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Algoma District Travelling Square


CEREMONIAL AND RITUAL - January 10, 1962





Continuing on its way, the TRAVELLING SQUARE leaves Thunder Bay Lodge, No. 618 G.R.C., and continues on its journey to Superior Lodge, No. 672, January 10, 1962


With Best Wishes of the Officers and Brethren of Thunder Bay Lodge No. 618




One of the landmarks of Freemasonry known to all is the basic tenet that the landmarks of masonry can never be changed, “Nothing can be subtracted or added, and not even the slightest modification can be made in them.  As they were received from our predecessors, we are bound by the most solemn obligation of duty to transmit them unsullied to our successors.”


And so the brethren are initiated, passed, and raised.  The teaching goes on from one to another, from one generation to another.  The “work” is rehearsed and prepared and presented as each candidate comes properly prepared, not knowing quite what to expect.  Meanwhile, the brethren of the Lodge are arrayed in their proper places around the lodge room as a solemn panel of judges... watching, and listening, guarding against any deviation from what is considered to be the “letter of the law” with regard to the work.  The brethren of the Lodge form also a panel of critics who will be quick to question or point out any strange innovations or practices which may creep in.


As the drama of the work unfolds, the prompters are frequently in evidence....the ritualists, the old-timers, the specialists, all making sure that not one letter or word should be changed in what we know as the Ritual, and also making sure that no change in the time-honoured Ceremonial is allowed to creep in.


The more we study Ancient Free and Accepted Masonry, the more we are able to take an objective look at all of that which we so freely call “the work”.  The more we travel and visit other lodges, the more we see that there are differences in Ritual and Ceremonial.  And so we come to realize that as each sitting Master schools his officers, he is of necessity schooling them in the Ritual and Ceremonial as they have been taught to him.  He is doing this in such a manner that will, he hopes, move the D.D.G.M. on his official visit, and visiting brethren as they appear, to stand and repeat those magic words, “I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate you, sir, on the work which you and your officers have so ably presented”.


But there is a deeper purpose in the “work”.  The ritual and ceremonial are in themselves a means of teaching, and also of transmitting the landmarks of Freemasonry unimpaired to future generations.  If there are apparent deviations from the familiar wording of the ritual, or the familiar action the ceremonial, in our eyes, we must try to remember that wherever the human element enters in, slight deviations are bound to occur.  The important thing to remember is that it is the teaching that is of prime import.


The men who worked out the formal dress of present Masonry were wise. They met a need common to most of us.  It is one thing to tell verbally the basic tenets of the Craft, but it is certainly a more telling and impressive means of communication to accompany the teaching with ceremonial ritual.  There will always be some who feel constrained to protest against, and try to obliterate rites and ceremonies as an obstacle to understanding, and stress that the uncluttered, thought-provoking teaching lecture, philosophizing, and moralizing are the only pure methods to understanding.  Most masons will agree that the teaching, when “veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols” is more firmly implanted ii the mind, and that participation in certain ceremonial acts surely impresses the candidate and members alike with the meat of the Masonic lesson.  There is a good discipline in the carrying out of ceremonial acts which is of great value in itself.  Care, however must be taken to see that the ceremony never becomes an end in itself, but rather the means to the end......that of better understanding and leading the life of a good mason.


CEREMONY:           A good definition, I think, is an observance; a form; a formal rite; a stately usage.


RITUAL:                    Prescribed order of forming a service.


A rite nowadays is as confused with form and ceremonial as to be hardly distinguishable from them.  It is a usage - a custom - a solemn act - a ceremony or observance; particularly one that has been prescribed by authority.  The rite has been thought literally to signify, or symbolize a well-trodden path, or an idea which lights up a word and the meaning of that word.  Masonically, the word “rite” is used to signify a ritual system...e.g. the “York Rite”, the “Scottish Rites’ etc., in which case the term implies a ritual of words combined with a particular order of ceremonial acts.


Here, I think it a good idea to remind you of these well-known words. “A beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols.”


The work as we know it is sometimes the stimulus which causes articulate men to rise and sentimentalize, rather than philosophize or moralize, and so at this point I think it a good idea to take a cold hard look at Ceremonial and Ritual as we have it, and know it here today.


No matter how sentimental we may wish to become about ‘Antient’ aspects of masonry, it can be very plausibly argued that a great deal of the symbolism which we find in the Craft today is actually a comparatively modern feature, and some was not introduced until after the beginning of the eighteenth century.


Some will be surprised to learn that the ritual of today was consolidated after 1813.  Before that date, we rely on a mass of documents and printed exposures from which we gather that the three degrees in something like their present form were fully established by 1730, but over the years before that even continuing after the formation of the first Grand Lodge in 1717, controversy raged for many years, and at the beginning of the present century, the leading Masonic historians were set in rival camps according as they believed, one, three, or two ceremonies were known.  Much has been discovered since then, and present day students recognize that at least two separate ceremonies were worked; and that if one looks further, much of the confidential, profound, esoteric, or secret teaching now divided between the three (some go further and add the Royal Arch) is to be found.




The variations in Masonic ritual are a never-ending subject for discussion among the Brethren, some few of whom occasionally may be tempted to believe that they are the only ones who are right, or “in step”.  The Lodge of Reconciliation in the early 19th century did not lay down a cast-iron ritual word for word.  Members and visiting brethren went from that lodge all over the country, and taught as they remembered.  And so vague differences in ritual and ceremonial do exist, but the important basic tenets remain.


Now, because I have always believed that “a little humour now and then is relished by the best of men”, especially masons, I would like to share with you some observations that I have made concerning ceremonial and ritual, in considerable travelling and visiting in lodges in eastern Canada and the United States.  These observations will not be in with the typewritten lecture for the “Travelling Square”, because of a promise I once made not to “indite, mark, print, carve, engrave, or otherwise delineate” certain matters that may have been brought to my attention at one time or another.




If there has been any one point I have tried to make in presenting these observations and this lecture, it is that masonry has its diverse manners of going about the same basic things.  To me, the strength of masonry is still that phrase I quoted earlier.  “A beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols”.


 Presented by Rev. Bro. John E. Jordan, Thunder Bay Lodge No.618, G.R.C, January 10, l962