Vol. XXXVII No. 3 — March 1959

What Should a Mason Know about Masonry

Ralph J. Pollard, PGM

An Address given before the Third Annual Northeast Conference on Masonic Libraries and Education, Boston, Mass., June 13-14, 1958.

If we work upon marble, it will perish; if on brass, time will efface it; if we rear temples, they will crumble into dust; but if we work upon immortal minds, and imbue them with principles, the just fear of God and love of our fellow-men, we engrave on those tablets something that will brighten to all eternity. — Daniel Webster

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It is obvious, of course, that the more anyone knows about any worthwhile subject, the better it is for him. Accordingly, it is easy to say that a Mason should know everything there is to know about the Fraternity to which he belongs. Unfortunately, practical experience teaches us that no Mason can ever hope to know all there is to know about Masonry. The subject is too vast, and the span of a human lifetime is too short.

Moreover, practical experience also teaches us that many Masons do not have the inclination, capability, time or opportunity to become serious Masonic scholars. We cannot expect that every candidate will develop into an Albert Pike, a Josiah H. Drummond, a Joseph Fort Newton, or a Harry L. Haywood.

Consequently, this Short Talk Bulletin is limited to a discussion of that minimum knowledge of Masonry that every Mason must have, if he is properly to understand the Institution of which he is a member, or to derive any real benefit from his membership therein. In other words, I plan to discuss that minimum knowledge of Masonry that, in addition to the catechism, should be imparted to the new Mason by any really adequate system of candidate instruction.

First of all, I believe that every Mason needs to know the essential characteristics and the fundamental principles of the Fraternity. He should, for instance, realize that Freemasonry is the oldest, the largest and the most widespread of fraternal organizations. He should be helped to appreciate the warmth of the human fellowship to be found therein, and to recognize fully the great importance of the social side of Masonry. But he should also realize that Freemasonry is far more than a mere social organization; that it is, in fact, a system of moral philosophy, which may well, if properly understood, become a highly rewarding and deeply satisfying way of life for its followers.

Every brother should be encouraged to adopt in his everyday life the great tenets of our institution — brotherly love, relief, and truth. Far more by the living examples of consecrated brothers than by precept or by homily, he should be continuously influenced to adopt these ennobling modes of conduct as his natural response to the problems of life around him, "to grapple them to his soul with hoops of steel."

He should especially be made aware of the worlds great need for the charity of the spirit and be encouraged to supply the ingredients of a practical application of the principle of brotherly love — patience with the stubborn, understanding for the perplexed, forbearance toward the misguided, kindness for the troubled and the willful, appreciation of the noble, praise for achievement, and forgiveness for an enemy.

Needless to say, every Mason should be thoroughly familiar with the ritualistic teachings of the Craft, and should also know something of the symbolism and philosophy that are derived from those teachings. The ritual is the basis for all Masonic instruction; A MASON MUST CERTAINLY KNOW THE RITUAL and understand the underlying meaning of its words.

Every Mason should understand that Freemasonry, as practiced in the British Empire and the United States, is entirely non-sectarian; that all theological discussion is prohibited in its lodges; and that its membership includes men belonging to many different religious denominations. He must clearly understand that FREEMASONRY IS NOT A CHURCH, nor a substitute for the church, and that it makes no claim to save souls, to reform sinners, or to discharge any of the proper functions of a church. Yet every Mason should also be helped to realize that Freemasonry is essentially religious; that it requires of all of its members a positive, wholehearted and unequivocal belief in Almighty God, the Author, Creator and Ruler of the Universe; that it demands a rigid observance of the moral law; that it stresses the value and importance of prayer; that it teaches the immortality of the soul; and that the Holy Bible, ora similar Volume of the Sacred Law, which lies open upon every Masonic altar, is revered as The Great Light in Freemasonry, and is accepted as the rule and guide of every Masons faith. He should realize that these religious requirements are among those Ancient Landmarks of the Craft that have subsisted from time immemorial, which are not subject to repeal or change, and without which Freemasonry would lose its distinctive character as such.

Every Mason should also know that FREEMASONRY, AS AN ORGANIZATION, TAKES NO PART WHATEVER IN PARTISAN POLITICS; that all political discussion is prohibited in its lodges; and that its membership includes members of various political parties. The individual Mason is, of course, free to exercise his civic rights and political privileges according to the dictates of his own conscience and judgment. But the Fraternity, as such, expresses no opinion on political questions and makes no attempt to influence elections, legislation, or the conduct of public officials. The Mason must realize, however, that while Freemasonry is strictly non-political, it is thoroughly patriotic; that it teaches love of the flag, loyalty to the government of one’s country, obedience to the law of the land, and respect for the civil magistrate.

I firmly believe that EVERY MASON SHOULD KNOW THE ESSENTIAL FACTS OF AUTHENTIC MASONIC HISTORY. He needs to know that modern speculative Freemasonry is a direct continuation of the great operative Masonic Guild of the Middle Ages, and that some of our existing Scottish lodges have written records reaching back in unbroken continuity to the days of the operative craft. It will help him to know something of the nature, organization and accomplishments of the Medieval Guild, to be familiar with the Old Charges or manuscript constitutions of the operative craft, and to understand how, during the transition period of the seventeenth century, the operative craft was gradually transformed into the speculative society of the present day.

He should know how the Mother Grand Lodge of England was formed in 1717 and that the original Grand Lodges of England, Ireland, and Scotland are the source of all legitimate Freemasonry in the world today. It will profit him to know the story of how Freemasonry spread throughout the British Empire and how it was transmitted to many foreign countries as well. He will be proud to learn that, in those countries enjoying the blessings of civil and religious liberty, it took root and flourished, but that, in those countries suffering under either ecclesiastical or temporal despotism, it has always encountered opposition and persecution. To help in his relationships with all mankind, he should be informed of the opposition of certain ecclesiastical organizations to modern speculative Freemasonry, and of its persecution at the hands of dictators and other tyrants.

As an American Mason, he will certainly want to know THE STORY OF FREEMASONRY IN OUR OWN COUNTRY, of its early beginnings in Boston and Philadelphia, of its spread throughout the thirteen colonies, and of the great part that Masons played in the winning of our national independence, in the formulation of our national constitution, and in the establishment of our national government. He should know the names of those Masonic patriots, soldiers, statesmen, and jurists who have made outstanding contributions to our country’s history. The Masonic membership and activity of men like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, John Marshall, Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Harry S. Truman are part of his fraternal heritage.

To encourage his interest in MASONIC LITERATURE, he should learn about those great Masonic scholars, ritualists and leaders who have made American Freemasonry what it is today. Thomas Smith Webb, Jeremy L. Cross, Albert G. Mackey, Albert Pike, Joseph Fort Newton, and H. L. Haywood should be more than mere names to him. The more a Mason knows of Masonic history, the greater respect he will have for the Fraternity, and the greater pride he will take in his own membership therein.

Every Mason needs to be instructed how to further and continue his Masonic education and TO IMPROVE HIMSELF IN MASONRY. He should be introduced to the treasures of Masonic literature, like Claudy’s Introduction to Freemasonry, Newton’s The Builders, and Haywood’s Great Teachings of Masonry. The benefits of Masonic reading and study should be outlined for him. The service offered by his grand lodge library should be called to his attention; he should be encouraged to avail himself of that service; for only by continued study can he hope to grow in Masonry and to derive the maximum benefit from his Masonic investment.

It is only common sense that every Mason should understand and appreciate the PRIVILEGES, DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF LODGE MEMBERSHIP. He should know the basic structure, purpose and function of the lodge, and he should be familiar with the local problems, projects and activities of his own particular lodge. He should realize that the lodge has honored him by admitting him as a member, and he needs to understand the importance of regular attendance, of prompt payment of dues, and of willingness to take part in the work and the activities of the lodge.

To forestall later misconceptions, it is essential that a Mason understand THE NATURE, EXTENT AND LIMITATIONS OF MASONIC CHARITY, and his personal responsibility in connection therewith, both as an individual Mason and as a member of the lodge. He should understand THE TIME-HONORED RULE AGAINST THE SOLICITATION OF CANDIDATES, and must recognize the responsibility that may devolve upon him as the sponsor of a candidate. Most important of all, he should clearly understand THE ETHICS OF THE BALLOT BOX. To preserve the honor and reputation of the Fraternity, he must know that it is his duty to blackball every unworthy applicant, but he must also realize that the blackball should never be used as an instrument of personal spite, jealousy or prejudice. He also needs to learn to love and respect the ancient usages and customs of the craft, and to resist any and all innovations in the established traditions and practices of the Fraternity.

Every Mason should also understand THE POWERS, PREROGATIVES AND FUNCTIONS OF THE MOST WORSHIPFUL GRAND LODGE, the supreme and sovereign authority in Freemasonry. He ought to be familiar with its organization and composition, and to know the background, origin and beginnings of his own grand lodge. He should know the essential facts in its history and the names of the great Masons whom it has given to the world. Familiarity with its present policies in such important fields as foreign recognition, Masonic education, the administration of Masonic justice, and the distribution of Masonic charity is an essential part of his education.

Too few Masons really appreciate the great PRIVILEGE OF VISITING LODGES other than their own. Newly-made Masons need instruction about the requirements for avouchment, about the proper method of working one’s way into a lodge, and about the documentary evidence that one should carry when visiting a new lodge. A just and lawful Mason needs to be informed of the existence of clandestine bodies and taught how to avoid becoming involved therewith. If he plans to travel in foreign countries, he should know how to find out if there is any Freemasonry in the countries that he plans to visit that is recognized by his own grand lodge. He should know in what countries Freemasonry is prohibited by law, and in what countries clandestine and un-Masonic bodies exist.

Every Mason will profit from a rudimentary knowledge of MASONIC LAW AND THE ADMINISTRATION OF MASONIC JUSTICE. He should know the sources and classifications of Masonic laws — the Ancient Landmarks, the common law of Freemasonry, the statute law as set forth in the Constitution and regulations of the grand lodge, the approved decisions of the grand master, and the by-laws of the individual lodges. Every Mason should clearly understand the nature of a Masonic offense, and the punishments that may be imposed therefore. He should realize that every violation of his ritualistic obligations or of any specific Masonic law constitutes such an offense and is subject to Masonic punishment.

Because of Freemasonry’s standards of morality, every new Mason should be informed that all violations of civil law that involve moral turpitude are also Masonic offenses punishable by Masonic law. A Mason should know the machinery for the administration of Masonic justice as established in his own jurisdiction. He should also understand that the statute law of Freemasonry may be different in various jurisdictions, and that, if he should ever five and work in a jurisdiction other than that in which he holds Masonic membership, he would be subject to the Masonic laws of that jurisdiction as well as to those of his own grand lodge. For example, some grand lodges prohibit dual membership, so that a Mason moving into one of those states must give up his membership elsewhere before he can affiliate with a lodge in his new place of residence.

Every Mason should be given information about THE EXISTENCE OF OTHER MASONIC DEGREES, in addition to the basic degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry. He should know that the systems of the York Rite and of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite require Masonic membership of their members and that they work amicably with the approval of the grand lodges concerned. Their characteristics and the opportunities for the further light they offer in their ritual and degree work should be suggested. But a Mason needs to be taught never to forget that the degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry are, after all, the most important degrees in Masonry, that the grand lodge is the one supreme and sovereign Masonic power, and that the Blue Lodge is by far the most important of all Masonic bodies.

Finally, every Mason should be helped to understand that his Masonic future is largely in his own hands, that he will get out of Masonry a tremendous amount of inspiration and fellowship for even a moderate effort, and that, in the long run, it is entirely up to him whether or not he ever finds the lost word for himself.

The minimum knowledge outlined above will not make a man a Masonic scholar, but, it will, I believe, make him an intelligent and useful member of the Fraternity. This much, at least, every Mason should know about Masonry.

The Masonic Service Association of North America