by Midnight Freemason Contributor
RWB Michale H. Shirley
I’m a Certified Lodge Instructor, and I aspire to become a Grand Lecturer, so it’s fairly safe to say that Masonic ritual appeals to me a little bit. I love to give lectures, I love to learn new ones, and I love to teach it. But I try very hard to remember that knowing ritual is not what Masonry is about.
Most Worshipful Brother Terry L. Seward once said to me, “everything there is to know about Masonry is contained in our ritual.” He was, of course, right, and I’ve never known a man who loved our ritual more than MWB Seward. But it’s not his mastery of ritual that makes him a man whom I aspire to emulate. It’s the joy with which he embraces life, a joy that radiates out from him in every direction, that I admire. It’s the light that shines in his inner temple. He would likely argue that knowing ritual has enabled him to make the choices that keep that light shining, and he’d be right.
In 1882, Illinois Grand Master William H. Scott, in his address to the Grand Lodge, had this to say about ritual:
Brethren, perfection in the work and lectures is a consummation earnestly to be hoped for. Yet if this is to be attained at the sacrifice of the great moral principles which Masonry teaches, they are purchased at too great a cost. We should never lose sight of these important lessons, nor forget that our ritual, beautiful as it is, and as desirable as it may be to have a correct knowledge of it, is only the scaffolding by the aid of which we are " to erect the inner temple of our lives."
Masonry is not all ''forms and ceremonies.'' A man may be an excellent ritualist, what some call "bright Mason," and at the same time a very bad Mason. It is well to be able to work well in the lodge, but it is far better to practice the Masonic virtues at all times, in the home, at our places of business, and before the world.
Ritual as scaffolding that helps us erect the inner temple of our lives is a metaphor that needs more attention. It’s easy to focus too much on ritual when you’re trying to put on a degree, and the temptation to start correcting people when they don’t know their parts is always there. But ritual is not Masonry. It’s the path to Masonry.
Memorizing ritual enables me to carry it with me wherever I go, to meditate on its meaning, and to try to practice what it teaches. I don’t have to look it up. The more ritual I know, the more often I’ll be reminded of it by the events of my daily life and the choices they present to me. The more ritual I know, the more I’ll be able to apply it purposefully. It is knowing ritual, which means not just memorizing it but contemplating it, that gives me the chance to gain further light, and pushes me to choose to practice our true Masonic virtues. I find that when I neglect the ritual I slide back toward careless behavior in dealing with my fellow creatures. Neglecting the ritual makes it easier for me to act un-Masonically.
So I continue to work, however haltingly, to memorizing all the Work. Yes, I want the sense of accomplishment that comes with learning. Yes, I want to be able to assist in degrees. Yes, I want to earn the title of “Grand Lecturer.” But more than all of that, I want to be a Mason. As far as I’m concerned, there is no greater goal to which I can aspire.
R.W.B. Michael H. Shirley serves the Grand Lodge of Illinois, A.F. & A.M, as Leadership Development Chairman and Assistant Area Deputy Grand Master of the Eastern Area. A Certified Lodge Instructor, he is a Past Master and Life Member of Tuscola Lodge No. 332 and a plural member of Island City Lodge No. 330, F & AM, in Minocqua, Wisconsin. He currently serves the Valley of Danville, AASR, as Most Wise Master of the George E. Burow Chapter of Rose Croix; he is also a member of the Illinois Lodge of Research, the York Rite, Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees, Eastern Star, Illini High Twelve, and the Tall Cedars of Lebanon. The author of several articles on British history, he teaches at Eastern Illinois University.You can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org