The Feast of the Paschal Lamb, An Honor

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
R.W.B. Michael H Shirley


Photo from Life Magazine
A couple of years ago I accepted an offer to become an officer in the George E. Burow Chapter of Rose Croix in the Valley of Danville, Illinois, Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, NMJ. I knew what some of my duties would be (perform in degrees, take on increasing responsibility in Valley functions, attend board meetings, buy a tuxedo), but I was unclear on one thing, since I hadn’t attended it: the Feast of the Paschal Lamb. The Feast is conducted annually by past and present Rose Croix officers as a memorial to Valley members who have died in the preceding year. My wife describes it as an All Souls Day ceremony for Masons, and that’s a pretty good analogy. It’s open to the public, and family and friends of the decedents are specially invited to attend. 

In Danville, most of the speaking parts are taken by Past Most Wise Masters, with current officers taking spots as needed. For the past two years, I’ve had the duty of reading the Mystic Roll, the names of those who have died. Given our aging membership, it’s a long list, and it takes a while to read, especially since it’s done along with a slide show of each member’s name and photograph. And of all the things I’ve done in Masonry, it’s probably what I am most grateful for. 

Photo by WB Greg Knott
Last year, I sat out of sight in a balcony with a hand-held microphone, reading names from a glitchy program off of the screen in front of me. I was too nervous to really notice anything save my desire not to miss any names and pronounce them all correctly. This year, I stood at a podium, reading each name as it appeared on the screen, looking ahead on a list in front of me. There were no glitches; my Rose Croix Brethren did everything beautifully and the slide program worked as it was supposed to. And I realized again that everything passes. These were men who had loved Freemasonry as I do, who had participated in degrees there at the Danville Masonic Temple, standing on the floor of the preceptory as I did, and now they were gone. Each name, each face, held a lifetime of joy, sorrow, and everything in between, shared with their families, friends, and Brothers, and now they shared just a little more. Each name became a meditation for me, a moment of solemnity as I spoke it as clearly and reverently as I could, thinking of the times past when this ceremony was conducted by men who had since then all been called home by the Grand Warden of Heaven, to the time in the future when our own names would be pronounced, to be followed in a few seconds by another name, and then another.  And ultimately, no one would be left alive who remembered any of us as anything other than a name. So getting each name right mattered. Speaking each name reverently mattered. 

Being part of this fraternity is a privilege, and nowhere is it more apparent to me than at this Feast, when I speak my Brothers’ names with gratitude, my acceptance of this obligation a part of my larger obligation as a Rose Croix officer, a Freemason, and a man. And so I stand there, as reverently as I can, looking at their faces, speaking their names. As had been done before, and would be again, by men across generations. Brothers, in unbroken line, standing and speaking for one another, past, present, and future.

~MHS

R.W.B. Michael H. Shirley is the Assistant Area Deputy Grand Master for the Eastern Area for the Grand Lodge of Illinois A.F. & A.M.  He is the Past Master of Tuscola Lodge No. 332 and Leadership Development Chairman for the Grand Lodge of Illinois. He's also a member of the Illinois Lodge of Research, the Scottish Rite, the York Rite, Eastern Star, and the Tall Cedars of Lebanon. He's also a member of the newly-chartered, Illini High Twelve No. 768 in Urbana-Champaign. The author of several articles on British history, he teaches at Eastern Illinois University.

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