The Master and Wardens

MWB R. V. Harris, PGS, PGM

The Grand Lodge Of Nova Scotia

Very few of the Craftsmen realize the wide powers enjoyed by the three principal officers of the Lodge. As a matter of Masonic Law, the fate and fortunes of the Lodge are largely in their hands, hence the importance of choosing most carefully these three officers.

The Master's Duties

When Dr. James Anderson and Dr. Theophilus Desaguliers codified the Ancient Charges, they summarized those regulations which point out the duty of the Master of a Lodge. We hear this summary read whenever a new Master is installed in order to impress the new Master with the great responsibility resting upon him, and to make known, or rather recall, to the brethren the qualifications which a Master should have. Let us run through them:

  1. To be a good man and true and strictly to obey the moral law.
  2. To be a peaceable citizen, and cheerfully conform to the laws of the country in which he resides.
  3. Not to be concerned in plots and conspiracies against the government of the country in which he lives, but patiently to submit to the decisions of the law and the constituted authorities.
  4. To pay a proper respect to the civil magistrates, to work diligently, live creditably, and act honourably by all men.
  5. To hold in veneration the original rulers and patrons of the Order and their regular successors, supreme and subordinate, according to their stations, and to submit to the awards and resolutions of his brethren in Lodge convened, in every case consistent with the constitutions of the Order.
  6. To avoid private piques and quarrels, and to guard against intemperance and excess.
  7. To be cautious in his behaviour, courteous to his brethren, and faithful to his Lodge.
  8. To respect genuine brethren and to discountenance imposters and all dissenters from the original plan of Masonry.
  9. To promote the general good of society, to cultivate the social virtues, and to propagate the knowledge of the mystic art.
  10. To pay homage to the Grand Master for the time being and to his officers when duly installed; and strictly to conform to every edict of the Grand Lodge that is not subversive of the principles and ground-work of Masonry.

It is an imposing list of qualifications, but most appropriate in respect of one upon whom "the honour, reputation, and usefulness of his Lodge will materially depend", for one who is "to set the Craft at work giving them proper instruction for their labour", for one who is "to rule and govern his brethren".

His Prerogatives

Master comes from the Latin magister, from which we also derive the word magistrate. The Master is the most important officer of a Lodge. He is elected "to rule and govern the Lodge". Upon his skill, integrity, and prudence depend the usefulness and welfare of his Lodge; so, he should be "of good morals, of great skill, true and trusty, a lover of the whole Fraternity". His prerogatives are:

  1. To preside over his Lodge: He is possessed of powers not enjoyed by the presiding officer of any other association:
    1. He presides over all business and all Masonic labour of the Lodge; he decides all points of order; his decision is final, for no appeal can be taken from his decision to the Lodge itself. Only the Grand Lodge can override his decision on a point of order.
    2. He has the right to convene his Lodge at any time. Emergent meetings cannot be held without his consent or direction.
    3. If the Master is present at the time for opening a Lodge, he alone has the right to open it. He has the sole right to open the Lodge when he pleases, to close it when he pleases, to suspend business, to call the Lodge from labour to refreshment, and to terminate a debate. A motion to adjourn or to close or to go to refreshment is out of order, for it interferes with this prerogative.
  2. To represent the Lodge of all communications of Grand Lodge: Originally all members of the Lodge were members of the Grand Lodge, or assembly, of Masons. As this was found to be inconvenient, the Lodges placed their rights in the hands of their Master and Wardens. They are the link between Grand Lodge and the Lodge. At installation, the Installing Officers ask the Master if he promises to attend Grand Lodge.
  3. To control the admission of visitors: Quoting again from the installation ceremony: "You agree that no visitors shall be received into your Lodge without due examination, and producing proper vouchers". The sufficiency of the examination is solely in his discretion. He should not, apart from the examination, admit any visitor whose presence will disturb the harmony of the Lodge. There is no appeal from his decision.
  4. To refuse to admit a member of the Lodge: In the opening, the Inner Guard recites, as one of his duties, that of "suffering none to pass except such as are qualified and have the Master's permission". He has the power to exclude a member whose admission might create discord. This right, however, must be exercised with the greatest caution for, if unjustly or without sufficient cause denied the privilege of entering his own Lodge, a member may prefer a charge against the Master in Grand Lodge.
  5. To have the custody of the warrant of the Lodge: The warrant is placed at the Altar in full view of the Master when Lodge is open. He is responsible for its care and on quitting office transmits it to his successor. If Grand Lodge demands the return of the warrant, it demands it of the Master — not of the Secretary — not of the Lodge itself.
  6. To appoint all committees: Sometimes this prerogative is restricted by the bylaws.
    1. Special committees are always within the Master's prerogative and he has the right to act as chairman, for they are his committees, not the Lodge's.
    2. He has the right to fill temporary vacancies among the officers.
  7. He has one vote on all questions and, in addition, a casting vote if there be a tie; this prerogative follows the practice in Grand Lodge since 1721. It is not an inherent right and some authorities dispute it; some Grand Lodges deny the right; the better practice would seem to be for the Master to declare the motion lost, for it clearly has not been carried.
  8. He must have served as Warden for twelve months prior to his election as Master. This is stated in the charges of 1722:
    1. His services as Warden need not be in the Lodge over which he is called to preside. If he has served in any Lodge, he is eligible, for when a brother affiliates with a Lodge he brings with him all the rights which he has acquired whether as Master or Warden. The twelve months need not be the twelve immediate prior to his election as Master.
    2. There is one exception. When a new Lodge is instituted by the Grand Master, it is his prerogative as the creator of the new Lodge to appoint as Master a brother who has never been a Warden. In our Constitution, this provision does not apply in a new Lodge until after the second annual election of officers.
  9. He is eligible to re-election: Usage in the United States and Canada places no restriction on the number of times a Master may be re-elected; in England, however, a Master may be re- elected only once without a dispensation from the Grand Master.
  10. To install his successor: No one can exercise the prerogatives of the office of Master until he has been regularly installed and received the Degree of Installed Master. A Master, named in a dispensation but not a Past Warden, is not invested with the secrets of an Installed Master and does not receive them until the warrant is issued and he is installed as the first Master of the new Lodge.
  11. The Master is exempt from trial on charges by his Lodge or one of its members: The right of trial belongs to Grand Lodge because the Master cannot be deprived of his right to preside over his Lodge and, whenever the Lodge is exercising judicial functions, the Master becomes the presiding officer. If he were on trial his presence is necessary, and being present he must assume the chair, which of course is shocking to our sense of justice; so it is necessary to find another tribunal for the trial of a Master and, therefore, Grand Lodge retains the right.

His Qualifications

  1. Of good morals: Aristotle, the Greek philosopher said: "He who is to govern must be perfect in moral virtue." The world often judges an institution by the behaviour of its presiding officer. If a Master is immoral or licentious, the lodge will be scandalized before the public and in private also.
  2. Of great skill: His knowledge of the work and of Masonry should be superior. He must know and understand the subject which he is to teach. An illiterate, indolent man will make an incompetent Master.
  3. Of pleasing personality: Socially the Worshipful Master must be acceptable to the lodge and truly a lover of the whole fraternity. He will be zealous for the Craft, and anxious to promote its influence. His devotion to his brethren is of the greatest importance.
  4. Of wise leadership: He should rule his brethren with love rather than force. He should be a leader rather than a driver. He should be firm with moderation; he should cultivate the spirit of conciliation; he should learn to subdue by mildness and friendliness the irritations which may arise in debate; he should appeal to reason, rather than claim obedience by force of authority.

The Senior Warden's Duty

The Senior Warden's duty is indicated in the installation ceremony:

  1. In presence of the Master: "You are assiduously to assist the Master in the discharge of his trust, diffusing light and imparting knowledge to all whom he shall place under your care.
  2. In the absence of the Master: He is to preside and govern the Lodge.
    1. He has an inherent right to preside when the Worshipful Master is absent. He may resign the chair to a Past Master, but he must first open the Lodge and call the brethren to labour before handing over the gavel to the Past Master.
    2. A warden in this jurisdiction cannot confer a degree unless he is a Past Master. Here we have a shared or divided authority. If the Worshipful Master is absent and the Senior Warden opens the Lodge, he may transact the ordinary business of the Lodge, but, unless he is a Past Master, he cannot confer degrees and must ask a Past Master to take the chair for that purpose. At that point his authority as Acting Master ceases until the time for closing the Lodge arrives when the gavel is again handed to the Senior Warden who alone is authorized to close the Lodge.
    3. If the Worshipful Master dies or is suspended from the Craft, there can be no election of his successor until the constitutional time for election, and the Senior Warden, Junior Warden, or Junior Past Master present must act in his place. If an election were held immediately the office of Worshipful Master became vacant, it would deprive the Senior Warden of his right to become a candidate for the vacant office, because he has already obligated himself to serve as Warden for twelve months. If he were allowed to be a candidate, there would have to be an election for his office and so on, possibly all down the line.

The Junior Warden's Duties

The Junior Warden's duty is indicated in the installation ceremony:

  1. In the presence of the Master: "Your are to assiduously assist the Master in the discharge of his trust, diffusing light and imparting knowledge to all whom he shall place under your care."
  2. In the absence of the Master: If the Worshipful Master and Senior Warden are both absent, the Junior Warden assumes the Chair and opens the Lodge.
  3. The columns: Our ritual says that the Senior Warden presides over the Craft during the hours of labour and the Junior Warden during the hours of refreshment. Each has a little column standing near him and, when the Lodge is at labour, the Senior Warden's column is standing up and the Junior Warden's lying down; but when the Lodge is at refreshment, the positions of the two columns are reversed.
  4. Preferring charges: Because the Junior Warden is placed over the Craft during the hours of refreshment and because at his installation he is charged to see "that none of the Craft be suffered to convert the purposes of refreshment into those of intemperance and excess", it has been very generally supposed that it is his duty to prefer charges against any member who by his conduct has made himself amenable to the discipline of the Lodge. While there is no ancient regulation which imposes this unpleasant duty upon him, it does seem appropriate that he should, as the guardian of the conduct of the Craft, bring the conduct of any offending member to the notice of the Lodge.


It is my belief that a considerable number of Masters do not equip themselves for Lodge administration apart from their several years experience in various offices. They have read little, have probably never bothered to visit our Home at Windsor, and have failed to attend District Meetings and Grand Lodge Communications with any regularity. They rely on the Lodge Secretary, or the Grand Secretary, or their Past Masters "to get by". They may know the ritual, they may even know the by-laws of the Lodge, but they know next to nothing about the history of their Lodge, nor of the Craft in Nova Scotia, nor of the symbolism of the ceremonies, nor of their inherent rights as Masters.

There is so much to be done in any Masonic year that the Master who undertakes it all by himself is heading for failure. Degree work is but a fraction of his responsibilities; there is the social side, most important if he is to hold his Lodge together — picnics, outings, a dance or social, a banquet, an anniversary to celebrate, a Church Service to arrange. There is Grand Lodge to attend with a report to the Lodge; there is the District Meeting each fall; there are visits from the District Deputy and the Grand Master, and visits to and from other Lodges. Then there is the educational side, for it is the duty of every Mason "to improve himself in Masonry". Candidates are instructed in questions and answers, but, if that is all the Freemasonry they are to learn, the Lodge has failed in its duty and the members will be pardoned if they conclude that that is all there is to Freemasonry.

One of the virtues which Freemasonry inculcates is punctuality. "Your regular and punctual attendance is earnestly requested". The Lodge should be opened precisely on time, the business conducted with dispatch, the Lodge closed at a reasonable time. If the Master is late and everyone has to wait for him, it will ruin the attendance record of his Lodge. How many times have we heard someone say, "They dilly-dally around and waste time, and I felt so fed up I don't go any more".

With all these duties and responsibilities devolving upon a Master and his Wardens, let me conclude with the recommendation to all Lodges that every Lodge should have regular meetings of its officers to help, aid, and assist one another in promoting the welfare of the Lodge and the Craft. Some Lodges have an Advisory Committee meeting a week before the regular monthly meeting, and presided over by the Senior Warden. It is composed of all the officers of the Lodge and any Past Masters who care to attend. It forms an excellent training ground for the officers, particularly for the Wardens, who are soon to reach the Chair. Difficulties and differences are ironed out in private and not allowed to disturb the harmony of the Lodge. Efforts are made to collect dues in arrears without that drastic action in Lodge which might prove embarrassing, and plans are made for the ceremonial, educational, and social life of the Lodge. It is unfair to place all the burden on the Worshipful Master. Where the burden is shared the Lodge succeeds and the Craft advances. To try it temporarily is to adopt it permanently.