Thirty-Day Ritual Challenge

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
RWB Michael H. Shirley

I remember going to a degree not long after I was raised, and being amazed at the Master’s proficiency at ritual. He didn’t need a prompt, he knew it all, and I left thinking, “I’ll never be able to do that.” I was wrong. I’m now a Certified Lodge Instructor working toward becoming a Grand Lecturer, and it’s a lot of fun, no more so than when I can contribute in Degree Work.

We had a Third Degree at my lodge recently, for a gentleman who began his Masonic journey over a year ago. He had no problem with demonstrating his proficiency, but various practical problems prevented his being raised until now. It was a real delight to take part in his degree: he was excited, we were excited, and it was overall a joyous time. I felt especially honored, as I got to obligate him and do the Charge to the Candidate. A I returned to the West, our Marshall, a dedicated Mason, said, “I don’t know how you guys do it. You didn’t miss a word.” I said, “We work at it. There aren’t any shortcuts.” And that’s it, really. You don’t know what it takes until you try. 

Too many of my Brethren quote Dr. Seuss when presented with the challenge of learning ritual: 

“And this mess is so big 
And so deep and so tall, 
We cannot pick it up. 
There is no way at all!”

My grandfather used to say that when he had to clean the refrigerator. And then he’d start with one small thing, and before too long he’d finished his task. Ritual is like that: learn one word, one phrase, one sentence at a time, and before too long you know a lecture.

So I offer a challenge to my Brethren who look at people who are proficient in ritual, and wonder, “How do they do that?” Try. Learn something you don’t know. Start small. But work on it every day for a month, and I’ll bet you’ll do something you didn’t know you could do. If you devote ten to twenty minutes of concentrated effort every day for thirty days, you’ll surprise yourself. If you accept my challenge, please let me know how it goes. I want to hear from you. 


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 article on British and American history, he teaches at Eastern Illinois University.You can contact him at:


  1. And what if we don't have printed ritual to work from...

  2. I'd say if you don't have something to learn from i.e. printed ritual or cipher book, you don't really have the ability to self-study. So this really doesn't apply in your case. You can practice things you've already learned obviously, but you'll have to learn in the manner consistent with your jurisdiction's practice--I'm assuming you have lodges of instruction and certified instructors that teach ritual?

  3. What a great idea. I look forward to promoting this at our next stated meeting. I think that feelings of being overwhelmed by the work stand in the way of many men participating in the degrees.

  4. You don't need printed ritual or a cipher to learn the work or study by yourself. Those are killing the fraternity from within, like a cancer. Get together with a brother who knows the work. Have him teach you a manageable piece. Go home and work on it for a couple of days to a week. Then get back together. Polish up the part you've been working on, and learn a little more. Put the pieces together. Lather, rinse,repeat. This is wear brotherhood is born. No ritual book is going to fly to your relief, but a brother with whom you have built a relationship with certainly will. You will also learn much more than ritual from his instructive tongue.

  5. I think attending a good LOI is essential, if you can. But having a ritual book combined with the LOI is the bast of both worlds

  6. Please vote against cipher books. The relationship you develop with an instructor is one of the most important friendships you will have in Masonry. Road trips to other lodges are the best situations to teach. I have recently added the MM lecture to my EA and FC repertoire and they take time. Saying "I could never learn that" is like saying "I am bad at remembering names." Don't reinforce a negative. You will surprise yourself.

  7. Strong feelings against ciphers and work books aside, this message is an important one. Every time I received the proficiency work I thought the same thing "there is no way I will ever learn all this" and after a week or so I had it down pat. The thing that made it possible was spending a little time (20-30 min) every day going over the work and talking to the brothers of the lodges throughout my district. This post reminded me of a saying I "stole" and used to tell me students when they got overwhelmed with class work "how does a lion eat an elephant? one bite at a time." Thank you RWB Michael for the perspective.

  8. Did the operative stone masons use a book to refer how to build and lay stones?
    Not to my knowledge!
    So why not take after the builders and use your mind?
    A mind is a terrible thing to waste!


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