From the title of this article, you might have guessed what this is about, then again, so many are oblivious to the issue at hand...maybe not. I think the vast majority of Freemasons ought to know what a Masonic Degree should look like, sound like, feel like. Let's explain how the typical work night goes, shall we?
Perhaps a meal, either before or after. The brothers move to the lodge while a few brothers linger, finishing their conversations or maybe just shaking the candidates hand and saying, “Just relax.” or “Hope you’re ready!”. The officers, dressed in their finest wearables, whether tuxedos or Harley shirts and jeans. Brotherly love is in full effect.
The Master of the lodge gavels and the officers take their stations and positions around the lodge. Fast forward through the pledge and the opening ceremony of the lodge. The Master looks around and there are some open spots to fill for the 3rd degree that weren't necessary to fill for the opening, notably, the ever absent Sr. and Jr. Stewards. The Master fills the Sr. Steward's chair with the Secretary and then invites the Tiler to Tile from within the lodge, then promptly has him fill the Jr. Steward’s chair.
As usual, side liners are sparse, but it doesn’t matter. Tonight, is a 3rd degree and nothing is going to impair it. The Master of the lodge decides to announce that there will be no “Standard Work” books open and that there will be just one prompter for the evening. In the event someone gives "the look" to this designated person, they can hit them with the next word and spare the Brother moments which seem like an eternity, when trying to remember a specific phrasing—“Was it Nor or Or?” while the candidate stands there, looking around in a bewildered daze.
The degre begins well enough, a prompt here or there. Fast forward through the first section and a five minute break ensues. Of course the five minute break becomes a ten minute break due to the usual characters stepping outside for a “bad habit”.
The 2nd section begins and it’s as if the Master of the lodge never said anything at all about a prompter. Strategic and thoughtful pauses are met with shouts from across the room, from various men, all giving the next word of the ritual. The brother delivering the verbiage holds a hand up, “I got it. It was a thoughtful pause.” We all wish that’s where it stopped, but we know it doesn’t, don’t we?
The rest of the evening is filled with prompts for directional floor work, loud enough for everyone to hear, including the candidate. “Not that way! Go around!”, “Where is so and so? They need to be in here right now!”, and a slew of other things you’ve all heard before. And just like that, the degree is ruined. It went from a play in progress, to a damned dressed rehearsal. All the action, plus direction, given way too loudly, and being a stickler for minutia that truly matters not. A back hook step in place of a turn in place? Stop the degree and reprimand that brother right there! Show him how it’s done, right now, while the candidate is hanging out right there in the West.
Brothers, during the degree is not the time for correction, full stop. If you’re a guy who’s all about the ritual and you see something that irks you, wait until after the degree to bust the offenders chops or to teach the right way. If we continue to allow this kind of open dialogue and in-degree instruction, we might as well just invite the candidate to the actual practice, let him go through it, then mark him done and move on.
I’ve witnessed this, and so have you. Let’s stop this practice now, before we ruin another man’s experience and embarrass ourselves. It may not be on this night that the candidate realizes what a train wreck his degree was. But if he sticks around long enough, one of two things will happen. He’ll slowly realize that his degree was ruined by some guy shouting instruction the whole night or, and you’ll hope for this one, that he accepts it as the norm.
Was your last work meeting a degree or a dress rehearsal?
RWB, Robert Johnson is the Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Freemason out of the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. He currently serves as the Secretary of Spes Novum Lodge No. 1183 UD. He is a Past Master of Waukegan Lodge 78 and a Past District Deputy Grand Master for the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. Brother Johnson currently produces and hosts weekly Podcasts (internet radio programs) Whence Came You? & Masonic Radio Theatre which focus on topics relating to Freemasonry. He is also a co-host of The Masonic Roundtable, a Masonic talk show. He is a husband and father of four, works full time in the executive medical industry. He is the co-author of "It's Business Time - Adapting a Corporate Path for Freemasonry" and is currently working on a book of Masonic essays and one on Occult Anatomy to be released soon.