Message From The East
The Masonic Alter
The position of the altar in a Masonic Lodge is by no means accidental, but is very significant. It is a symbol of what Masonry teaches the altar should be in actual life, a center of union and fellowship and not a cause of division, for Masonry is neither a religion nor a sect, but a worship in which all men may unite. It does not explain or dogmatically settle those issues by which men are so frequently divided.
In English Lodges, as well as the French and Scottish Rites, the altar stands in front of the Master in the East. In the York Rite it is placed in the center of the Lodge or more properly a little East of the center. It is not merely a piece of furniture for the display of the Greater Light, but by its presence and situation it identifies Masonry as a religious institution.
Some research students have declared as a result of their study of old manuscripts that the obligation was formerly conferred without an altar. No doubt they are correct so far as the ceremony is concerned, but the mistake they make is in supposing that there was no altar in the Lodge room. Too much is unconcluded in the conclusion. Undoubtedly there were both altar and lights, but the latter never had anything to do with obligations and have nothing now.
The custom prevalent in some localities of placing the three burning tapers or three symbolical Lesser Lights East, West and South near the altar, is sometimes changed so that these respective lights are burning on the pedestals of the Master and his two Wardens. There are four open Bibles displayed in English Lodges when at work, one upon the altar and one before the stations of the Master and his Wardens.
Bromwell is authority that in earlier days the Entered Apprentice was obligated on a pedestal placed to the North of the Center, the Fellow Craft on a similar one placed to the South of the Center, and the Master Mason on the altar in the Center.
Several of the brothers of Honolulu Lodge have inquired about the unusual shape of the altar in the Makiki Temple. In response their inquires I submit the following information. In the mid 1960Ős, Most Worshipful Paul Jones was presented with the responsibility to design and furnish the Makiki Temple Lodge room. When it came time to design the alter, it became apparent that the only reliable reference for the Lodge furnishings were contained in the monitor. The explanation pertaining to the alter and ornaments thereof are to be found in the Monitor on pages 8 and 11 and are as follows:
The Ornaments of a Lodge are the Mosaic Pavement, the Indented Tessel, and the Blazing Star. The Mosaic Pavement is a representation of the ground floor of SolomonŐs Temple, and is emblematic of human life, checkered with good and evil. The Indented Tessel is a representation of the beautiful tessellated border or skirting which surrounded the pavement, and is emblematic of the manifold blessings and comforts which surround us and which we hope to enjoy by a faithful reliance upon Divine Providence, hieroglyphically represented by the Blazing Star in the center. Lodges were anciently dedicated to King Solomon, as it is said that he was our first Most Excellent Grand master. Lodges at the present time are dedicated to Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist, who were two eminent patrons of Masonry; and since their time there is, or should be, represented in every regular Lodge a certain point within a circle, the point representing an individual brother, and the circle the boundary line of his conduct, beyond which he should never suffer his passions, his prejudices or his interests to betray him. This circle is supported by two perpendicular parallel lines, representing Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist, and on its top rest the Holy Writings. In tracing its circumference we necessarily touch upon the parallel lines and also upon the Holy Bible; and while a Mason keeps himself thus circumscribed, it is impossible that he can materially err.