A set form or system is used in the opening of a Lodge or indeed in any other of the ceremonies. Methodical in the fullest sense of the word is the manner of conducting Masonic work, and the opening of a Lodge is simple, direct and all take part. While the parts played in the opening by each of the members and officers are not the same in kind or in scope yet the fact that there is uniformity year in and year out in each jurisdiction and that all in some way participate gives the growing weight of custom and tradition that impresses every member as well as by his co-operation giving him the first principles at every communication of team work, and the latter sentiment is very important to the success of Masonry.
There is nothing unusual in a religious body having a uniform ritual for its opening or closing ceremonies. Every church service impresses the spectator. It is equally so in legislative organizations as well as in the field of business. The directors of a commercial or industrial institution meet and start their business by clearly defined means and methods because time is saved by such systematic labors and the mere formality carries into speedy and approved effect the orderly flow of events.
Law courts continue the same sequence of acts. Entrance of the judges is marked by a very serious and ceremonial reception by the minor officials. Phrases of an oldtime flavor and quaintness are employed. These are but the machinery of the work but they do indeed add to the dignity of the proceedings.
So of old it was with the followers of the ancient mysteries. Little is known of the details of the ritual. Here and there we get hints of what was done. Truly these are so suggestive in many respects that we can easily guess at the indebtedness of our fraternity to the practices of the members engaged in the mysteries.
PURGING THE LODGE
First of all we may employ the old term, "Purging the Lodge." Back still further in the ages we have the spectacle of the Herald in the mysteries announcing that all those not by right entitled to remain should go. Both in Greece and Rome a like ritualistic sentence was used. This is often found translated into English as "Depart, depart, ye profane." But the word "profane" might almost if not entirely be given as "unclean" or "unsanctified." As the preliminary act in the mysteries was to perform some ceremony of symbolic and literal or actual cleansing of the candidate, it would not be lacking in exactness to speak of the uninitiated as the "unclean."
The several steps in opening the Lodge may in brief be stated. Upon the Worshipful Master is the responsibility of starting the Lodge labors. While the by-laws of the Lodge usually state when is the precise time for the beginning of the opening ceremony, it is like most other incidents of Lodge work, entirely for the presiding officer to make the actual start. His formal announcement being made to that effect, the brethren take due notice of the instruction and assume the essential Masonic clothing with whatever jewels of office that any are entitled to wear. This done they all proceed to their several stations with due dignity and dispatch.
Now comes the purging of the Lodge, the separation from those properly entitled to remain of those not so qualified. We look to the West for care of the most stringent character in performing this duty. The wise Senior Warden will not wait idly until the moment has actually arrived for making an announcement upon this point. For some time prior to the opening of the Lodge he will circulate industriously among the assembled brethren, fully acquainting himself with all whose faces are strange to him. Nothing can be more aggravating than the mortifying experience of being at the last moment obliged to say that a certain brother is unknown and then find him perhaps to be a member of that very lodge whose attendance has been infrequent for perhaps many years.
Nor should the brethren ever "take a chance." There is the well known rule that to vouch properly for the presence of anyone you must have sat in lodge with him. This is playing safe. It will never leave you with any uneasy feeling that you have done less than your plain duty. Far better that many of the worthy are held back for a searching examination by an investigating committee than that any of the unworthy should pass by into the sacred halls. When a brother admits he thinks a brother or visitor is a Mason he should be firmly but of course courteously informed that "thinking" is not sufficient. He must know and he cannot know too positively. Satisfied that everyone has a perfect and unquestionable right to be present, there is next undertaken due inquiry of the passages to the Lodge and the manner of their protection and care. Officers are placed where all approaching persons are seen and stopped before they can gain improper sight or entrance of the Lodge. From time to time as the ceremonies require the guardians of the entrances are appropriately instructed as to the conditions prevailing in the Lodge and how and when admission may be granted by the presiding officer.
All the officers satisfy the Worshipful Master and through him all the other brethren that they are fully informed as to their duties and when the Master is thoroughly convinced that each officer is properly placed and fully instructed as to what he may be called upon to do, the presiding officer then makes due announcement of his purpose in the proceedings. Upon this he demands of the assembled brethren to join in certain ceremonies which testify to the eye of each of those present his own individual ability and that of every one of his neighbors that he has a knowledge of the degree in which the Lodge is to be opened and that he is in accord with what is being done.
At the point when all the technical essentials of secrecy are obtained for the subsequent ceremonies, when all the avenues of approach have been guarded, when critical search and inquiry have been made about the Masonic qualifications of all those present, when all the officers have been placed precisely where they belong and when they are fully made known to the assembled brethren as duly informed about their duties, and when formal statement has been given from the East, and all the brethren have combined in that ceremony that exhibits so well the unity and capability in a bit of Masonic ritual, then comes the appropriate moment for inviting the blessing. Here indeed is the beginning of an important undertaking and we all rightly hold that we ought then to reverently seek in all our doings the favor of Almighty God. To this devout and dutiful invocation the brethren respond by a common sentiment expressed in an oldtime phrase well known to all Masons.
Now the Lodge is announced as duly opened and the precise manner of the opening, whether in the one or the other of the degrees, is duly communicated to the officers charged with the care of the entrance and is by them told to the visitors who arrive after the Lodge has been opened. With this information the expert Freemason is enabled to enter with decorum and in perfect good taste and accuracy, fulfilling in every way the truly Masonic requirements.
From of old it has been the practice that the Worshipful Master in opening his Lodge shall give a lecture or a part of one. Careful observers of the ceremonies will see how closely this has been followed. It will also suggest to the attentive brother how the brethren of old employed their time when candidates were few and far between and when the ceremonies might with propriety be lengthened. Then the lectures were doubtless freely used at the opening and it is equally probable that all the brethren present took a more lively and thorough part in the proceeding than now. These are samples of the differences between the old practices and the new about which there is much room for wide variation of opinion.
Let not the thoughtful brother overlook the fact that the opening ceremony has direct reference to the particular degree which it precedes. This aptness of the introduction paves the way to a better understanding of what is to be done. It is another reminder of the coherence of Masonic labors, that each fits as the links in a chain, contributing its strength and service to bind the whole into a unity, each for all and all for each, typical of the unit part of Freemasonry, the unit being the individual Mason.
CLOSING THE LODGE
There is but one officer to determine when the Lodge shall be closed, and he is the Worshipful Master. From his action there is no appeal. He is not as the Chairman of a Committee, and indeed there is about Lodge work nothing that corresponds to the Committee of the Whole with which we are all familiar in legislative and other bodies. There is no moving of the previous question or any similar parliamentary trick to bring things to a focus. Debate ceases when the Master rises in his place. Neither is there appeal from his decisions on the floor of the Lodge. He has no peers among those present. You may impeach him but not by any appeal in the usual legislative style from the decision of the chair. All that you can do is to carry your grievance, if you have one against the Worshipful Master, to the Grand Lodge. There and there only have you redress if he prove unmindful of your demands.
Thus it comes at the moment when the lodge labors apparently ended, the Master alone determines the proper moment to act. True, he does invite as a usual thing an expression of opinion from the officers and the members as to the possibility of anything having been left undone that should be done. The officers respond, as do any of the remaining brethren who have anything to offer, and then the Master acts according to his best judgment. He neither permits nor announces anything that savors of an adjournment. When he closes the Lodge he does not reopen it in the same degree to rectify some error, a lodge opened and closed for a definite purpose is for that date permanently closed.
Having determined to close, there are like ceremonious steps to be taken in duly closing the lodge. These so closely resemble the opening that little need be said as to their order of events. There are Masters who by impatience to get things over are tempted to shorten the ceremony in one degree or another but this is usually a mistake. Particularly is it objectional to shorten any ceremony of closing or opening a degree if a young member or a candidate having but one or two of the degrees be in attendance. For his sake at least let the temptation be resisted.
For all of us the proceedings will be the better if we see the labors done fully, nothing overlooked and there will be nothing Masonically overthrown. Better save the time elsewhere by not wasting any. See that the labors do not drag, that nothing interferes or blocks, that everything moves serenely and smoothly without the slightest friction or excitement or fuss. Thus the last benediction invoked of the Great Architect upon the gathering around the altar will be indeed a fitting climax to the worthy work of the day.
In many of the jurisdictions there is a neatly appropriate allusion in the closing of the duties of a Mason as symbolized by the jewels worn in the East, West and South. Here too is an appropriate bit of symbolism that might well be universal. The way that we should meet each other and act toward each other and how we should part from our brethren are lessons that cannot be impressed too vividly and thoroughly upon our minds. No criticism is intended of those who do not use this symbolic teaching and it is only here alluded to because of the effective manner that it has been seen to impress most Masons who have witnessed it. The action is so suited to the word that it is difficult for a brother accustomed to the ceremony to avoid giving it in full even when in Lodges that do not employ the ceremony.
CALLING OFF AND ON
"Calling off the Lodge" is a phrase, and a very old one, that broadly speaking refers to the announcement of a recess. Of old it was not at all rare to halt the proceedings at any opportune moment and in the lodge room or any convenient place enjoy refreshment or the greater formality of a banquet as the case might be. An old author familiar with the work of a hundred or more years ago says of the custom: "At a certain hour of the evening, with certain ceremonies, the lodge was called from labor to refreshment, when the brethren enjoyed themselves with decent merriment." With us the custom prevails of ending the work of the day with the banquet though it is not rare to find a city Lodge in these days of high pressure in ritualistic labors to call a communication early in the afternoon, have dinner about six o'clock and then continue the work of conferring degrees.
Grand Lodges are different from other Lodges in that the method of calling on and off from day to day is not uncommon. Neither is it rare for Grand Lodges to adjourn from day to day or for even longer periods. It is therefore not wise to assume that the rules governing the one class of bodies apply equally in detail to the others.
There are at the stations of the Senior and Junior Wardens certain columns. These have a particular usefulness when the lodge is called from labor to refreshment or from refreshment to labor. The brethren are familiar with their use and it need not be detailed. There is a strong likelihood that these columns have had of old a somewhat different appearance and usefulness than at present. Now they are columns symbolic of the qualities represented by the respective officers before whom they stand. They have also the designation of one or other of the orders of architecture. All this is as explained in the lectures and monitorial instruction.
It is also probable that the columns are a survival of the gnomens of primitive sun-dials such as would, be prepared by the brother thrusting a stick into the ground and relying upon its shadow to tell the time and the duties therefor of the day. Again it is well to suggest to the thoughtful brother that he attend to the ritual of the respective officers in the recital of their proper province and then determine for himself what were all the functions of the columns in the West and South in the days of yore.
It is proper to state that while the current phrases are "Called Off" or "Called On" as the case may be, yet the sentences of which these should be parts are frequently heard as "Called from," etc.
"Due" simply means what should be done. Lodges are opened in due form when the proper ceremonies are performed by at least the requisite number of qualified Freemasons. Due form means that the right thing has been done in the right way by the right persons. It is in brief a Masonic expression of legal fitness. Truly in Masonry we do stand for having all things done at least decently and in order. Then they are done in due form.
The rite of dedication is of the utmost antiquity. Ceremonials of dedications have been performed by all peoples on such occasions as putting altars or temples or other places to sacred uses. The tabernacle was consecrated and dedicated by Moses. So also did Solomon with the first Temple. When the returning exiles came out of their captivity and rebuilt the Temple of the Lord the memories of Babylon quenched not their love for a profound gift of the fruit of their labor to the exclusive service of their God.
So therefore is a Masonic Temple by mystic rites, in serious imitation of these pious and ancient examples earnestly and religiously consecrated to the sacred purposes for which it has been constructed and completed by its builders. Thus it is set apart for a holy object, the vigorous and thorough cultivation of the several tenets of a Mason's profession. Hereby does it therefore become to the conscientious Mason invested with a peculiar reverence, a place to be trod as holy ground.
At the ceremony it is planned to conduct the proceedings in ample form, all the ritualistic positions of the officers being filled by the persons elected to them or such others of the fraternity as may be appointed. The ancient sacrifice of the poured oil, corn and wine is performed. The entire ceremonial differs but slightly in the various jurisdictions so far as the present writer has had an opportunity to examine the methods.
In connection with the dedication of Masonic Halls it is proper here to state that the authorities do not usually favor the joint use of the rooms with any other body not recognized as Masonic or closely affiliated with Masonry. The complete details of this rule are not uniform in all jurisdictions and have been changed even in the same jurisdiction. It has happened that for some reason or another, as in the case of a Masonic Temple being destroyed by fire, there has been no other local opportunity to meet for the brethren unless they occupied a room temporarily that was also used by the members of some other organization. In such case the method is to secure an emergency order from the Grand Master or his representative, this waiver of the law's strict provisions being known as a "dispensation." Such release is void as soon as conditions change and the lodge is enabled to again comply with the letter of the law.
The installation of the officers of a lodge is required to be performed within a certain time after election. This period is a matter of Grand Lodge enactment. One code of laws stipulates that the installation shall take place not more than sixty days after election. Sometimes it is made a public ceremony. In such cases the lodge is opened and closed in ritualistic form in an adjacent room, or before the audience arrives the lodge is opened and closed after the visitors depart.
An old custom that is still retained is that the retiring Master installs his successor and then the installed Master in turn installs his officers. It has happened that the retiring Master installs all the officers but this only occurs where the installed Master waives his right to install his own officers.
In many jurisdictions, prior to the installation of the Master, it is necessary that he shall have been invested with the Past Master's degree which can only be conferred by not less than three Past Masters.
"Installed" has the same significance as to be seated; placed in the chair of authority.
Of the order of public processions it is evident that roughly the order of the brethren is for the Tyler and Stewards to head the line in that way and then come the Master Masons followed by the rest of the officers according to their place in the list and concluding with the Past Masters and then the Master. Of course if the ceremony is a cornerstone laying, then the Grand Lodge officers follow the Lodge officers but adopt the same order of rotation in office, the lowest in rank coming first.
The word "refreshment" does not to a Mason have the same meaning as to those outside the fraternity. When the labor of the lodge halts by order, the lodge is at refreshment. Usually the stop is short, merely as a rule for the purpose of taking up a different line of work. Sometimes as already intimated a banquet may intervene between the opening and closing of a lodge and the call to refreshment then probably becomes what it may have actually been to our ancient brethren of the operative craft, a time for food and drink, the hour of rest and repast.
"Stated" or "regular" meetings, or communications, are those specified by the laws of the governing body as the minimum. It is sometimes required that a lodge shall hold no fewer than twelve meetings a year. Most lodges meet by their rules twice that number. Whatever the number specified may be are the "Stated" meetings. "Special" or "called" meetings are additional meetings to the "Stated." These may be called for the purposes of conducting funerals or conferring degrees. Nothing but the object for which the meeting was originally called is permitted to be done at the "Special" communication of a lodge.
In addition to the topics suggested in the sub-heads in the above article, see the following--all in Mackey's Encyclopedia:
Adjournment Adoption, Masonic Ample form Annual Communication Baptism, Masonic Burial Center, Opening on the Chair, Passing the Communication Cornerstone Dedication of a Lodge Eulogy Labor Meet on the Level Public Ceremonies Quarterly Communication