Published by THE MASONIC SERVICE ASSOCIATION
8120 Fenton Street
Silver Spring, Maryland 20910
(This pamphlet has been adapted from one published by the Church Lodge Committee of The Grand Lodge AF & AM of Kansas.)
This is an open letter to clergy of all faiths concerning "Masonic Funerals." It was written to encourage and foster understanding between the Masonic Fraternity and Ministers who may not *be members of the Masonic Lodge. While this letter is primarily addressed to the' clergy, we hope it will be helpful to others who may have questions about Masonic Funerals.
Other Lodges, some veterans' organizations, and various societies, as well as Freemasonry, have funeral services, but this letter is primarily concerned with those of the Masonic Institution. To start, it may be well to point out that Freemasonry is not a religion, although it is religious. That is, the Fraternity does not believe itself to be an instrument of God for the purpose of reconciling men to Himself, but teaches that men do need such reconciliation and should seek it through loyal involvement with the religious faith of their preference. The lodge has no "plan of salvation" or way of atonement to offer its members. Rather, it teaches the Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of God. The participation of the Masonic Institution in a funeral service is an expression of its fraternal affection for the deceased and for his family rather than the exercise of a priestly ministry representing God.
Masonry includes many appendant groups, bodies, "rites," orders, and auxiliary organizations. The basic unit is the Lodge, often called the "Blue Lodge." It is this group which will, most often, conduct the Masonic Funeral because every Mason belongs to such a Lodge whether or not he belongs to any other bodies in Masonry. On occasion one of these other bodies will hold a funeral service. For example, the Order of the Eastern Star, which includes women as well as men, sometimes officiates at the funerals of its women members.
No one is ever Obligated to have a Masonic Funeral. It is not a requirement of the Fraternity that a member have his funeral service conducted, either in whole or in part, by the Masonic Order. Any member who was in good standing at the time of his death may have a Masonic Funeral if he requested it or if his family so requests. Any participation in tire service, other than the attendance of individual Lodge members as a part of the general congregation, is always by request to the Fraternity.
Freemasonry has no wish to displace or hinder any Minister of God in the pastoral care of his charge. If the fraternity is requested to participate in a funeral, it desires to cooperate with the clergy in any way possible.
We understand that different religious groups have differing requirements and regulations concerning funerals and we wish to respect the convictions of all the clergy involved.
When Masonic participation is requested in a funeral, we would suggest that the presiding officer of the group involved get in touch with any clergy who are going to serve as quickly as possible, well before the hour of the service. In most cases it will be the "Worshipful Master" of the Blue Lodge who will conduct the Masonic portion of the service. If the minister is uncertain about what the Lodge intends to do, it is quite in order for him to contact the Master of the Lodge and suggest that the two of them get together to discuss the situation.' The "Worthy Matron" of the Eastern Star Chapter or the "Eminent Commander" of the Knights Templar would also be happy to consult with you when their groups are going to serve at the funeral.
Except for a few groups, the Knights Templar being one, Masonic bodies are composed of individuals who profess different religions. Some Masons are Christians, some Jews, some Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, and some are of other faiths. The general Masonic funeral services are intended to be suitable for persons of any faith. The Knights Templar are all Christians and their funeral service is specifically Christian in nature.
Masonic involvement in a funeral, may range from conducting the entire service to simply attending in a body while someone else conducts the service. As the minister in pastoral relation to the family involved, it is your prerogative to suggest to the family the type of involvement you think proper and helpful in a specific situation. In general, the Lodge will' do as much or as little as you and the family agree they should do. As the Pastor to the family, it is your right and duty to guide them in the requirements of your faith. If there are certain things which the tenets of your faith require in funeral services, do not hesitate to indicate to the family and the presiding officer that it will be necessary for you to perform particular portions of any Joint service.'
In some cases problems have been eliminated by having the Masonic Service the evening before the funeral. Sometimes the Lodge conducts the grave side services only, and sometimes the Lodge provides a floral emblem and the pallbearers. Whatever the Lodge does, it desires to cooperate with you in every way.
There is no single Masonic Funeral Service. Some Grand Lodges (the statewide organization) have a prescribed service. Others permit several services. Sometimes a few of the customs involved may seem unusual to non-Masons. For example, the presiding officer may wear a hat while doing his part in the service, the Lodge members may place sprigs of evergreen on the casket, and a small white leather apron may be placed in or on the casket. The hat is worn because it is Masonic custom for the presiding officer to have his head covered while officiating. In some states the Grand Lodge has directed that the hat not be worn at a funeral because it seems strange to the non-Masons present. -To Masons the sprig of evergreen is a symbol of immortality. The white leather apron, called a "lambskin," is the badge of a Mason and it is his to wear, even in death. He wore that apron when he was made a Mason, on the day he received his first degree. It has symbolic allusions to God's care which is provided for us, but which we can not supply to ourselves.
Sometimes the wording of the Masonic Services is a bit old, and may reflect the thinking and values of an earlier day. Many of the services are rather long, particularly when the Masonic observance is to be a part of the service and not the whole of it. As a minister, you are quite free to discuss your feelings and offer suggestions and direction to the person who is going to conduct the Masonic portion of the ser-vice.
We would be most happy for you to become better acquainted with the Masonic Fraternity's practices in this connection. If you would like to do so, the Master of a nearby Lodge would be glad to spend some time with you, show you the Masonic Service used in your locale, and discuss Masonic Funerals at greater length with you before a particular service arises. We would like to leave you with this one bit of information. Masonry teaches that our membership is never to interfere with our obligations to God, our country, our neighbors, our families, or ourselves. It is our desire that there never be any conflict with the Church, Temple, Synagogue, Mosque, or other religious group to which our brother belonged concerning his funeral service.
To contact someone who can discuss this subject with you at greater length, telephone and ask for a consultation:
Note: send an e-mail message to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will try to put you in touch with some one in your area.
The Masonic Lodge will be happy to answer your request.