SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol.IV May, 1926 No.5
Why do so many Masons lose interest in Masonry and drift away from
the Lodge? Why do the majority retain only a nominal relation to the
Craft? Why is it that hardly 10 percent ever attend any meeting of
the lodge, and a still smaller number take an active part in its
affairs? What is the meaning of these facts, and how can the problem
which they raise be solved?
Such questions are much in the minds of the leaders of the Craft
everywhere. It is a condition, and not a theory, that confronts us.
The influx of members during the Great War, and in the years
following it, has subsided. In some states the number of initiates
has fallen below pre-war days. The vast mass of those who came in on
the impulse of war-time are now numbered among the casual Masons.
The feeling grows that something is wrong, and that we must seek to
set it right, if we are to have an alert and active Masonry.
Just now The Masonic Service Association is working on this problem
with the leaders of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, and we beg to
give here the findings arrived at, both as to the meaning of the fact
and the method of dealing with it. Clearly we have failed "to set
the Craft to work and give them proper instruction," or else they
would not drop out of our membership, or regard Masonry as merely
another Order to "belong to" and nothing more. To that end, we must
begin at the beginning and lay the basis of a real Masonic life.
What is needed is extra-ritualistic preparation of the man applying
for the Degrees before, during and after his reception into the
Lodge. Of the three the first, if not the most vital, is surely
profoundly important, and it has been almost entirely neglected. Let
any man recall, if he can, his state of mind regarding the Craft when
he knocked at its door, and he will realize that he had but the
faintest idea of what Masonry is and of what it meant to be initiated
into it. the method now proposed takes account of that fact, and
takes him in hand as soon as he has expressed a desire to join the
Lodge, and even before he has made his application for the Degrees.
In this way, by making strict inquiry of an aspirant for the Degrees
to see if he has in him the stuff of which a Mason may be made, no
end of embarrassment may be avoided, and the Craft Strengthened or
protected accordingly. The first duty of the committee, as well as
the last, is to see whether or not the man before them has the
qualities of character which will enable him to add to the good name
and integrity of the Craft, and also whether he will actually make
such a contribution. In short, is he in his daily life and acts
going to be a Mason, in fact, or in name only?
Such information or impression can be obtained by examining him as to
his attitude toward Masonry. Why is he applying? What induced him
to take this step? What is his opinion of Masonry and upon what does
his opinion rest? It should be emphasized, in plain terms, that his
privilege of membership in the Craft carries with it certain
obligations that will rest upon him toward the Craft. It must be
explained to the applicant that it is the business of Masonry to
teach the virtues of the moral life - chastity, charity and service -
and his known attitude in regard to these matters ought to determine
whether he is a man fit for the fellowship of the Fraternity.
Also, care must be taken to impress upon the applicant the fact that
the moral life obtains its sanction and authority from Spiritual
Faith. He ought to be asked, not obtrusively but candidly and
earnestly, his ideas regarding God. If he has not clearly confronted
his mind with the Supreme Reality, he ought to be asked to do so. No
man who is uncertain about God, or who treats the idea of God as a
piece of Lodge furniture, has any place in a Masonic Lodge.
It is important that an applicant should know what duties devolve
upon him as a member of a Lodge. Such as acquaintance with the
ritual and other items of Masonic information. Attendance upon the
Lodge as a duty, and whether or not he is in a position to attend.
Whether he is willing to assist in the work of the Lodge, by serving
on Committees or otherwise. As to his financial obligation - can he
afford what it will be necessary for him to spend?
When his petition has been voted upon, along with his notice of
election the applicant ought to receive a copy of the pamphlet
entitled "Preparation," with the request that he read it carefully.
After he has received the entered Apprentice Degree he should be
given a birds-eye view of Masonry, so to put it, showing geographical
distribution in Grand Lodges, both at home and abroad. He will
realize that Masonry encircles the earth, but is strongest in
America, where three-fourths of the Craft live and toil. He ought
to be told of the leading men in the State and the Nation who are and
have been Masons, if only to let him see what kind and quality of men
the Craft attracts and develops.
It is not an accident that Masonry lures strong men and makes them
stronger. Its teachings are the basic principles of civilized
society, the very ground-work of Church, State and Home. Every man
needs to realize that the truths of Masonry are not secret, but only
the method and symbols by which they are taught. The parts of our
ceremonies which are secret ought to be pointed out, and the
candidate cautioned about disclosing what he has received.
Those who "Post" the candidate on the "Work" of the Degree ought to
tell him something of what it means, after the manner of the
"Intenders" in the old Lodges of Scotland. Such a book as "The
Symbolism of the Three Degrees," by Street, is useful for this
purpose, not that it should be read to the candidate, but its facts
told him as he goes along. He should know the use of the Tools of
the Craft, the meaning of the Great Lights - especially the Great
Light; its teachings about Brotherly Love, Relief, and Faith; its
cardinal virtues of Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and Justice.
As in the Scottish Lodges, the obligation should be explained,
particularly the figurative character of its penalty, and the fashion
in which the oath was sealed and why. He ought to know the Due-Guard
and Sign of the Degree, and when and how they are to be used in the
Lodge. It is not enough to tell him these facts. He ought to be
fully clothed, and asked to enter and retired from the Lodge in the
proper manner. A candidate is in novel surroundings, and while he
does not remember all that is told him, it is not easy for him to
forget what he acts out.
In a like manner, the Second degree is to be studied, showing in what
ways it differs from the First, in the greater inclusiveness of the
obligation, as well as in its emphasis upon the arts and sciences,
with particular reference to Geometry and its meaning and use by the
Craft. The initiate is asked to read The Masonic service Association
Bulletin 3-5-7 before taking the third degree. It is a pity that
neither the ritual nor the lecture tells us the meaning of the Great
Degree, which has in it the sublime secret of Masonry and of life
itself. All effort must be made to get the initiate to grasp the
truth with which it deals - the truth of the Eternal Life.
Having received the Degrees of Masonry, an initiate needs to know
something of the regulations of the Craft, its constitution, its
Landmarks; and the nature and authority of the Grand Lodge under
whose obedience he lives. It is only fair to tell him the relation
of the Blue Lodge to other Masonic Bodies, both York Rite and
Scottish Rite; and in a way to emphasize the supremacy of Craft
Masonry. It will be useful for him to know that the Shrine, the
Grotto and other such organizations, while made up of Masons, are not
Masonic any more than any club made up of Masons is Masonic. More
important still is the etiquette of the Craft, in the Lodge and
outside, and the discretion necessary in making himself known as a
Mason, or in responding to the advances of others.
Such simple things about Masonry and how to use it ought to be taught
every Mason in the Lodge; and such extra-ritualistic instruction the
Grand Lodge of Massachusetts proposes to give the men who enter its
fellowship - using the literature and other helps prepared by The
Masonic Service association. It is hoped that other Grand Lodges
will take up the plan, or some other equally good, in simple fairness
to men who are made Masons - that they may be duly and truly prepared
for the better appreciation and service of the Craft. Some of us,
looking back, wish very much that we had been thus set to work and
taught the meaning and uses of our tools.
The adoption of such a plan by an old and great Grand Lodge marks a
long step in the right direction - a new epoch in Masonic education,
of which we have heard so much and seen so little result. It is like
a dream come true, the full meaning of which few can realize save
those who have worked and planned for years to see it become a fact.
Such things we can do together, each borrowing from the wisdom of the
other. Those of us who had to wait long and work hard for
information about Masonry which should have been taught us by our
mother Lodge, look with envy upon the young men of the Old Bay State.