Friday, April 4, 2008

Freemason F.A.Q.

WHAT'S A MASON? That's not a surprising question. Even though Masons (Freemasons) are members of the largest and oldest fraternity in the world, and even though almost everyone has a father or grandfather or uncle who was a Mason, many people aren't quite certain just who Masons are. The answer is simple. A Mason (or Freemason) is a member of a fraternity known as Masonry (or Freemasonry). A fraternity is a group of men There are things they want to do in the world. It has become known as a beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols • There are things they want to do "inside their own minds." • They enjoy being together with men they like and respect.

WHAT'S MASONRY? Masonry (or Freemasonry) is the oldest fraternity in the world. No one knows just how old it is because the actual origins have been lost in time. Probably, it arose from the guilds of stonemasons who built the castles and cathedrals of the Middle Ages. Possibly, they were influenced by the Knights Templar, a group of Christian warrior monks formed in 1118 to help protect pilgrims making trips to the Holy Land. In 1717, Masonry created a formal organization in England when the first Grand Lodge was formed. A Grand Lodge is the administrative body in charge of Masonry in some geographical area. In the United States, there is a Grand Lodge in each state. Local organizations of Masons are called lodges. There are lodges in most towns, and large cities usually have several. There are about 13,200 lodges in the United States.

WHAT'S A LODGE? The word "lodge" means both a group of Masons meeting in some place and the room or building in which they meet. Masonic buildings are also sometimes called "temples" because much of the symbolism Masonry uses to teach its lessons comes from the building of King Solomon's Temple in the Holy Land. The term "lodge" itself comes from the structures which the stonemasons built against the sides of the cathedrals during construction. In winter, when building had to stop, they lived in these lodges and worked at carving stone.

WHAT GOES ON IN A LODGE? This is a good place to repeat what we said earlier about why men become Masons: • There are things they want to do in the world. • There are things they want to do "inside their own minds." • They enjoy being together with men they like and respect. The Lodge is the center of those activities.

MASONRY DOES THINGS IN THE WORLD. Masonry teaches that each person has a responsibility to make things better in the world. Most individuals won't be the ones to find a cure for cancer, or eliminate poverty, or help create world peace, but every man and woman and child can do something to help others and to make things a little better. Masonry is deeply involved with helping people -- it spends more than $1.4 million dollars every day in the United States, just to make life a little easier. And the great majority of that help goes to people who are not Masons. Some of these charities are vast projects, like the Crippled Children's Hospitals and Burns Institutes built by the Shriners. But with projects large or small, the Masons of a lodge try to help make the world a better place. The lodge gives them a way to combine with others to do even more good.

MASONRY DOES THINGS "INSIDE" THE INDIVIDUAL MASON. "Grow or die" is a great law of all nature. Most people feel a need for continued growth and development as individuals. They feel they are not as honest or as charitable or as compassionate or as loving or as trusting as they ought to be. Masonry reminds its members over and over again of the importance of these qualities. It lets men associate with other men of honor and integrity.

MASONS ENJOY EACH OTHER'S COMPANY. It's good to spend time with people you can trust completely, and most Masons find that in their lodge. While much of lodge activity is spent in works of charity or in lessons in self-development, much is also spent in fellowship. Lodges have picnics, camping trips, and many events for the whole family. Simply put, a lodge is a place to spend time with friends. For members only, two basic kinds of meetings take place in a lodge. The most common is a simple business meeting. To open and close the meeting, there is a ceremony whose purpose is to remind us of the virtues by which we are supposed to live. Then there is a reading of the minutes; voting on petitions (applications of men who want to join the fraternity); planning for charitable functions, family events, and other lodge activities; and sharing information about members (called "Brothers," as in most fraternities) who are ill or have some sort of need. The other kind of meeting is one in which people join the fraternity -- one at which the "degrees" are performed.

WHAT'S A DEGREE? A degree is a stage or level of membership. It's also the ceremony by which a man attains that level of membership. There are three, called Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason. As you can see, the names are taken from the craft guilds. In the Middle Ages, when a person wanted to join a craft, such as the gold smiths or the carpenters or the stonemasons, he was first apprenticed. As an apprentice, he learned the tools and skills of the trade. When he had proved his skills, he became a "Fellow of the Craft" and when he had exceptional ability, he was known as a Master of the Craft. The degrees are plays in which the candidate participates. Each degree uses symbols to teach, just as plays did in the Middle Ages and as many theatrical productions do today. (We'll talk about symbols a little later.) The Masonic degrees teach the great lessons of life -- the importance of honor and integrity, of being a person on whom others can rely, of being both trusting and trustworthy, of realizing that you have a spiritual nature as well as a physical or animal nature, of the importance of self-control, of knowing how to love and be loved, of knowing how to keep confidential what others tell you so that they can "open up" without fear.

WHY IS MASONRY SO "SECRETIVE"? It really isn't "secretive," although it sometimes has that reputation. Masons certainly don't make a secret of the fact that they are members of the fraternity. We wear rings, lapel pins and tie tacks with Masonic emblems like the Square and Compasses, the best known of Masonic signs which, logically, recalls the fraternity's roots in stonemasonry. Masonic buildings are clearly marked, and are usually listed in the phone book. Lodge activities are not secret picnics and other events are even listed in the newspapers, especially in smaller towns. Many lodges have answering machines which give the upcoming lodge activities. But there are some Masonic secrets, and they fall into two categories. The first are the ways in which a man can identify himself as a Mason -- grips and passwords. We keep those private for obvious reasons. The second group is harder to describe, but they are the ones Masons usually mean if we talk about "Masonic secrets." They are secrets because they literally can't be talked about, can't be put into words. They are the changes that happen to a man when he really accepts responsibility for his own life and, at the same time, truly decides that his real happiness is in helping others. It's a wonderful feeling, but it's something you simply can't explain to another person. That's why we sometimes say that Masonic secrets cannot ( rather than "may not") be told. Try telling someone exactly what you feel when you see a beautiful sunset, or when you hear music, like the national anthem, which suddenly stirs old memories, and you'll understand what we mean.

IS MASONRY A RELIGION? The answer to that question is simple. No.

IF MASONRY ISN'T A RELIGION, WHY DOES IT USE RITUAL? Many of us may think of religion when we think of ritual, but ritual is used in every aspect of life. It's so much a part of us that we just don't notice it. Ritual simply means that some things are done more or less the same way each time. Masonry uses a ritual because it's an effective way to teach important ideas -- the values we've talked about earlier. Masonry's ritual is very rich because it is so old. It has developed over centuries to contain some beautiful language and ideas expressed in symbols. But there's nothing unusual in using ritual. All of us do it every day.

SO, IS MASONRY EDUCATION? Yes. In a very real sense, education is at the center of Masonry. We have stressed its importance for a very long time. Back in the Middle Ages, schools were held in the lodges of stonemasons. You have to know a lot to build a cathedral -- geometry, and structural engineering, and mathematics, just for a start. And that education was not very widely available. All the formal schools and colleges trained people for careers in the church, or in law or medicine. And you had to be a member of the social upper classes to go to those schools. Stonemasons did not come from the aristocracy. And so the lodges had to teach the necessary skills and information. Freemasonry's dedication to education started there.

HOW DOES A MAN BECOME A MASON? Some men are surprised that no one has ever asked them to become a Mason. They may even feel that the Masons in their town don't think they are "good enough" to join. But it doesn't work that way. For hundreds of years, Masons have been forbidden to ask others to join the fraternity. We can talk to friends about Masonry, we can tell them about what Masonry does. We can tell them why we enjoy it. But we can't ask, much less pressure anyone to join. There's a good reason for that. It isn't that we're trying to be exclusive. But becoming a Mason is a very serious thing. Joining Masonry is making a permanent life commitment to live in certain ways. We've listed most of them above -- to live with honor and integrity, to be willing to share and care about others, to trust each other, and to place ultimate trust in God. No one should be "talked into" making such a decision. So, when a man decides he wants to be a Mason, he asks a Mason for a petition or application. He fills it out and gives it to the Mason, and that Mason takes it to the local lodge. The Master of the lodge will appoint a committee to visit with the man and his family, find out a little about him and why he wants to be a Mason, tell him and his family about Masonry, and answer their questions. The committee reports to the lodge, and the lodge votes on the petition. If the vote is unanimously affirmative the lodge will contact the man to set the date for the Entered Apprentice Degree. When the person has completed all three degrees, he is a Master Mason and a full member of the fraternity.

TEN REASONS TO BECOME A MASON1. A place where you can confidently trust every person and trust your family with them also. 2. A place where, within moral and civil guidelines; free thought, free speaking and the spiritual growth of man, can grow into its fullest potential. 3. A place to meet outstanding individuals from all walks of life, that a person would not otherwise have had the opportunity to know and call brother. 4. A place to be part of an organization which has for its principal tenets – Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. 5. A place that provides self-development opportunities, leadership training and experience, and to improve public speaking skills. 6. A place you can go to seek support as well as give it. 7. A place where moral virtues are taught and through these teachings a regular reinforcement of the moral virtues is experienced. 8. A place to spend time with a group of brothers, who by acting as good men, make me want to become a better man. Not better than others, but better than I would have otherwise been. 9. A place to become better equipped to serve Church and community. 10. A place to meet with established members of the community and to become a part of the community.

WHEN IS A MAN A MASON? When he can look out over the rivers, the hills, and the far horizon with a profound sense of his own littleness in the vast scheme of things, and yet have faith, hope, and courage which is the root of every virtue. When he knows that down in his heart every man is as noble, as vile, as divine, as diabolic, and as lonely as himself, and seeks to know, to forgive, and to love his fellow man. When he knows how to sympathize with men in their sorrows, yea, even in their sins knowing that each man fights a hard fight against many odds. When he has learned how to make friends and to keep them, and above all how to keep friends with himself When he loves flowers, can hunt birds without a gun, and feels the thrill of an old forgotten joy when he hears the laugh of a little child. When he can be happy and high-minded amid the meaner drudgeries of life. When star-crowned trees and the glint of sunlight on flowing waters, subdue him like the thought of one much loved and long dead. When no voice of distress reaches his ears in vain, and no hand seeks his aid without response. When he finds good in every faith that helps any man to lay hold of divine things and sees majestic meanings in life, whatever the name of that faith may be. When he can look into a wayside puddle and see something beyond mud, and into the face of the most forlorn fellow mortal and see something beyond sin. When he knows how to pray, how to love, how to hope. When he has kept faith with himself with his fellow man, and with his God; in his hand a sword for evil, in his heart a bit of a song -- glad to live, but not afraid to die! Such a man has found the only real secret of Masonry, and the one which it is trying to give to all the world.

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