Vol. LXXVI No. 12 — December 1998
Nelson King (PGM, Arizona)
Each profession has its code of ethics governing the actions of its members. Ethics and rules of conduct are quite different from etiquette however, and may vary from time to time. Etiquette, the consideration we show for others, remains constant. This STB does not address customs or rules of conduct — only etiquette. The opinions expressed have evolved from the generous actions and consideration shown to this author by many illustrious Masons of our Craft.
While our relationship with other Masons is clearly explained by the ritual there are unwritten actions that will improve our relationships with others and knowing them will give us self confidence. These actions are termed etiquette. With minimal effort and thoughtfulness we can treat our Brethren with respect and improve friendships. We might remember that Masonic etiquette is nothing more than plain manners and politeness, emphasized by quickness of sympathy and fineness of observation. Masonic customs have been made a part of each jurisdiction's ritual and regulations but they differ from the unwritten code of etiquette.
The meeting place of a lodge is considered a Masonic home by its members. When a visitor appears at a meeting it is only proper for each member to welcome him as he would a visitor in his own home. Visitors should always be welcomed into each conversational group and never left by themselves. To prevent a visitor from being slighted some Masters wisely assign a member to accompany him throughout the evening. If the visitor is from another jurisdiction he will appreciate knowing in advance what is expected of him during the course of the meeting. For example, if he will be expected to know certain signs and words or if he will be asked to speak. After the meeting visitors should again be welcomed by all members and encouraged to share in refreshments or other activities. If the visitor does not have a car he will appreciate some help with transportation.
It is customary and only common courtesy to rise when addressing the Master of a lodge. It is especially important that a Mason stands when greeting another member or when being introduced to him. There may be exceptions to this rule that age, custom, or ritual may preclude but it is good practice unless otherwise specified.
The first impressions of Freemasonry are received by the candidate in the preparation room. He is usually nervous and ill at ease, often not knowing anyone present. He will respect the lodge if he is shown respect at this time, particularly when he is garbed in the ritualistic clothing. The candidate will be impressed with the seriousness of the occasion by the thoughtfulness of others.
Grand Honors, a form of Masonic applause, is the method of showing respect to certain Grand Lodge officers but the form of recognition may vary from one jurisdiction to another. Visitors from another jurisdiction should be informed about local customs before entering the lodge room. It is quite embarrassing to extend the public grand honors of three times three when the private grand honors or another silent form of the grand honors are being extended by others. Additional applause, after the grand honors, is entirely at the discretion of the presiding officer.
FOR THE MASON
Masons learn that, customs affecting etiquette may differ in each Masonic jurisdiction. it is understandable that visitor's signs and even words may be different. The manner in which the apron is worn and even ritual language or pronunciation may also differ. However, it would be discourteous to object to such differences.
Masonry has, for ages, taught lessons of tolerance but from time to time we still hear the voice of prejudice — usually in ethnic jokes, sometimes in name-calling or in sweeping generalizations. If alone with a Brother there is no need to laugh at such attempts at humor and one can quietly say that jokes are not appreciated that belittle people. Perhaps, 'I don't agree with that remark' is sufficient. If one is in an embarrassing situation perhaps silence and a change of subject is possible. In like manner, common courtesy and laws of the Craft forbid the use of discourteous remarks, offensive personal comments, and expressions of bitterness or ill will toward a Brother. Such comments should never be made during discussions in a Masonic gathering.
FOR THE MASTER
The Master of a Masonic lodge has been endowed with the title of Worshipful Master. It is a term of respect for the office he holds or has held in the past. However, he does not call himself Worshipful any more than a judge would call himself My Honor. He refers to himself simply as the Master.
Masonic ritual dictates the Master's actions but usually only during open lodge. At other times he is expected to use good judgement and practice good etiquette. He will never be criticized for expressing sympathy or for observing and alleviating the discomfort of others.
When a visitor is introduced to the Master it is appropriate for the Master to rise and welcome him with a handshake. This action elevates the status of the visitor and can only improve the image of the Master. To extend additional respect the Master may invite visitors who are Past Masters to a seat in the East and may even offer them the opportunity to speak to the lodge.
As a mark of respect to the Great Architect of the Universe the Master should always remove his hat whenever the name of Deity is spoken and during all prayers. And as a mark of respect to his country he does the same during the Pledge of Allegiance or during the playing of the National Anthem. It is also good manners for a Master to rise and remove his hat when being introduced to a lady visitor in a public meeting where he is presiding and to offer her the hand of friendship. It is particularly important that the Master remove his hat when offering condolences at funerals.
Respect for the office of Master is a universally accepted custom in Masonic circles. For anyone to correct him or criticize him during his 'labors' is considered rude. If the Master asks for assistance with the ritual then one knowledgeable member, usually designated beforehand, will help him. In like manner, It is also discourteous to prompt or correct any of the other lodge officers 'in the discharge of their duties. If they require assistance, the Master will provide it. Criticism is best offered in private when it will not offend or embarrass anyone.
The Rules of Order in Masonic meetings may be determined by the Constitution of the Grand Lodge or by the Lodge bylaws. If none are specified, then the Grand Master and/or the Master will determine the Rules of Order. A Mason would be ill-advised to request that the presiding officer follow Robert's Rules of Order or any other course of action. Harmony and dignity among the Craft must prevail and the Master will enforce it.
The careful selection of prayers used at Masonic gatherings, other than those included in the ritual, is the responsibility of the Master. Sectarian prayers can easily offend those in attendance and it is important that the Master explain this to anyone who may be called upon to offer a prayer. In like fashion a careless choice of refreshments can embarrass members or guests of certain religions or denominations and for that reason the menu selection at refreshment should be carefully considered.
When attending a Masonic funeral or memorial service it is well to determine, in advance whether the lodge conducting the service will be wearing only white aprons or whether officer regalia is appropriate. White gloves may be required in some localities.
FOR THE VISITOR
The expression, 'when in Rome, do as the Romans do' is generally appropriate for Masonic visitors. Many Brethren believe that there is a universal Masonic custom called the 'right of visitation.' Such is not the case in all jurisdictions although unexpected visitors usually will be welcomed at most Masonic meetings. However, there are circumstances when visitation is not guaranteed or even appropriate.
One such circumstance is when a Masonic Trial is in progress. There are other situations when a visitor might not gain admittance: Perhaps a lodge has no remaining space or has a 'reservations only' policy for the evening or the master might believe that the visitor's presence would disturb the peace and harmony of the lodge. Some American jurisdictions that recognize the right of visitation are: Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
In some jurisdictions banquets are held occasionally as part of the lodge activities and therefore such meetings are not considered open for visitation because of the advance planning that is required.
In some foreign lodges a response to a toast may be expected of the visitor. Therefore, arrangements to visit these lodges should be made well in advance. Such arrangements often can be made by the Grand Secretary of the visitor's jurisdiction.
In the United States a visitor's dues card will be examined for current status but it alone will not guarantee his admittance. A visitor must expect to be examined when visiting another lodge unless someone will vouch for him. In some countries other credentials may be requested. A visitor should appear for examination early enough so that it will not delay any part of the planned activities. If he requests to see the lodge charter it should be made available. It goes without saying that the visitor should always be treated with kindness and consideration.
There are few places that require greater selfrestraint and consideration for other people than a Masonic gathering. Let us remember that the cardinal principle of etiquette is thoughtfulness and it implies a concern for the effect of our actions on others around us. Certainly Freemasons are concerned with all members of the Craft and, we need to treat each other with Brotherly respect.
So mote it be!