When you first become a Master Mason, learning ritual is a very different experience. First of all, it's important to learn it word-for-word. Second, it's written in arcane language that hardly rolls off the tongue in the beginning. Third, it's important not only to memorize the words and to be able to recite them, but it's also important that you deliver the words in such a way as to make an impact.
It was a major effort for me to learn my first short speech. I learned the words, I worked on being able to say them clearly, and I worked very hard to make sure that I delivered them in a manner that would make an impact on those individuals receiving the degree.
And I almost never did it again after the first time.
I'd been over those few lines of ritual a hundred times that day, and was feeling very good about it. It was a short paragraph, maybe six or seven sentences. I knew I had it down, and I was pretty happy with my delivery. It was my first time, and I wanted to not only make a impact on the candidate, but on the other Masons in the degree my first time out.
It came my time, and I gave the first couple lines, just as I practiced them. After the second line, I paused, just as I practiced, to let the words sink in, and as I started to deliver the next line, three Masons in the degree jumped in with the next line in the ritual before I could say them. When I paused, they thought I was stuck--they didn't realize it was for dramatic effect. It threw me, and of course one of the three had offered the wrong next line. I got confused, and the next four sentences which I'd worked so hard to learn evaporated in my mind. I had three different Masons trying to prompt me clear to the end of my short piece of ritual, and I couldn't hear any of them because they were talking over each other. It turned into a trainwreck. I didn't think it would ever end.
It was embarrassing, and afterwards, one of the "helpers" came up to me smiling. "Good thing I was there, huh?" In his mind, he'd saved the day. It was all I could do not so say something. To say I was ticked off would have been an understatement--I'd worked really hard on that short paragraph.
I see it all the time. There's a lot of Masons that know the work, and they are always anxious to help out when somebody drops a line. They mean well, but it's not at all helpful when it turns into a free-for-all every time somebody giving ritual takes a breath. Not to mention the fact that it ruins the solemnity of the ritual.
I like what my lodge does, and it's a good policy to have. Any time we have degree work, the Master announces in the beginning who the prompter will be, and asks that nobody else in the lodge "help." And the prompter in my lodge (usually me) doesn't offer help unless the person delivering the ritual looks to him for a line. I've done it many, many times now, both in my Lodge and in the Scottish Rite. What I've learned over time, is that more often than not, if somebody gets stuck, if left alone, the line will come to them. If not, a quick glance towards me and they'll receive the aid they need. And it's very rare that I've ever had to prompt anyone.
So remember that. Always exercise restraint in offering aid. Very often, offering aid where none is asked causes more harm than good.
Todd E. Creason, 33° is the founder of the Midnight Freemasons blog and continues to be a regular contributor. He is the author of several books and novels, including the Famous American Freemasons series. He is member of Homer Lodge No. 199, and a Past Master of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL). He is a member the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, the York Rite Bodies of Champaign/Urbana (IL), the Ansar Shrine (IL), Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees, and Charter President of the Illini High Twelve in Champaign-Urbana (IL).