many men, all directed to one end, is hidden power. A few brethren on the sidelines may be earnest, ardent, intelligent and interested Freemasons. But if there be an hundred, their united thought and attention is ten times as electric, ten times as inspiring.

Every speaker knows the difference between a responsive and an hostile audience. Every speaker can sense the collective attitude of his hearers and knows within a few minutes of beginning whether his audience is at one with him in thought or fighting against his effort. So it is with Masters and officers. They know, and soon, if the brethren are reverent, attentive, understanding of the ceremony. The greater the attendance, the greater this feeling — this could not be if all present did not play an important part in the ceremony, though they do but stand and listen.

Opening a lodge is not just for officers and Master. It is for all the brethren. The ritual has a message, not from one officer to another, but from Freemasonry to every brother. Within its set form, its rigor, its fixity, may be heard the music of worship, the poetry of brotherhood, even as the glory of one of Natures wonders is to be seen by the discerning eye behind the “waste” of the water and the power of Yellowstone Falls.

He who comes late to lodge in order to “miss the opening” cheats himself of a lovely gift Freemasonry offers to all her sons.

As there are rules more honored in the breach than in the observance, so is closing the lodge more “honored” in leaving before it is accomplished than by staying through to the close!

Yet what a ceremony to miss!

First, the courtesy of asking principal officers if there is anything in west or south or on secretary’s table which should come before lodge previous to closing. Courtesy it is, for the Master need not listen even if there are brethren who wish to speak; lodge closes at his will and pleasure. Then, still a courtesy, the Master may ask any brother to speak “if he has anything to offer for the good of Freemasonry in general or the lodge in particular."

No one responding, the short but beautiful ceremony of closing is begun. Again is the tiler informed, so that he who is officer of the lodge but not in it during its labors “may govern himself accordingly.” Again the solemn questions and answers, but this time perhaps even more impressive — who cannot learn a lesson from the ritualistic references to rising and setting sun is dull of intellect indeed.

— and pay the Craft their wages if any be due. . . .

In the opening it is explained why a Master Mason becomes such. Here he receives his wages “if any be due.’ And when are wages not due? Only when no “good work, true work, square work” has been done. Who leaves his lodge after closing with the comforting thought that by his presence and his interest, even if he has had no active part in the work, he has helped his brethren he hath his wages in the knowledge.

— harmony being the strength and support of all well-regulated institutions, especially this of ours.”

There can be no fellowship in a Master’s lodge in which there is not harmony; there will sound no harmony in any Master’s lodge in which is no fellowship. Peculiarly emphasized in closing this is the thought to take home:

Out into the starshine of the great All Seeing Eye;
Make me, too, Great Architect, worthy of the Tie.

Rob Morris wrote three score and ten years ago, in one of the most beautiful and certainly the most popular of Masonic poems:

We meet upon the level and we part upon the square,
What words of precious meaning those words Masonic are!

There is nothing in the closing ceremony more important nor more majestic than this fragment of ritual which tells how Master Masons meet, act and part. Surely here is solemnity mingled with happiness; dignity mingled with fellowship; beauty and brotherhood flashed together on the mental screen and as swiftly withdrawn — a moment of loveliness the more beautiful that it is so brief.

And then the Lights are closed — or displaced or covered or the proper officer instructed only, “attend the altar.” Whatever the ritual, the result is the same, and, if reverently done, with tools laid lovingly to one side, book slowly and carefully closed, lights slowly extinguished and Letter G dimmed to darkness in the East, a beautiful and thought-provoking ceremony. For it is only within the room that the Great Lights are covered, the Lesser Lights extinguished, the Letter G turned dark. In that place where every Mason is made, that place only in which a man can be a Mason, the Great Light still lies open, the Square and Compasses yet gleam brightly, the Lesser Lights continue to shine with a soft light and the Letter G with the brilliance of a diamond.

Neither opening nor closing can be done so poorly as to eliminate the inherent dignity of great thought. Neither can be done so well as to obscure by perfection of action and speech the meaning behind.

Not to think of the meaning is to rob oneself. In almost their present form these ceremonies have come down to us from an antiquity no man knoweth how great. Untold millions of brethren have said the words, performed the actions, opened and closed. Millions more have heard, taken their small but important part, and are gathered with their fathers. We know of but a few of these — the multitude which has done as we are doing, which has opened and closed as we close and open, which has met upon the level and parted upon the square with a prayer to the Great Architect and the fellowship of Masonry in their hearts — they are, must ever be, to us a mighty but an unknown throng.

But they have valued it even as we value it.

If there be anything in these words to make these ancient ceremonies of greater value to any who may read; if within one mind there forms a new curiosity as to the meanings concealed, then these words have not been written in vain.

But even if they touch the heart and mind of not a single brother, they have their value — for they have reminded the wielder of this pen of the hidden poetry of that which too oft appears commonplace, and made the clearer — as expression always makes clearer — thoughts hitherto unphrased.

Brethren, the lodge is closed — now part we on the Square!

The Masonic Service Association of North America