Since initially reading Short Talk Bulletins, I have been touched by how closely their content addresses the subject matter that targets specific circumstances experienced within our Lodge. More interestingly, the talks that most closely relate to our situations are those written not in recent years but instead those written almost a century ago. You can classify that as “those who don’t learn of the past are doomed to relive it.” I prefer to file it under the less ominous “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” Before Wrigley Field was built, Mussolini came to power, and a Hoof and Mouth epidemic hit our country, the subject of Lodge etiquette was discussed.
Conventions are the rules which society makes for itself, not necessarily written as law, by which its members live together with the least friction. It is not illegal to eat with one’s knife or to keep one’s hat on in the house, but these are not good form or good manners. Masonry has developed its own conventions, by which its members act in Lodge. Not displaying these acts is not a Masonic offense. It is a lack of Masonic manners. Sadly, newly raised Brothers are not told much about the niceties of Lodge conduct. That fault lies with the more knowledgeable Brethren and not the recently raised Brethren.
It is not uncommon to see some brother crossing the lodge room between the Altar and the East in open lodge. It is a convention and there is no penalty for the infraction. It is a courtesy offered the Master. Similarly, Brethren who respect the formalities of their Lodge will not enter it undressed; that is, without their apron, or while putting on their apron. The sight of a brother walking up to the Altar, tying the strings and adjusting his apron while the Master waits for his salute is not a pretty one. A man who enters his place of worship buttoning his shirt and tying his tie would not be arrested. But he would surely receive unflattering comments or looks. The Worshipful Master in the East occupies the most exalted position within the lodge. A lodge which does not honor its Master, not because of the individual himself but because of the honor given the position is lacking in Masonic courtesy. The position he occupies must be given the utmost respect if the traditions of the Fraternity are to be observed.
It is to the Master, not to the man sitting as the Master, that you offer a salute when you enter or retire from Lodge. Like any other salute, this is done courteously as if you mean it. Offering a salute as if you were in a hurry, too lazy to properly make it, or bored with making it is rude. No Mason sits while speaking, whether he addresses an officer or another brother. During the refreshment, the Master relinquishes the gavel to the Junior Warden in the South, which becomes, for the time being, constructively the East. All that has been said about the respect due the Master in the East applies now to the Junior Warden in the South.
One does not talk in a building of worship during services as that time and place are not for social conversation; it is for worship and learning the lesson of the day. Similarly, a good Mason does not talk during the conferring of a degree. The lodge room is then a Temple of the Great Architect of the Universe, with the brethren working and doing their best. Good manners as well as reverence dictate silence and attention during the work. All involved in the degree cannot do their best if distracted by conversations. Plus, the irreverence is rude to the candidates.
There is a special lodge courtesy as one speaks to the Master. The Master is the lodge. One does not turn one’s back on him to address the lodge without permission. One stands when addressing the chair and gives the appropriate sign. Two brethren on their feet at the same time, arguing over a motion, facing each other and ignoring the Master is not permitted and failure to obey the gavel at once is a grave discourtesy.
Finally, the Master is all powerful in the lodge. He can hear or refuse to hear any motion. He can rule any brother out of order on any subject at any time. He can refuse to recognize a brother. In the lodge, the gavel, the emblem of authority, is supreme. When a brother is gaveled down, he should obey immediately. It is very bad manners to do otherwise and comes close to crossing the line between bad manners and possibly committing a Masonic offense.
Lodge courtesies, like all courtesies found outside of Freemasonry, are founded wholly in the Golden Rule. They allow for a smooth path to conduct all Lodge activities. Let’s not only reaquaint ourselves with these conventions but also teach our newest members their existence and meanings.
Brian K. Mandel, WM