True Secrets of Freemasonry

Those who become Freemasons only for the sake of finding out the secret of the order, run a very great risk of growing old under the trowel without ever realizing their purpose. Yet there is a secret, but it is so inviolable that it has never been confided or whispered to anyone. Those who stop at the outward crust of things imagine that the secret consists in words, in signs, or that the main point of it is to be found only in reaching the highest degree. This is a mistaken view: the man who guesses the secret of Freemasonry, and to know it you must guess it, reaches that point only through long attendance in the lodges, through deep thinking, comparison, and deduction.

He would not trust that secret to his best friend in Freemasonry, because he is aware that if his friend has not found it out, he could not make any use of it after it had been whispered in his ear. No, he keeps his peace, and the secret remains a secret.

Giovanni Giacomo Casanova, Memoirs, Volume 2a, Paris, p. 33

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Latin Low Mass and Freemasonry

Now here is something you probably never thought you would see juxtaposed... the Roman Catholic Latin Mass and Freemasonry. The following article was directed to the author’s attention, and is one that speaks of the renewal of the Latin Low Mass in parishes around the world due to Pope Benedict's rescission of restrictions, in place since the 1960's, against its use.

To a child in a Roman Catholic family, the rhythm of the Mass is absorbed into the body well before understanding reaches the brain. It becomes as lullingly familiar as a weekly drive to a relative’s house: opening prayers like quick turns though local streets, long freeway stretches of readings, homily and Eucharistic prayers, the quietude of communion and then — thanks be to God — the final blessing, a song and home to pancakes and the Sunday comics.


But St. John Cantius, once given up for dead, is thriving with an influx of new parishioners. In his homily, the pastor, the Rev. C. Frank Phillips, spoke proudly about the Latin Mass, which his parish was the first in Chicago to revive. He announced that it would soon be training priests in the old rite, which he vowed would restore the Catholic church to its place leading the world back to Christ. [1]

So, you are probably wondering, how does this relate to Freemasonry? Well, I'll tell ya pilgrim...

Ok, seriously. it pointed up something this author and others have pointed out regarding in a variety of different contexts. Freemasonry is facing a schism, one that is brewing between what I will call today’s Moderns and Antients. Sound familiar? Well, if you aren't a Masonic history buff, a short explanation of precisely who and what the Moderns and Antients were is in order.

The First Great Schism in Freemasonry

In 1723, James Anderson wrote and published The Constitutions of the Free-Masons, For the Use of the Lodges in London and Westminster. This work was reprinted in Philadelphia in 1734 by Benjamin Franklin, who was that year elected Grand Master of the Masons of Pennsylvania.

The Grand Lodge of England (GLE) expanded the degree system from two — Entered Apprentice and Fellow Craftsman — to three, creating the Master Mason’s degree around the year 1725; and by reorganizing, adding and dispersing ritual elements. The GLE along with those jurisdictions in amity with it, came to be known colloquially as the Moderns, (or the Premier Grand Lodge), to distinguish them from a newer, rival group within Freemasonry, known as the Antients, (or the Antient Grand Lodge).

The Antients broke away in 1753, prompted by changes to the Ritual and a wish to have a fourth Holy Royal Arch (HRA) degree within Craft Masonry. Benjamin Franklin was a Modern, but by the time he died in 1790, his lodge had gone over to the Antients and would no longer recognize him as one of their own — even to the degree of declining to give him Masonic honors at his funeral.[2]

The schism was healed when the competing Grand Lodges were joined into the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) in 1813. This was accomplished by virtue of a delicately worded compromise that returned the modes of recognition to their pre-1753 form, but kept Freemasonry per se. That is, consisting of just three degrees, while allowing the Antients to view the Holy Royal Arch degree as the completion of the third degree.[3]

Both the Antients and the Moderns had daughter lodges throughout the world, and because many of those lodges still exist, there is a great deal of variability in the ritual used today, even between UGLE-recognized jurisdictions in amity. Most private lodges conduct themselves in accordance with an agreed-upon single Ritual, though the ritual itself varies not just grand lodge to grand lodge, but in some cases, lodge to lodge.[4]

For instance, there are fifty different rituals worked in the city of London alone, and though the specifics of the rituals vary, they are all essentially the same. The lessons, lectures and tools, with little exception, remain the same the world over. A mason in Poukepsie, New York would be as at home in a lodge in Edinburgh as in Milan, Delhi or Rome.

Twenty-First Century Moderns and Antients

The following is a generalization of the situation as the author sees it today. Not every Mason neatly falls into either one or the other of the following descriptions. It is offered as a generalization for the purposes of understanding the developing modern day schism.

Today’s Moderns are the brothers who see ritual as just words to be mouthed in a precise order and gestures to be made in the precise order and manner, where lodge is a place for fish fries, Eastern Star, cigars on the porch and charity is the Masonic Homes. Conversely, today’s Antients are the esoterics, thinkers, and philosophers to whom Freemasonry is as much a philosophy as a way of life. To today’s Antients, the ritual informs as it conceals, dinners are for fraternal (not necessarily familial) Festive Boards, and lodge is a place where you go to learn, immerse yourself in fraternal association and to get re-energized.

Today’s Antients are essentially searchers. To them, the ritual is important for a different reason. Today’s Antients, for the most part, want ritual to be taken back to what it was, to remove the modern "corrections" that have been made since the Baltimore Convention because the ritual is supposed to inform even as it conceals it real meanings.

The Baltimore Convention

This story starts in December, 1839. It began with a resolution adopted by the Grand Lodge of Alabama, which requested all Grand Lodges to send a delegate to the City of Washington on the first Monday in March, 1842, “for the purpose of determining upon a uniform mode of work throughout all the Lodges of the United States and to make other lawful regulations for the interest and security of the Craft.” (The emphasis is mine, for this indicates what I mean when I say we have been misinformed.)

The Convention was held on March 7, 1842, “in the Central Masonic Hall at four and a half and D Streets N.W.” Ten Grand Lodges were represented. And these representatives refused to seat a delegate from the Grand Lodge of Michigan, declaring that it had not been established under constitutional principles. The report was made by Charles W. Moore, Chair-man of Credentials Committee and Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. The Convention upheld his report.

After due deliberation, it was concluded that not enough Grand Lodges were represented, and there was not enough time to formulate a uniform ritual that would be acceptable to all Grand Lodges. Differences of opinion among the committee selected to develop a uniform mode of work were too many and not reconcilable. The Convention voted to request each Grand Lodge to appoint some well-versed Mason and style him as a Grand Lecturer to report to a Convention to be held the following year. [5]

What Happened to my Freemasonry?

The freemasonry we have is a the result of fifty years of fellowship, lead in large part by men who, returning from war, sought out the company of like minded men in the lodges of their fathers. So the Moderns are mostly, veterans of WWII, the Korean War and to a certain extent, the Viet Nam war. They did not join for the philosophy, esotericism and education; they joined because of the fraternal aspects, and because of the respect freemasons received in their community. As a result, freemasonry in the United States has evolved into a social club, without a bar, and with rituals that must be endured. Today, in large part, Freemasonry is about connections, awards and recognition, with a minority of brothers that really live, eat, breathe and study esoteric freemasonry.

Today freemasonry has a problem, and it is just being recognized by the Moderns that are in charge of the future of the lodges. Something in freemasonry has gone missing. Its not that the brothers today are less Masonic than their predecessors, or less educated, or less... anything. However, the educational/philosophical aspects, not being as important, have… atrophied.

Throughout its history, Freemasonry has changed, slightly, to adapt to the generation filling its lodges. The problem is the 1960’s. The generation that came to maturity in the 1960s, 70s and to a certain extent the 1980s, rejected everything their parents stood for; their morality, their society, and of course, their fraternities. Freemasonry lost the influence of a whole generation of young men.

So the influence of the men that joined in the 1940s, 50’s and early 60s has carried through for over 60 years and become calcified and viewed as written in stone. Our leaders today are operating a fraternity that has changed little with society around it since the 1960’s, and has solidified into that mold.

This is our grandfather’s, not our father’s Freemasonry, and much has changed over the past fifty years! An example of this is the dues structure. In California, for instance, they have remained fairly stable in the lodges for the past sixty years! The buying power of today’s dollar is equivalent to 25 cents in 1960’s dollars. When this authors grandfather joined the lodge, his initiation fees were equivalent to two weeks wages, and his dues the equivalent of a weeks wages. These days, the initiation fees are in the $130-$180 range, which is about a half days wages, and dues are $45, the equivalent of two to three hours wages.

There are varieties of reasons for this, but that is the situation today. As a result, some lodges no longer have assets in the bank and are trying to live on a declining membership paying dues in dollars that haven’t increased in sixty years while the value of the dues has steadily decreased. Also, many American lodges own their own buildings, often in the downtown area, or just outside the downtown area, where property values have increased, and of course, property taxes, while income to the lodge has not only not increased per capita, but in lodges where the overall membership numbers have declined. That is the freemasonry that today’s Moderns have, and are gifting to the new Antients.

Today’s Antients are young men, and they are joining lodges to "belong to something greater than themselves", to partake of the things freemasonry claims. They come to learn, and they consider the time they invest to be valuable, so they want to receive value for their time. Their time is their most valuable asset, not so much their money, and for their time, they want to become better men, in service to their g-d, their family, their community and their country (in that order).

Moderns, with their old guy fish fries and nod toward, or active resistance of Masonic teachings are irrelevant to these men. In fact, many of today’s Moderns consider “esotericism” to be nonsense and bunk, and some actively stand in the way of Masonic Education and Masonic Formation. They are the men in our lodges who sit on the sidelines and sigh when a younger brother wants to present a paper or discuss how masonry is applied in the real world. For the most part, today’s Moderns are more concerned with membership numbers and shortcuts in ritual.

Today’s Moderns favor shortened or eliminated memory work, shortened lectures, one day conferrals, quick passage from Entered Apprentice to Master Mason, among other things. Today’s Antients, by and large, are in favor of longer periods before giving a man a petition to join, and longer periods between degrees. Today’s Antients favor Masonic Formation, Masonic Education, and philosophical discussions in lodge.

Today’s Moderns are happy with grand lodge directing and standardizing the lodges, and often see Freemasonry as a club. Alternately, today’s Antients reject imposed authority from above, even such authority as brethren have, in the past, granted to their grand lodges.

This rejection is not due to pride or arrogance, but is, rather, the outcome of hard, persistent inner work. They do not need outer discipline or rules because they are already working on their inner control, circumscribing themselves as the ritual teaches us. They want the freedom to "innovate" their ritual (that is, take it back to what it was, a means of conveying great truths), to operate their lodges without oversight and direction of grand lodge (after all, the master is told he is sovereign in his lodge), and to include such local traditions and customs as seem mete and fit and proper for their lodge.

Today’s Antients embrace tradition, where today’s Moderns accept the status quo. The Antients are, in this author's opinion, the true future of freemasonry. We can already see the changes happening. Across the United States, we see the formation of "Traditional Observance", European Model, and Esoteric lodges, dedicated to precisely these tenets. In the south, we see the younger masons standing up against Unmasonic Apartheid, against the "traditional" grand lodge system that installs GL officers by appointment, and in increasing use of from the lodge legislation.

The influence of the Antients can also be seen on the internet in the wild proliferation of Masonic web pages, forums, chat boards, news sources, and blogs. We can also see the attempts of the Moderns to control these blogs, in the Grand Lodge of Florida and Michigan's edicts against "unapproved web pages".

There are some brothers who have been very active in promoting Freemasonry and Masonic education on the web, for instance, Wr. Tim Bryce. He was instructed by two Grand Masters of the Grand Lodge of Florida to close all his many web forums for Masons, to stop publishing his articles on the internet, to stop emailing his articles to all and sundry or face expulsion for disobeying an edict of a grand master. It is understandable to this author that the Moderns would like to, need to, control the message that is being promulgated, especially if the message is critical of them. The question that should be, must be, in fact, asked though, is: “In what way is censoring a brother’s right to free speech… Masonic?” Is this Society of Friends and Brothers not founded upon the right, the fundamental RIGHT of a man to ask questions, to think for himself, to question, to ponder, and to develop answers?

It must be noted here that it is not the intention of the author to criticize any grand lodge or grand officer. The author is certain of the honorable intent of all grand lodge officers, and their pursuit, as they understand it, of what is best for the brethren over whom they have been chosen to lead. That written, this is still a question that must be asked!

So, how does this relate to the Catholic Church and the Low Mass in Latin?

Well, I am glad you asked. The RCC is discovering today what Freemasonry is beginning to learn... people LIKE tradition; they WANT a return to the fundamental, historical, foundational way of doing things. People today seem to want to, in many cases, do away with innovations that have turned the venerable institutions of today into wishy-washy, politically correct, soft and squishy versions of what made them forces in society.

People enjoy ritual for a reason; it is a touchstone, something familiar, something comforting, a constant in society and in their lives. Ritual and tradition are foundational cornerstones of our lives, and with the constant change in our lives, people want the safety and surety of tradition. In Freemasonry, like the Catholic Church, there is no room for situational ethics.

It is this author’s opinion that what the Catholic Church has discovered, in the return to the Latin Liturgy is a return to the comfort of the fundamentals of their worship. Like the Catholic Church, what today’s Antients are discovering is a desire to return to the ritual and esoteric studies of the principle truths we speak: Faith, Hope, Charity, Brotherly Love, Relief, Truth, Prudence, Temperance, Justice, Silence and so on. This is what our younger, next generation members want and need in today’s world.

The RCC, in its new pope, is turning its back on the 21st century, in a sense, and returning to the 1900's, to the things that were always true, to a time when morality was not relative. In that same sense, the Antients are seeking the same from Freemasonry. So now we see a connection, however hidden, between the Latin Liturgy and Freemasonry.

How is that for special?

[1] The Pope Reopens a Portal to Eternity, via the 1950s; By Lawrence Downes; New York Times Opinion Page, July 29, 2007:

[2] Great Schism in Freemasonry

[3] A Pragmatic Masonic History, by Leo Zanelli,

[4] Revolutionary Brotherhood, by Steven C. Bullock, Univ. N. Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 19967 /

[5] The Convention That Changed The Face Of Freemasonry By Allen E. Roberts, Masonic Service Association, Short Talk Bulletin


Anonymous said...

I don't wish to get into the meat of the schism discussion - it would require a large dissertation in its own right - as you appreciate. However I would like to add to your opening quote regarding the the Latin Mass - particularly the phrase "the rythm of the Mass is absorbed into the body well before understanding reaches the brain."
Not long after I was raised, in early 1995, one of my new Brothers popped in to ask my opinion on a paper (which, in hindsight, I think had been presented to the Waikato Lodge of Research No 445, New Zealand Constitution, and on which he wished to comment) relating to the impact of the Degree ceremonies on the Candidate. He wanted my opinion on it having recently encountered the three Craft Degrees. I read it with a growing sense of alarm because it was attempting to describe emotional and philosophical reactions which, frankly, were garbage. I had two overwhelming impressions: one originating from the dignity, solemnity, and a foreshadow of the immense philosophical implications which I didn't yet appreciate; the other that I was not tall enough to stop most of the words that were spoken to me.
While reading the paper and discussing it with my Brother, I had the first of what you might call an epiphany regarding Freemasonry. Despite the comments that were made in refectory following by Initiation and the other Degrees, that a Candidate was the most important person in the Order, and that the ceremonial was for his benefit alone, I realised that the ceremony was not for the Candidate - it was in fact for the Brethren. And I immediately compared it to the Liturgy used in the more formal churches (such as Catholic and Anglican - Episcopal) - that it was something that was a constancy; something you could "hang your hat on" because the peg never shifted.
I realised then that my understanding of the philosophy of Freemasonry would develop as I "absorbed it" - by osmosis, as it were. Indeed I fully comprehended a comment passed to me by another Brother that I wouldn't really understand until I took part in some aspects of the ceremonial.
I am still developing that understanding. I never participate in or observe another working but that I feel I have picked up another slight inference or nuance - often just from the slightly different way that another Brother will speak some of the words.
I rather feel that will not change - but then we refer to Craft Masonry as a progressive science, do we not?

Anonymous said...

I am not a Roman Catholic but always loved the majesty of the Tridentine Mass when I visited Chapels along with RC relatives as a youth. I am glad that the new Pope is bringing it back.

Now as a Mason I am very firmly in the "New Antient" wing that the Author mentions. Personally I feel that the two halves of Freemasonry cannot and indeed should not be kept together and that a new schism would be a GOOD thing rather than a bad.

The old ex soldiers etc and those who followed them and like their "Service Club" Freemasonry both in the UK and USA can be left with their Fish Fries, Banquet Style Festive Boards, Large "Charity" wing-dings, Ladies Nights, Car Rallies etc, One Day Classes, Arcane and Convoluted Rank and Honours System and good luck to them in that!

The Esoteric "Neo-Antients" such as myself can then be freed from all those distractions to study and enjoy OUR type of Freemasonry.

A clean and amicable split might be better than being bound together in "Unholy Deadlock"

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