Conventions are the rules which society makes for itself, without the force of law, by which its members live together with the least friction. There are four different salutes given within a Lodge: 1. Saluting the Flag during Pledge of Allegiance. 2. Saluting the Worshipful Master for permission to enter or retire from a Lodge. 3. Saluting the Worshipful Master during opening or closing ceremonies or when addressing him while Lodge is in session. 4. Saluting the Holy Writ before balloting as a reminder to yourself of the seriousness of the action you are about to take.
If an officer is absent, the officers below his station do not necessarily move up, each a chair. There is no "advancement by right" for any office except that of Master. The Master fills any vacancy by temporary appointment. In the absence of the Master the Senior Warden presides. In some jurisdictions it is Customary for a Master to ask a Past Master to fill a temporarily vacant chair; in others, he may ask any brother he believes qualified.
The Obligation and the Oath: The obligation is a promise made by the candidate to the members of his Lodge and to the Fraternity. The oath is the "So help me God!" that follows the obligation.
In most jurisdictions, when the Lodge is open, it is a form of grave disrespect for a member to pass between the East and the Altar except during progression in the degrees. The Master should always have the Holy Writ, his inspiration and Light, directly in view. In jurisdictions in which the Lesser Lights are placed in a triangular form about the Altar, it is customary not to walk between the Altar and a light. The theory is that the Altar and the three lights about it represent the Sanctum Sanctorum, or Holy of Holies of the original tabernacle in the wilderness. Into this the High Priest could go, but only to return the same way. Brethren enter this symbolic representation of the Sanctum in a lodge room, but do not use it as a passageway by passing through it. (Derived from SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol. II August, 1924 No.8)
The apron is the badge of a Mason and it should be worn with pride! If an outer garment hides any part of the apron, then the apron should be worn on the outside of the garment. (Derived from SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol. X June, 1932 No.6)
The Altar may be draped as a mark of respect to a dead brother. If so the draping is of black cloth which is beneath the three Great Lights. The Altar should not be draped in any flag; it is disrespectful to the flag to place anything upon it, and not even a national flag should cover the Altar.
The ballot box should be placed on the Altar, not on the three Great Lights, obscuring them. Nothing but the square and compasses should rest upon the open Book of the Law.
A Lodge may not be adjourned for any purpose. No member has the authority to present a motion for adjournment since that would usurp the Master's power. A Lodge must be in one of three conditions: Closed, open and at work, or at refreshment. (Summer 2004 issue, The Virginia Masonic Herald)
Always be fully "dressed" before entering a Lodge while in session. It is a serious disrespect to the Master to approach the altar while still tying or adjusting your apron. This should be done in the anteroom prior to entry. The Tyler should insure that a brother arriving late is properly dressed before announcing him. (Derived from SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol. II August, 1924 No.8)
"The Tenets of Masonry will be maintained and the future of our Fraternity assured if we are willing to recognize and adapt to the changing environment presented by today's world. Accepting the challenge to change our attitudes will enable us to incorporate those bright, vigorous and enthusiastic younger members who can bring new vitality into our Masonic family" (December 2004, South Dakota Masonic Messenger)
When, as sometimes happens upon "big nights", there are not enough aprons, a handkerchief may be tucked in the belt to take its place. When wearing clothing that would conceal any part of the apron, always wear the apron on the outside of the coat. (Derived from SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol. X June, 1932 No.6)
When entering a Lodge while in session, the Tyler must inform the arriving brother of the degree in which the Lodge is working. If by some chance the new arrival is not informed, when he advances West of the Altar, he can see from the position of the Great Lights which salute he should give to the Master. There is absolutely no reason to be guilty of giving the wrong due-guard.
Concerning dress: Many Lodges have dress codes. If you plan to visit a Lodge, make every effort to determine their standards for proper dress before your visit. If that is impossible, then you should dress as you would to attend church. Few, if any, Lodges will find fault with your dress if in a coat and tie, even though they may attend Lodge in formal dress. Some Lodges have a "come as you are" standard, especially those Lodges where many of their members are farmers or laborers who would not be able to return home after a day's work to change and make it to Lodge on time. In my humble opinion, attending Lodge is an obligation. Being properly dressed is a courtesy to the Lodge officers and it's traditions.
If I might be permitted another opinion: Two of the most damaging subjects to the universal good name of Freemasonry are: 1.) Any mention of a goat to any person concerning the workings of a Lodge. The goat has for centuries been seen by many as a symbol of Satan. It is not in good taste, even though in jest, to "threaten" a candidate with "Riding the Goat!" When overheard by the profane, statements such as this add fuel to the long standing Anti-Masonic attitude. Recently while visiting in another Grand Jurisdiction, I refused to stay for an outdoor degree after seeing a male goat dragged through the "Lodge" into the preparation room where more than a dozen candidates waited to be raised to the Sublime Degree. I do not believe that "true" Freemasonry was being practiced that day. 2.) We do not have "Masonic Bibles!" There are no such items. We have Holy Bibles with the Masonic Emblems stamped on the front and some even with graphic illustrations within of King Solomon's Temple. We have them on our Lodge altars and we have personal copies, but those are not "Masonic Bibles!" They should not be referred to as such. For the same reasons as above, those who distrust our great Fraternity have often been heard to say "Freemasons do not believe in God. Why, they even have their own bible!"
The Masonic (Square and Compasses) ring is not an official item of Masonic Jewelry. General consensus seems to be that if the wearer wishes to advise others that he is a Master Mason, then he should wear the ring with the Compasses tips toward the fingertips. If the ring is worn to remind the wearer that he is a Master Mason, then he should wear it with the compasses tips toward the wrist.
A man in lodge is the servant of his brethren if he engages in any lodge activity. Servants stand in the presence of their superiors. Therefore, no Mason sits while speaking (unless he is physically unable to stand), whether he addresses an officer or another brother. This does not refer to conversation on the benches during refreshment, but to discussion on the floor during business meeting. (Derived from SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol. II August, 1924 No.8)
It is illegal to enter or leave the room during a ballot. It is discourteous to leave during a speech, or during a degree, except at the several natural periods which end one section and begin another. (Derived from SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol. II August, 1924 No.8)
The Masonic Apron is “An emblem of innocence and the badge of a mason; more ancient than the Golden Fleece or Roman Eagle, more honorable that the Star and Garter, or any other order..." By these words the Entered Apprentice is taught the value of the apron he is receiving. But what are these "orders" that the Masonic Apron is being compared to? - The Order of the Golden Fleece was founded by Philip, Duke of Burgundy, in 1429. - The Roman Eagle was Rome’s symbol and ensign of power and might a hundred years before Christ. - The Order of the Star was created by John II of France in the middle of the Fourteenth Century. - The Order of the Garter was founded by Edward III of England in 1349 for himself and twenty-five Knights of the Garter. That the Masonic Apron is more ancient than these is a provable fact. (Derived from SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol. X June, 1932 No.6)
Prayers at lodge functions should be scrupulously in keeping with Masonic teachings. Never should they be an expression of particular sectarian views or dogmatic creeds. It is a matter of courtesy that all prayers, speeches and discussions at Masonic affairs avoid sectarian, controversial or political tones.
The convention of good manners is what makes society pleasant, and Masonic good manners make lodge meetings pleasant. When a visitor appears at a meeting it is only proper for each member to welcome him as he would in his own home. Masonry has, for ages, taught lessons of tolerance. It is understood that another visitor’s signs and even words may be different, and his ritual or language may differ from your jurisdiction, but it would be discourteous to object to such in lodge.
One does not talk in church. God’s House is not for social conversation; it is for worship and the learning of the lesson of the day. A good Mason does not talk during the conferring of a degree. The lodge room is then a Temple of the Great Architect of the Universe, with the brethren working therein doing their humble best to make better stones for His spiritual Temple. Good manners as well as reverence dictate silence and attention during the work; officers and degree workers cannot do their best if distracted by conversation, and the irreverence cannot help but be distressing to candidates. (Derived from SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol. II August, 1924 No.8)
There are three great prohibitions in all Masonic discussions:
1) All sectarian discussions, all arguments or statements pro or con as to the merits of politics, of any given religion or theological creed, of racial questions, of private business, or of any other non-Masonic subject by which men are divided into classes, feuds, schisms, or are opposed on sectarian issues, is at all times forbidden.
2) It is strictly forbidden to discuss a petitioner (other than to read his petition and indicate whether the report of the investigating Committee is favorable or un-favorable), and for a Mason to reveal how he has voted, or in any way to seek to persuade members to vote one way or another.
3) All offensive personal remarks, all expressions of bitterness or ill will and all or any slurs upon the Lodge or its Officers, Grand Lodge or its Officers, and the Fraternity itself, and all flippant, unseemly, or discourteous remarks addressed to the Lodge or to its officers, are condemned alike by the principals of common courtesy and etiquette and by the disciplinary laws of the Craft.
The ballot is the second most sacred thing in the Lodge, The Great Light being the first. Every Mason owes to his Lodge the duty of protecting the integrity of the ballot, and every Mason owes to every petitioner a fair ballot.
There is a special lodge courtesy to be observed in all debates to any motion. One speaks to the Master; the Master is the lodge. One does not turn one’s back on him to address the lodge without permission from him. One stands when addressing the chair. Customs differ in various jurisdictions as to the method of salute, but some salute should always be given when addressing the Master. The spectacle of two brethren on their feet at the same time, arguing over a motion, facing each other and ignoring the Master, is not one which any Master should permit. But it is also one which no Master should have to prevent! (Derived from SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol. II August, 1924 No.8)
The operational business of Masonry is democratically managed since many Lodge proposals are decided by ballot. That is not to say that the Lodge is entirely democratic. Failure to obey the gavel at once is a grave discourtesy. The Master is all powerful in the lodge. He can accept or refuse to accept any motion. He can rule any brother out of order on any subject at any time. He can say what he will, or will not, permit to be discussed. Brethren who think him unfair, arbitrary, unjust, or acting illegally, have redress; the Grand Lodge can be appealed to on any such matter. But within the lodge, the gavel, emblem of authority, is supreme. When a brother is rapped down, he should at once obey, without further discussion. It is very bad manners to do otherwise; indeed, it is close to the line between bad manners and a Masonic offense. (Derived from SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol. II August, 1924 No.8)
A Master has but three superiors, God, death and the Grand Master (or his Deputy). Masters, therefore, remove their hats during prayer, in the presence of death (which includes announcements) and of the Grand Master (or his Deputy).
It is a courtesy to the Master to advise him beforehand that you intend to offer a motion, or wish to bring up some matter for discussion. You have the right to do it without apprising him in advance, just as he has the right to rule you out of order. But the Master may have plans of his own for that meeting, into which your proposed motion or discourse does not fit. Therefore it is a courtesy to him to ask him privately if you may be recognized for your purpose, and thus save him the disagreeable necessity of seeming arbitrary in a public refusal. (Derived from SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol. II August, 1924 No.8)
Lodge courtesies, like those of the profane world, are founded wholly in the Golden Rule. They oil the Masonic wheels and enable them to revolve without creaking. They smooth the path of all in the lodge, and prove to all and sundry the truth of the ritualistic explanation of that "more noble and glorious purpose" to which we are taught to put the trowel. Disturbances of any kind should be avoided. Electronic devices such as Cellular Phones should be either turned off or set to vibrate so as not to disturb the work in progress. (Derived in part from SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol. II August, 1924 No.8)
The most appropriate closing phrase I know for this compendium of Lodge Courtesies is by the late R. W. Henry G. Meacham, Grand Lecturer, Grand Lodge of New York:
"There is a certain grave beauty in the practice of Masonic etiquette. The Masonic life as it is lived out in our assemblies is a conscious work of art, with each and every part coordinated to every other, and instinct with the feeling of the whole; if a man enters into that system without preparation or forethought, and trusting only his instincts, his manner will strike an awkward note, like a discord jangling across a strain of music; but if he has trained himself in his part and caught the spirit of the whole, the genius of Freemasonry will shine through his actions, will express itself through ritual, symbol, law, philosophy, fellowship and daily deed. To have one's self thus become a part of a great and living whole is a kind of satisfying pleasure nothing else can give, a participation in the very life of beauty, appreciated as much by the beholders as by the actor. This ability to confer pleasure upon one's fellows when gathered in communication or in ceremony is not the least of etiquette's rewards."