Oration Delivered at the Consecration of the Old School House Lodge
At the Berkshire Masonic Centre
By W. Bro. The Reverend G. E. Smart, Past Assistant Grand Chaplain, Provincial Grand Chaplain
On Friday 12th September 2003
Brethren, at the Consecration of a new lodge, the chaplain is charged with the task of expounding upon the principles of Freemasonry. In the company of such experienced and distinguished members of the Craft I hesitate to dare to assume that I have anything to say which is new to any of you. And yet, I think that it may be of some benefit for us to remind ourselves of the solemn duties we have engaged ourselves to observe.
Therefore, beginning at the outset of our Masonic journey, you will, no doubt, recall the first question you were asked at your interview as a prospective candidate: “Do you believe in a Supreme Being.” Do you believe, in other words, in God – by whatever name you may know him? Alas, I suspect that, all too often, candidates have been primed with this question and informed that all they need do is reply “Yes”. I have been tempted on occasion to enquire “What do you mean by God? and what difference does such belief make to your life and conduct?
For you see, brethren, that although we assert that Freemasonry is not a religion; and although we are charged with “abstaining from every topic of political or religious discussion”; I nevertheless believe that Freemasonry should be a fraternity of religious men. Examine, if you will, the structure and content of our Masonic rituals; remove from them any sections which smack of a religious content; and what have you left? Almost nothing.
Consider the prayers which are expressed at the beginning and end of all our meetings: In the first degree opening, before the Worshipful Master declares the Lodge to be open, prayer is said, either by himself or the Chaplain in which we “invoke the assistance of the Great Architect of the Universe” that “our labours, thus begun in order” may “be conducted in peace and closed in harmony. ” In the second degree we ask that “the rays of Heaven may shed their influence to enlighten us in the paths of virtue and science.” In the third degree we ask “May Heaven aid our united endeavours. ” And that is not all, for, before any of the business of the Lodge is transacted, the Immediate Past Master opens the Volume of the Sacred Law so that the Worshipful Master can read from it for the enlightenment of his brethren.
Brethren, the Volume of the Sacred Law is not just an ornament, nor is it a piece of furniture, it is placed, open, upon the Master’s pedestal as the manual by which we should be instructed by the Worshipful Master in “the important duties you owe to God, to your neighbour and to yourself. ” We have been informed in the Charge after the Initiation to “make a most serious contemplation” of “the Volume of the Sacred Law” – not merely to open it and leave it to gather dust as some mere symbolism, leaving it to be “veiled in allegory”.
As part of that Charge we are advised “to endeavour to make a daily advancement in Masonic knowledge”. All to often, I am afraid, this is taken to mean that you should be learning passages in the book of ritual which was presented to you on being raised to the third degree. We assume, wrongly, that the better we are able to recite the words in our little blue book, the better Masons we are. I have heard the ritual recited with absolute precision by Masons who may not have had any appreciation of its inner meaning. And that is a pity – for the ritual is rich with symbolism and contains many inner truths.
But let me take you back to the Charge after Initiation. The first duty which is laid upon the candidate is to study the Volume of the Sacred Law, because it is “the unerring standard of truth and justice” and he is further charged to “regulate your actions by the divine precepts it contains”. Brethren, you cannot achieve that objective without reading that volume.
We are informed that it will teach us “the important duties you owe to God, to your neighbour and to yourself’. Note, if you will, the order in which that is put – God first, self last.
Do you remember the explanation of the working tools in that first degree? The twenty-four inch gauge which symbolises the twenty-four hours of the day. Here, again, note the order in which they are divided: first: “part to be spent in prayer to Almighty God”. And, again in the Charge: “by never mentioning His name but with that awe and reverence which are due from the creature to his Creator, by imploring His aid in all your LAWFUL undertakings, and by looking up to Him in every emergency for comfort and support.” Why?
Those of you who are members of the Royal Arch will recall the discovery of the Sacred Name, and you may have noted that the first four words in our Volume of the Sacred Law are: “In the beginning, God…” And I do not believe that I am revealing any secrets when I remind those of you who have been installed in the Chair of King Solomon that you were informed that “The Sacred Volume, that great light in Masonry, will guide you to all truth, direct your steps in the paths of happiness, and point out to you the whole duty of Man.”
Herein, brethren, is the central truth and secret of our Order – to make a daily advancement in Masonic knowledge, we must, of necessity, study that Sacred Volume, and learn the truths contained therein.
Whatever our faith, whether we confess the faith of a Christian; whether we be members of the family of Abraham; followers of the Prophet Mohammed; whether we be Hindu, Sikh or Zoroastrian; whatever faith we profess, we cannot make a daily advancement in Masonic knowledge without seeking that knowledge in the book we claim to be sacred. Therein we are taught “the important duties you owe to God” – to worship Him in spirit and in truth.
Some of us have been taught that the first commandment is “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength;” and the second is this, “to love your neighbour as you love yourself”. There is a Golden Rule which is contained in all the World’s major religions: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In this way we will begin to discharge the duty we owe to our neighbour. Only when we have discharged that duty should we turn to ourselves.
Note, again, in the Charge to the Initiate, that we are enjoined to act with him “on the square”. Have you ever asked yourself what that means? I know we use the expression to indicate that we are Freemasons – but what does it mean? In the explanation of the second degree tools we are told that “the square teaches morality”. In other words, as one of my dictionaries has it: “pertaining to the conduct or duties of man; ethical; virtuous; chaste; discriminating between right and wrong. “. These are not just ideals or principles – they must, of necessity, involve action; for we are called upon to render him “every kind office which justice or mercy may require; by relieving his necessities and soothing his afflictions; and by doing to him as in similar cases you would wish that he would do to you”. The Golden Rule written into our ritual- that same Golden Rule which, as I have said, is contained in all the World’s religions – and note, it involves “doing to him” – action, not inaction. Only when we have discharged our duty to God, and our duty to our neighbour, should we then turn to ourselves.
And what duties are those? “A prudent and well regulated course of discipline” to equip us physically and mentally “to exert those talents wherewith God has blessed you, as well as to His glory as to the welfare of your fellow creatures”. Not slefishly, not hedonistically, but “for the Glory of God and the welfare of man”.
So you see, brethren, our religious duties are not an appendage to our ritual, they are fundamental to our profession of belief in a Supreme Being. They should be at the very heart of our motives and actions.
He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6.8.