Why Ritual?

Bro. Jon Sage

 

Masonry has broadly been defined as a system of morality, veiled in allegory. Although this might be all-encompassing of what our Craft is concerned with, it does not explain how the Craft goes about implementing it. To implement a system of any kind, let alone a system of philosophic truths, or rather, apparent truths, requires more than one or two lectures at the end of an initiation or other rite of passage. A system implies the use of motions, which work toward a common goal. In this way, Ritual is the necessary and working parts of the system that we know as speculative Masonry.EA tracing board

Webster defines Ritual as a “set form for rites”, with rites being explained as a “ceremonial act” [1]. Macoy went a bit further, calling Ritual the “liturgy” of the Lodge [2]. If we combine the two, it becomes apparent that Ritual is the driving force and indeed, the glue which holds the entire Masonic structure together. Our Working Lectures demonstrate this point to near perfection. Contained within the Working Lectures are the “nuts and bolts” of each progressive Degree. As this is memorized the individual Brother begins to act, however subtlety, in unison with the Brethren. Automatically, we understand the importance of So Mote It Be. Instinctively, the moral applications of the Working Tools become ingrained in our daily lives. Without thinking, our Obligations shape our worldview, and thus, our actions to our fellow man, but- especially with a Brother Mason.

Could any of this seemingly effortless congruity among otherwise separate and individual men be possible, were it not for the letter for letter Ritual that eventually, as we mature Masonically, comes to direct our thoughts, actions, and lives? The quick answer is an emphatic NO.

Without Ritual, Freemasonry is nothing more than a well-meaning set of laws and regulations, it is a membership of like-minded men. Were it not for Ritual, we might well be the equals, fraternally speaking, with any number of other good natured organizations. Without Ritual, the very foundations of Freemasonry, such as our first entrance into the Lodge, our Sacred Obligation, the Rite of Destitution, and even our Working Tools would be nothing more than simple suggestion.

Yet, with Ritual, all of these spring into constant and perpetual existence. Factually and literally speaking, our Ritual, which has its roots in literature dating back some 766 years, to the Statutes of Bologna in the year 1248; and then onward through history through the hundreds of improvements and revisions that have led to any one of the several adopted ceremonies of today, would be, most likely, a nonexistent force by this writing in 2014. Certainly, the Speculative Lodge that we know and cherish today, would still not carry the inner workings and hierarchy that is indicative of our Operative ancestors were it not for the Ritual which, at one time, was a part of the learning experience Operative Masons, and then acted as the bridge which connected the ancient world to our modern one (NO reference meant towards the Ancients and the Moderns which eventually formed the UGLE).

The fact of the matter is that this system of morality, veiled in Allegory, is only useful when it is repeated, time after time, with little or no change. Thus, the same figurative language that we hear today seeks to teach a lesson; the same lesson that was taught hundreds of years ago. Indeed, the lessons that are taught by Masonry are timeless. Therefore, is it any accident or coincidence that the delivery method of those truths has changed either? Ritual, by its very nature, is as rock solid and unbending as the virtuous lessons that it helps to engrave upon our collective Masonic heart. If there were no Ritual; there could simply be no Craft.  Ritual is what created the transition from the Trade Guilds into our Gentle Craft of Speculative Masonry. In turn, it is what began the traditions of the modern day, and thus planted the seed that would grow to search for Masonic Light, long before I was born and able to pursue that quest. Ritual, in short, is the lifeblood, heart and soul of the Free-Masonic Institution, and lays the ground works for all building and Masonic growth that may follow.

 

 

 

References

[1] Webster’s New Compact Dictionary, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1991.
[2] R. Macoy, A Dictionary Of Freemasonry, New York: Bell Publishing Company, 1989.