A defence against those brethren that consider our ritual cumbersome and archaic.
I don’t know how many times I have heard brethren absolve themselves from poor ritual delivery by claiming that it is archaic, repetitive and boring. Then come the other excuses that those claimants make which suggest that our new initiates leave because of it. This is closely followed by the debate that it causes the meetings to go on to long.
Well my friends, I must vehemently contest such complaints with the riposte that so many of our problems lie in the disorganisation of our DC’s, the unnecessary matters emanating from the Secretaries table and the monotone verbiage of some of our W.M.’s.
If you then couple this with the difficulty that many brethren face when trying to repeat verbatim, each ceremonial part and the subsequent poor presentation we have to suffer, it all goes to set us up for immediate failure.
Like so many, I am not adverse to the review or reform of any of our practices, but the claims by some about our ritual are by no means unusual, but neither are they insurmountable. It fact, if we all took Freemasonry a little more serious, we would solve so many of the problems highlighted.
For example, it is neither rare nor uncommon for mature brethren to nod off during any proceedings, but this is not due to the ritual. I have witnessed this during church services, theatres, cinemas, seminars, etc.
It is not through boredom, lack of attention, nor medical condition, just that which dictates that elderly people rest more frequent than their younger counterparts. However, when younger brethren sleep during the ceremony it is generally through inebriation, total lack of interest and little or no understanding of what is going on.
Shutting one’s eyes during a ceremony to concentrate does not constitute sleeping and I know several brethren who, as they progress through the offices of the lodge, use this method to learn the ritual by repeating it in their heads the words along with whatever officer is speaking.
The problem is that very few brethren choose to learn no more about this noble science than that which is contained in their little ritual book. This means that many brethren hear and repeat words and phrases, and carry out actions that they have no idea where they originated.
Yes! It may be said that much of the ritual which we practice today may be two hundred years old, but ask yourself this – Where did it originate? What you will find is that so much of it predates not only the 1813 Union, but also the 1717 formation of Grand Lodge. In fact, much of it originates from the Old MS Charges of which some dated from c.1390.
If only lodges would use the Lodge of Instruction to do exactly that. Instruct! Each lodge should be able to provide their candidate with a comprehensive reading list and study programme of instruction and training of which the net result would enliven all that we do.
That is where we let the new initiates down, we send them home that evening with no more than a Book of Constitutions, a copy of the lodge bye-laws and a list of second degree questions of which they have little or no knowledge about.
With regard to the lengthy Installation ceremony, all proceedings can be modified slightly without detracting from the ethos of the event. All good DC’s with the co-operation of Lodge officers and Past Masters should be able perform a crisp ceremony with good continuity and succinct presentation. The key lies in the Lodge of Rehearsal. Such a ceremony warrants several rehearsals to ensure perfection. Unfortunately, many Past Masters asked to perform certain parts of the ceremony, consider that attendance at rehearsals are beneath them.
While on the subject of ritual delivery, it is facetious to suggest, as many do, that it is no more than an admirable piece of theatre. If that is the belief, then surely most of us should perhaps conduct ourselves like actors and put more effort into leaning our lines. It’s a churlish suggestion, although I would propose that a dialogue coach would not go amiss.
When a brother stumbles mid-sentence, we are never short of rude brethren who try to correct him, often times so loud that it causes embarrassment to all. That behaviour also undermines that appointed officer who normally carries out that particular role as discreet as possible and generally by previous arrangement or signal.
As so many brethren are intimidated by the activities of learning and delivering the ritual, we obviously let our brethren down by not providing good teaching, training and learning methods, and this I consider should be another priority.
Minutes of the previous meeting, along with a brief report from the Almoner and Charity Steward could be sent prior to the meeting along with the summons. This would reduce the business from the secretaries table and other officers who often believe that after two hours of Masonic ceremony, brethren cannot wait to hear from them. I always get the impression that so many brethren need their ‘five-minutes’ of fame.
It is the inverted snobbery and pomposity of senior brethren, and all lodges have them, that is slowly affecting the membership of the Craft. Having said that, we must also acknowledge that all age-old institutions are currently being affected by numbers joining, Freemasonry being no exception to this.
The improvement of our ceremonies lies in the hands of our past-Masters, to coach, encourage and train officers and members. It also rests upon us all to maintain standards of decorum and dignity and to conduct ourselves with solemnity while in open lodge. Also that we ‘put-in’ 110% in learning any assignment we may be asked to carry out and to earnestly seek help if needs be, otherwise we should gracefully decline. There is nothing more embarrassing to a candidate than to see a brother struggling to deliver a piece of ill-learnt ritual. How selfish we can be sometimes.
Having said that, we have all heard well rehearsed ritual. I recall the time when one brother was so enthusiastic with his delivery of the second degree tracing board lecture that those present felt sure he was about to let the Ephramites win!
Joking aside, if ritual needs be read for clearer understanding and accuracy then so be it, but please lets not blame it, alter it or modernise it just because we ourselves cannot deliver it with the respect, the learning and the understanding it demands.