mardi 23 juin 2009

The Ingredients of a Masonic Degree

There are a lot of places to learn about Masonic ritual. One can experience it first hand (which is the recommended course, in my opinion), or read an exposure of the ritual either in print or on the Internet. Sometimes people are curious what is involved, but don't want to read something so shady to find out. Well, this is the right place! Here's an overview of what a Masonic Degree entails, without spoiling the experience or giving away any secrets. I will give an outline first, then details.
  1. Prologue
  2. Preparation
  3. Reception
  4. Circumambulation and Scripture Reading
  5. Approaching the Altar
  6. Obligation
  7. Instruction
  8. Apron
  9. Working Tools
  10. Return and Revestment

  11. Drama
  12. Lecture
  13. Charge
This list of events constitutes the degree proper. There are also opening and closing ceremonies that bookend the degree, with the potential for Lodge business to be conducted either after the opening ceremonies or before the closing ceremonies. Now for the details:

1. Prologue

In the Three Symbolic Degrees, the Prologue is found in the Entered Apprentice Degree and consists of a series of questions propounded to the candidate who has been patiently waiting during the opening ceremonies. These questions establish the man's eligibility to proceed with the degree. In York Rite's Chapter and Council the Prologue of a Degree sometimes takes on a dramatic character of its own, serving a purpose similar to "Act I" of a three-act play.

2. Preparation

The candidate is changed into certain symbolic clothing and/or given some basic instructions. He is then led to the door of the Lodge where he knocks to gain admission.

3. Reception

After some questions at the door to establish the purpose of the alarm, and the qualifications of the candidate, he is admitted and "received" into the Lodge by a symbolic act accompanied by a short explanation of this symbolism, which varies in each degree.

4. Circumambulation and Scripture Reading

Depending on the degree, and particularly in the Entered Apprentice Degree, an additional prayer may be offered at this point (in addition to the one at opening.) Next, the candidate is led clockwise around the Lodge a certain number of times, while a passage of Scripture is recited appropriate to the degree being conferred.

5. Approaching the Altar

After more questions with the Junior Warden, Senior Warden, and Worshipful Master, the candidate is conducted to the altar where he will receive his obligation.

6. Obligation

This is the heart of the degree. It is what makes the man a Mason. The candidate is informed that his Masonic obligation can never conflict with his duty to God, to his country, his neighbor or himself. He is also given the opportunity to "back out" at this point, if unwilling to proceed. Once he proceeds, he takes the full obligation, which varies in each degree.

7. Instruction

Now that he is obligated, the Brother learns the secrets pertaining to the degree to which he has just attained. These secrets are much discussed elsewhere, and I can only say with propriety that they typically consist of a password, a grip ("secret handshake") and a couple of signs. His knowledge of these signs is then demonstrated to the Junior Warden, Senior Warden, and Worshipful Master.

8. Apron

The candidate is given an Apron and/or taught how to wear his existing one, according to his particular degree. A short history or explanation of the symbolism of the Apron is given.

9. Working Tools

Now that he is wearing his Apron properly, the Brother is ready to be presented with the Working Tools of the degree. These are regular builder's tools with which the world is already acquainted, but they are presented with an explanation of their moral symbolism. For example, the plumb-line teaches us to walk uprightly before God and man.

10. Return and Revestment

The Brother is conducted out of the Lodge, where he changes back into his ordinary clothing (continuing to wear the Apron, however, as taught in the degree) and he is returned to the Lodge room.

11. Drama

The drama varies greatly with each degree. For the Entered Apprentice, it is nothing more than a short admonition from the Master (we're talking two sentences.) For the Fellow-craft the Drama is integrated with the Lecture itself (which will be explained next). For the Master Mason Degree, and many of the York Rite Degrees, it is an elaborate and beautiful performance in which the Candidate takes an active role (with his conductor guiding him and sometimes speaking on his behalf.) The drama section of the degree is often done in costume with great effect. If the obligation (although short in duration) is the main course of the Degree, the drama is like a fine dessert, without which the meal would be incomplete.

12. Lecture

The lecture recounts the ceremonies of the degree which have been performed, endeavoring to explain some of their meaning and inspiring contemplation upon the rites and symbols by the candidate. It often contains a commentary of philosophical and moral value, along with additional historic material pertaining to the degree. These Lectures can range from a half hour to an hour long and are, today, memorized word-for-word (quite an impressive feat!) A portion of this lecture includes a Question and Answer examination about what the candidate has passed through and a test of his knowledge of the passwords, grips, and so forth. This portion of the lecture becomes the Candidate's duty to learn and present before the Lodge before he may be advanced to the next degree.

13. Charge

The charge is a short statement given to the Mason outlining the particular type of moral behavior and refinements of character expected by a Brother of this degree. (A historical side note: After reading The New Masonic Trestle-board, a product of the National Masonic Convention of 1843 held in Baltimore, I believe all the charges used in the USA were written wholly by brother Thomas Smith Webb, which accounts for the slightly different ring to their vocabulary as compared to the rest of the degree work and lectures.)

I hope this post has been enjoyable. I'm also curious how accurately it reflects the order of the degree work as it is conducted by other Masons around the world.


English Rite Degrees

1. Entered Apprentice
2. Fellow Craft

3. Master Mason

Capitular Degrees

Mark Master -
The work on the temple continues. Amplifying the Fellowcraft Degree, we are taught that the knowledge we received there can be employed most usefully and judiciously for our honor and the profit of others. A beautiful lesson is exemplified, inculcating the truth that although we are often misunderstood, underrated and traduced, there is ONE who will make the rejected stone the head of the corner.

Past Master -
This Degree begins the preparation for the Royal Arch, which we are told was removed from the Symbolic Degrees of which it once was part, to reserve it for the more earnest seeker of more Light in Masonry. Originally only Past Masters of Lodges were admitted to the sublime secrets of the Royal Arch. This meant that very few could receive them. The Degree of Past Master (Virtual) teaches the candidate that he must first learn to obey before he can rule, and to govern himself before he can govern others.

Most Excellent Master -
This is a significant Degree in Ancient Craft Masonry. King Solomon's Temple, which was begun so auspiciously and halted so dramatically in the Third Degree, is completed amid much rejoicing and great splendor. The labors of the Craft are given the blessing of the Lord, who descended as fire from heaven. King Solomon, in his gratitude, received and acknowledged them Most Excellent Masters, empowered to travel and receive Master's Wages, and charged them with the responsibility of sharing their Masonic Light and Knowledge with those less informed.

Royal Ark Mariner -
This degree is set in the time of Noah and his sons, and relates events prior to, during, and after the Flood. The degree is interesting because much of it is set in unrhymed meter, and because axes are used in place of gavels and undressed aprons for lambskin ones. The candidate receives the customary obligation, signs, words and a lecture. The lesson taught is one of trusting in God's goodness and mercy. Earlier in AMD history, separate Lodges of Royal Ark Mariners were attached, or "moored", to a particular Council, but this is no longer practiced.

crypticrite_small.gif (3137 bytes)
Cryptic Rite degrees
[ based on the building of King Solomon's Temple ]

Royal Master -
This Degree takes us backward in time to a day prior to the death of the builder, who is again the central character. He imparts sublime teachings of a useful labor on earth to the candidate and gives him instruction as to the preservation of our valuable secrets. This is one of the most beautiful Degrees in all Masonry. Its lessons are so impressive that they are seldom forgotten. It is especially illustrative of the third and seventh Degrees.

Select Master -
Historically, this Degree occurs also prior to the third Degree, and deals with incidents that occurred at the building of the first Temple. It is closely connected with the Royal Arch Degree and affords the explanation needed for its perfect understanding. It is highly dramatic.

Super Excellent Master -
This Degree refers to circumstances and incidents during the siege of Jerusalem and the final destruction of the Temple. The work is dramatic and most impressive. This work completes the Circle of Perfection of Ancient Craft Masonry, but to the follower of Christ there is a definite need and desire for the application of these impressive lessons and beautiful ceremonies to his way of life. To fulfill this need we have the Commandery -- Knights Templar.

ram_small.gif (2781 bytes)
Holy Royal Arch

Royal Arch Mason
In this Degree we find the completion of the Master's Degree and the Recovery of the Word. After the death of King Solomon, his magnificent Temple was destroyed and the Israelites carried away as captives to Babylon, where they lived for about 70 years. Here, many acquired considerable wealth and attained high rank and influence in the Chaldean government. However, when liberated by King Cyrus, many of them returned to Jerusalem and began rebuilding the Temple. While this work was going on and the rubbish of the ruins of the first Temple was being cleared away, many interesting and valuable discoveries were made, chief of which was the recovery of the Lost Word. With the recover of that which was lost, it would seem to the novitiate that his search for Light was ended. However, in order that he might better acquire the lessons, a seemingly inverse movement of the Degrees, historically, is set up

Holy Royal Arch Knight Templar Priest

Red Cross of Constantine


Masonry's Most Secret Degree

I find it interesting that Masonry's best kept secret might be the "Royal Arch Widow's Degree", a humorous side-degree unofficially worked by some Royal Arch Chapters.

A couple of well-crafted Google searches can land the full text of nearly any Masonic degree, exposed somewhere online, perhaps not in the format worked today or in a jurisdiction near you, but usually at least something shows up. This is not the case for the Royal Arch Widow's Degree. I don't know if this is good, bad, or weird. Of all the secrets Masonry has, this one seems the least apt to be a real secret, and the Brethren who perform it aren't under any obligation to keep it so. Maybe its insignificance keeps it from being of any interest to the Anti-Masonic crowd? But, this really all doesn't matter... I guess what really intrigues me about this is that the Internet doesn't have everything on it. We tend to think we have all information at our fingertips, but it really isn't the case. Maybe there are a whole slew of other degrees, perhaps authentic, serious ones, that are not available at all online? So, I guess the mysteries offered by the world's various fraternal orders cannot be fully penetrated by the Internet after all, and the only way to gain what they have to offer is to be initiated.

Mark Master Mason ou Homme de Marque

« Au vainqueur je donnerai de la manne cachée, je lui donnerai une pierre blanche, et, gravé sur la pierre, un nom nouveau que personne ne connaît sinon qui le reçoit. »

Apo. 2, v.17

lapidem quem reprobaverunt aedificantes hic factus est in caput anguli

psaume 117:22

On dit la Maçonnerie de Marque très ancienne, beaucoup plus, même que le Rite de Style Emulation sur lequel elle vient se greffer. Un procès-verbal de Tenue de Maîtres Maçons de Marque daté de 1642 repose aux archives de la Loge de Kilwinning. Cependant, il convient de rester prudent car ce texte tout autant que la plupart des anciens documents qui sont parvenus jusqu'à nos jours, parlent de marques de compagnons, de signes d'ouvriers comparables à des signatures, mais aucun ne donne quelque information que ce soit sur ce qui pourrait être plus convenu de nommer "Grade de la Pierre de Faîte". Alors la question reste de savoir si le thésaurus qui s'y rattache est un rajout à la pratique des deux premiers degrés ou bien un parcours maçonnique dans sa complétude.

Cette Maçonnerie, dont la seule origine certaine est qu'elle vient des Amériques et particulièrement de l'actuelle province du Québec, s'est répandue en Irlande et en Angleterre, pays dans lequel elle s'est constituée en Grande Loge de Marque en 1856, laquelle est toujours en activité aujourd'hui.

Ce degré est une continuation de l'ancien grade opératif de Compagnon (à l'origine, le grade de Compagnon était le dernier degré initiatique, l'appellation de Maître étant réservée uniquement au Maître ou Vénérable qui présidait la Loge). Son enseignement met l'accent sur la fameuse « pierre angulaire » rejetée par les bâtisseurs et qui est devenue la pierre d'angle maîtresse de l'œuvre. Sur cette pierre qui n'est autre que la clé de voûte de l'édifice, le Mark Mason inscrit sa « marque ».

La cérémonie de réception d'un nouveau Maître maçon au sein d'une Loge de Maîtres Maçons de Marque présente aujourd'hui, la particularité de regrouper deux anciens rites, celui d'Homme de Marque (Mark Man) et celui de Maître de Marque (Mark Master Mason). Les rituels anciens ont souvent été remaniés, mais ils conservent encore un certain nombres d'éléments que l'on pourrait qualifier d'explicatif quant au déroulement particulier des cérémonies de Loges bleues de différents rites.

De nos jours, lorsque les membres d'une loge de marque se sont assurés que leur candidat pour le Degré De marque a atteint le statut de Maître Maçon d'une Loge bleue, on lui donnera connaissance de l'antiquité de la pratique qu'il va être amené à connaître. La coutume ancienne veut qu'un Compagnon tailleur de pierre soit invité à choisir une Marque qui lui sera propre et qu'il gardera toujours come sa signature personnelle. Cette marque devra être différente de toutes autres employées par les membres de la Loge, de telle manière que son travail puisse être reconnu comme siens par les officiers que l'on nomme Inspecteurs. On l'informera aussi que c'est cette marque qu'il devra présenter au guichet tenu par le Premier Surveillant, à l'Ouest de la Loge, là où il percevra son salaire d'Homme de Marque

S'il constate qu'il n'a reçu aucune marque distinctive de sa Loge bleue comme c'est, bien entendu, le cas pour les Loges Ecossaise, il se rendra auprès du Gardien du Registre de Marque et déposera sa marque distinctive dans le Livre. Elle sera alors présentée au Vénérable Maître afin de recevoir son approbation. Durant les cérémonies modernes de la Marque, cette partie de la réception qui confère le statut d'Homme de Marque est souvent exécutée trop promptement et nous oublions tout aussi souvent de quelle manière le Vénérable Maître accueille le nouveau Compagnon : « J'admire le savoir faire dont vous faites preuve à l'exécution de votre travail et c'est la raison pour laquelle je vous nomme Homme de Marque et vous confie la marque qui confirmera votre statut et vous permettra de recevoir votre salaire. » Cette distinction confère à celui qui est déjà Maître Maçon, la reconnaissance de ses qualités. Elle ne lui permet pas de disposer de poste ou de fonction particulière au sein de la Loge Bleue, néanmoins, à l'origine, à l'époque où les distinctions de métier pouvaient être regardées comme des avancement, le fait d'être reconnu et de disposer d'une marque, offrait un avantage certain en matière de rémunération. Cette distinction, aujourd'hui ne représente pas plus que le fait de recevoir un nouveau maître dans un cadre intermédiaire, une nouvelle étape maçonnique, c'est la raison pour laquelle le rituel relatif à l'accession au grade d'Homme de Marque s'effectue, aujourd'hui, dans la même cérémonie que l'élévation à l'honorable degré de Maître de Marque. Ce mode de réception est l'héritage de l'ancienne forme de la maçonnerie de la Marque et le fait de garder intacte une partie de la rituélie concernant l'élévation au gage tout autant que la gestuelle du guichet se présente comme une explication des termes de la clôture des travaux des Loge Bleues. A savoir que les Frères reçoivent leur salaire au pied de la Colonne du midi et qu'ils en retirent profit et joie. On peut, d'ailleurs constater l'illustration de ces propos sur les anciens tableaux de Loge de Maître Maçons de Marque sur lesquels ont peut observer l'illustration des deux degré composant la marque, à savoir le guichet où l'Homme de Marque vient percevoir son salaire et les trois pierres taillées du Maître de marque avec la référence aux outils correspondants et aux mots de passe.

Un tailleur de pierre qui recevait sa marque personnelle, se voyait qualifié d'artisan, voire de Maître ou de Compagnon (ce qui était le plus fréquent) de métier. Le Maçon de cette catégorie, c'est-à-dire, doté d'une certaine indépendance, n'appartenait plus, en tant que tel à la Loge mais devenait un maçon libre qui voyageait de Loge en Loge. On reconnaît là, encore une fois une tradition des maçons de Loges bleues dans lesquelles les Compagnons doivent voyager afin de parfaire leurs connaissances en l'art de maçonnerie. Cette étape pratique vers l'indépendance du maçon, sa qualité de « maçon libre » est probablement l'une des raisons qui présida à sa conservation durant les années 1750, à l'époque de la refondation du degré de Mark Master par Thomas Dunkerley, comme d'un usage très ancien. Cette pratique de l'Homme de Marque est assez déterminante dans l'histoire de la franc-maçonnerie dans la mesure où ce degré fait directement référence au grade de Compagnon. Cette référence directe et son adjonction à un nouveau degré de Maître permet de comprendre pourquoi il ne s'agit pas d'un « Haut Grade » en tant que tel, mais bien d'une voie parallèle, un Side Degree dont les enseignements viendraient compléter celui des Loges Bleues. En donnant une marque propre à chaque compagnon, on finissait son parcours et l'introduisait dans une fonction complémentaire, une progression de métier qui confirmait son savoir faire sans pour autant lui conférer le grade de Maître. Ils pouvaient néanmoins signer leur ouvrage et c'est pourquoi on ne les nommait plus Compagnons, mais « Compagnons marqués » ou Hommes de Marque.

Les Loges bleues terminent leurs travaux sur la remise du salaire et cet instant particulier, en référence à l'Apocalypse de Saint jean, détermine de qui doit le recevoir et de qui doit le donner car il est dit :« je lui donnerai une pierre blanche, et, gravé sur la pierre, un nom nouveau que personne ne connaît sinon qui le reçoit. », ainsi, le Vénérable demandera au Premier Surveillant de s'assurer que les travaux sont fermés et chacun passera devant la Colonne, les Apprentis, ne reçoivent pas de Salaire, les Maître les donne. « J'ai constaté, Vénérable Maître, que les Compagnons se déclarent satisfaits. » Néanmoins, comme je l'ai dit, cette qualification donnait à l'homme de marque un statut particulier assez différent de celui de simple compagnon. En effet, l'élévation comportait le récit d'un mythe propre au grade. Le matin du jour où fut posée la pierre de fondation du Temple de Jérusalem, sous la présidence du Roi Salomon, une pierre précieuse tomba accidentellement de la couronne royale. Elle fut trouvée et ramassée par le Premier Maître de l'Ordre des Hommes de la Marque qui la rendit au roi qui la replaça sur son front. Cette pierre précieuse portait le nom Imprononçable que l'on suppose ainsi avoir été marqué sur la couronne royale, comme il avait déjà été gravé sur la mitre du Grand Prêtre Aaron

« Tu feras une fleur d'or pur et tu y graveras en intaille, comme un sceau : Consacré à Jehovah ; » Exode, 28 ; 36 »

Ensuite, lors de la construction du Temple de Salomon, une pierre d'angle eut été aillée par un apprenti très doué, mais elle fut dérobée par des Compagnons jaloux.

On demande au candidat de la rechercher il la retrouve et il constate qu'elle porte, gravé, le nom Imprononçable. Nous ne sommes pas encore dans le développement d'une symbolique d'équilibre de construction mais, on voit bien, ici, la relation avec le joyau tombé de la Couronne de Salomon, mais aussi du Nom caché gravé sur la pierre blanche de l'Apocalypse tout autant que l'identification du joyau frontal de Salomon avec la pierre de voûte qui soutient l'édifice et qui sera la clef du récit mythique des Maîtres de Marque. Il ne nous aura pas échappé que certains rites de Loges Bleues précisent, dans le psychodrame du troisième Grade, qu'un bijou reposait sur le corps d'Hiram, bijou sur lequel était gravé le Nom.

Bref, on peut se demander si, au XVIIIème siècle, avant que le développement anarchique des Hauts Grades n'emporte les détails de la Légende vers des horizons parfois abscons et dont le nombre et les relations restent encore aujourd'hui impossibles à déterminer, un système en relation avec l'ancienne maçonnerie de métier n'avait pas été mis en place sous la forme de deux étapes complémentaires au compagnonnage et à la Maîtrise.

Aujourd'hui nous avons réduit ces cérémonies en une seule mais son développement se déroule encore par étape de l'Homme au Maître sans que soit perdue les particularités qui offrent les clefs des Loges bleues.


dimanche 14 juin 2009

When the Pope becomes the chaplain of Masonry

Los Angeles Times, April 19, 2008

On April 18, 2008, Benedict XVI went to the United Nations headquarters to officially commemorate the 60th anniversary of the promulgation of the Declaration of Human Rights. As anyone knows, this declaration closely follows the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of the French Revolution, inspired by the principles of the Enlightenment, which professes a system called Deism, a belief in a vague "god."

In his speech Benedict could not have been more admirative of this Masonic document. Indeed, he affirmed, "It is evident that the rights recognized and expounded in the Declaration apply to everyone by virtue of the common origin of the person, who remains the high-point of God's creative design for the world and for history." Therefore, the Pope conferred a kind of divine mission to this Declaration.

His eulogies of the revolutionary ideals were not limited to the Declaration. The institution of the UN itself, an organ to accomplish the goals of the Universal Republic dreamed of by Freemasonry, were also the object of his warm praise. He emphatically stated: "The United Nations embodies the aspiration for a greater degree of international ordering, inspired and governed by the principle of subsidiarity, and therefore capable of responding to the demands of the human family by means of binding international rules and structures capable of harmonizing the day-to-day unfolding of the lives of peoples."

Further on, he declared: "My presence in this Assembly is a sign of esteem for the United Nations, and it is intended to express the hope that the Organization will increasingly serve as a sign of unity between States and an instrument of service to the entire human family."

He also gave an account of the inter-confessional efforts of the Conciliar Church to build a Panreligion as a collaboration that should be placed under the hegemony of the UN. He said: "The United Nations can count on the results of the dialogue between religions, and can draw fruit from the willingness of believers to place their experiences at the service of the common good. Their task is to propose a vision of faith not in terms of intolerance, discrimination and conflict, but in terms of complete respect for truth, coexistence, rights and reconciliation."

He ended his speech by declaring the Holy See itself a type of subordinate of the UN when he affirmed: "The Holy See has always had a place at the assemblies of the Nations, thereby manifesting its specific character as a subject in the international domain ... The United Nations remains a privileged setting in which the Church is committed to contributing her experience in humanity ... and placing it at the disposal of all members of the international community."

It is not difficult to see that Benedict XVI took upon himself the role of a chaplain of the UN, who supports its actions wholeheartedly. A chaplain of the UN is in effect the same as to say, a chaplain of Masonry.

Below first row, he blesses a flag of the UN that was damaged by a car bomb in Iraq. Second row, during his speech. Third row, an overview of the assembly hall with Benedict at the podium. Last row, at right, he poses with the president and the secretary of the UN in turn.