Time to deliver
Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes explains why masonic ritual needs to involve a proper understanding of what’s being said rather than simply reciting the words on a page
Over the past year or two there has been a certain amount of correspondence in the various masonic magazines regarding the pros and cons of reading, rather than reciting, our ritual.
One correspondent suggested that, as ritual was read throughout European Grand Lodges, we should follow. I am not sure all our politicians would agree with that. Certainly, it is true that reading ritual is prevalent in many European Grand Lodges. However, it’s not universally so and, in any event, there is no good reason for us to follow their example. Indeed, I have many friends in European Lodges who envy the way we deliver our ritual.
You will note that I said that they are envious of the way we ‘deliver’ our ritual. In my experience, ritual that is recited has much greater meaning to the candidate than ritual that is read, although I am pleased to say that I have not been present on many occasions that it has been read.
I entirely accept that learning ritual is time consuming. But how often is it true that the busiest people are those who find the time to learn it?
I am not going to pretend that I have ever found ritual learning easy, and, as time goes by, I find learning new ritual more difficult. Nonetheless, I shall never forget the satisfaction of carrying out a Second Degree ceremony at the first meeting that I was in the chair of my mother lodge. To be told by an extremely demanding Director of Ceremonies that it had been adequate was as good as it gets! This was a great deal more complimentary than anything he ever said to me during the year that he taught me classics.
‘Our ritual is to be treasured, and there are few better experiences than seeing and hearing a really well-conducted masonic ceremony.’
By definition, reading means looking at the book. If the deliverer is looking at the book, he is not looking at the candidate or the brethren to whom he is speaking. To read a text well is a skill that not everyone has. Good reading needs preparation and unless our ritual is understood by the deliverer, what chance is there that it will be understood by the recipient? For the reader to have a good understanding of what he is saying, he will need to have read through the text on several occasions.
Our ritual is to be treasured, and there are few better experiences than seeing and hearing a really well-conducted masonic ceremony. One of the prime reasons that lodges are being encouraged to share the workload is so that members can spend time really learning and understanding what they are delivering and not just reciting ritual parrot fashion.
It is inevitable that some members will find ritual easier than others, and it is incumbent on all of us to ensure that as much help as possible is given to those who need it.
I don’t expect what I have said here to be universally accepted, but I would be surprised if the majority of our members do not agree with at least part of it.
Letters to the Editor - No. 30 Summer 2015
I read with interest John Salisbury’s letter in the last issue of Freemasonry Today.
I have to say I disagree with his view, in that over the past few years I have seen increasing numbers of masons reading ritual during ceremonies. I have to say on a number of these occasions they have been read extremely badly.
I never like to see people read ritual.
I have been through the chair and will do so again next year. I also hold down an extremely busy and complicated professional working career. However, I have adapted to find regular daily time to learn ritual, in the car to and from work.
Even coming out of the chair I have continued to learn other new ritual pieces and am thus progressing my daily advancement in masonic knowledge. Freemasons need to be aware of the responsibility of taking on roles in the lodge and the responsibility to learn for these roles. If they struggle then maybe we should be assisting them to learn a small part well and getting other members of the lodge who don’t struggle to do the longer, more complicated pieces.
We should resist a radical move to reading ritual and focus on ways to help those who struggle to undertake small pieces well.
Rhys Maybrey, St Cuthbert Lodge, No. 3417, Darlington, Durham
As much as I enjoy the challenge of learning and delivering our ‘plays’ (for that is truly what they could be called), I have to bear in mind the time it takes to learn them. Though not an actor, I apply many of their methods to line learning and also have the privilege of having access to a space where I can build a set when required. Despite having all these tools at my disposal, I still take several months – often involving 12-hour days – to learn my lines.
And please too, dear reader, remember that while, for example, the Third Degree Master’s part is ‘only’ 163 lines long, many of those lines are 100 or more words long and form speeches that are over 1,000 words in length. Compare this to the longest individual speech in a Shakespeare play, which is only 495 words long, and one sees the task masons are up against. Small wonder, then, that many masons shy away from performing in them.
Therefore, I see circumstances where reading would be the better option as there is nothing worse than some poor fellow who is stumbling over his lines and being corrected by several people at once, with at least half of those ‘corrections’ being wrong. Better to read them then, than to have that happen.
Shaun Joynson, Torch Lodge, No. 7236, London
Letters to the Editor - No. 29 Spring 2015
I enjoyed the article, ‘Time to Deliver’, by the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes in the autumn edition of Freemasonry Today, in which he indicated his concern regarding our masonic ritual.
It typifies what can be seen or heard in some lodges today with the advent of modern technological equipment enabling some members to read rather than recite their ritual, and I believe this has come about for three reasons. First, the lack of knowledge about our Freemasonry; second, the little time given or available to instruct brethren as to where, when or how our ritual has developed; and thirdly, perhaps, to the ever-increasing call from various charities.
To alleviate some of this problem the late Gloucestershire Deputy Provincial Grand Master John Edward Churches formed a group of interested members and launched a team under the title of Provincial Road Shows in which I was fortunate enough to be included. Many lodges perform the First, Second and Third degrees and an Installation during the year, but from time to time, when there is a shortage of candidates, they arrange talks or perform rehearsals.
We offered our services to entertain members by pointing out what our ritual means and where it originates. It was surprising to find that few members realised how and when the two Grand Lodges joined together, thus enabling the title United Grand Lodge of England to be used.
It is clear at the beginning of one’s membership of the Craft one is taught – not least by the ritual itself – that charity is important. I recall when I first became a Freemason over forty-five years ago being told by the Charity Steward that charity was important but that one should only give what one can afford, and that the main reason for Freemasonry was to make good men even better.
Bernard Norton, Earl Bathurst Lodge, No. 6313, Cirencester, Gloucestershire
Some years ago I wrote to the editor saying that consideration should be given to reading obligations where the candidate is not blindfolded. The response indicated that my letter was not read properly as the replies, to a brother, were against! They thought I said all ritual to be read. This was not so. I suggested obligations as a starting point, accuracy being critical, in much the same way that prayers are read to ensure they are accurate. If reading obligations proves helpful to our members who are
hard-pressed at work or who find learning not easy, it might then, where practical, help for other parts to be read.
I will always prefer reading to endless prompts, which can embarrass all concerned. Freemasonry must adapt to survive. We pay lip service to change, and some things have changed, but change will, I think, have to be radical. The fundamentals of Freemasonry are immutable! Change to survive is possible without impinging on these wonderful principles and reading a little ritual may help.
John Salisbury, Vellum Lodge, No. 5845, Solihull, Warwickshire