The Principles of Masonic Law/Chapter VI

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The Principles of Masonic Law by Albert Mackey
Book Second, Chapter I
Chapter I.
Of the Nature and Organization of Subordinate Lodges.

The old charges define a Lodge to be "a place where Masons assemble and work;" and also "that assembly, or duly organized society of Masons." The lecture on the first degree gives a still more precise definition. It says that "a lodge is an assemblage of Masons, duly congregated, having the Holy Bible, square, and compasses, and a charter, or warrant of constitution, empowering them to work."

Every lodge of Masons requires for its proper organization, that it should have been congregated by the permission of some superior authority, which may be either a Grand Master or a Grand Lodge. When a lodge is organized by the authority of a Grand Master, it is said to work under a Dispensation, and when by the authority of a Grand Lodge, it is said to work under a warrant of constitution. In the history of a lodge, the former authority generally precedes the latter, the lodge usually working for some time under the dispensation of the Grand Master, before it is regularly warranted by the Grand Lodge. But this is not necessarily the case. A Grand Lodge will sometimes grant a warrant of constitution at once, without the previous exercise, on the part of the Grand Master, of his dispensing power. As it is, however, more usually the practice for the dispensation to precede the warrant of constitution, I shall explain the formation of a lodge according to that method.

Any number of Master Masons, not under seven, being desirous of uniting themselves into a lodge, apply by petition to the Grand Master for the necessary authority. This petition must set forth that they now are, or have been, members of a regularly constituted lodge, and must assign, as a reason for their application, that they desire to form the lodge "for the conveniency of their respective dwellings," or some other sufficient reason. The petition must also name the brethren whom they desire to act as their Master and Wardens, and the place where they intend to meet; and it must be recommended by the nearest lodge.

Dalcho says that not less than three Master Masons should sign the petition; but in this he differs from all the other authorities, which require not less than seven. This rule, too, seems to be founded in reason; for, as it requires seven Masons to constitute a quorum for opening and holding a lodge of Entered Apprentices, it would be absurd to authorize a smaller number to organize a lodge which, after its organization, could not be opened, nor make Masons in that degree.

Preston says that the petition must be recommended "by the Masters of three regular lodges adjacent to the place where the new lodge is to be held." Dalcho says it must be recommended "by three other known and approved Master Masons," but does not make any allusion to any adjacent lodge. The laws and regulations of the Grand Lodge of Scotland require the recommendation to be signed "by the Masters and officers of two of the nearest lodges." The Constitutions of the Grand Lodge of England require that it must be recommended "by the officers of some regular lodge." The recommendation of a neighboring lodge is the general usage of the craft, and is intended to certify to the superior authority, on the very best evidence that can be obtained, that, namely, of an adjacent lodge, that the new lodge will be productive of no injury to the Order.

If this petition be granted, the Grand Secretary prepares a document called a dispensation, which authorizes the officers named in the petition to open and hold a lodge, and to "enter, pass, and raise Freemasons." The duration of this dispensasation is generally expressed on its face to be, "until it shall be revoked by the Grand Master or the Grand Lodge, or until a warrant of constitution is granted by the Grand Lodge." Preston says, that the Brethren named in it are authorized "to assemble as Masons for forty days, and until such time as a warrant of constitution can be obtained by command of the Grand Lodge, or that authority be recalled." But generally, usage continues the dispensation only until the next meeting of the Grand Lodge, when it is either revoked, or a warrant of constitution granted.

If the dispensation be revoked by either the Grand Master or the Grand Lodge (for either has the power to do so), the lodge of course at once ceases to exist. Whatever funds or property it has accumulated revert, as in the case of all extinct lodges, to the Grand Lodge, which may be called the natural heir of its subordinates; but all the work done in the lodge, under the dispensation, is regular and legal, and all the Masons made by it are, in every sense of the term, "true and lawful Brethren."

Let it be supposed, however, that the dispensation is confirmed or approved by the Grand Lodge, and we thus arrive at another step in the history of the new lodge. At the next sitting of the Grand Lodge, after the dispensation has been issued by the Grand Master, he states that fact to the Grand Lodge, when, either at his request, or on motion of some Brother, the vote is taken on the question of constituting the new lodge, and, if a majority are in favor of it, the Grand Secretary is ordered to grant a warrant of constitution.

This instrument differs from a dispensation in many important particulars. It is signed by all the Grand Officers, and emanates from the Grand Lodge, while the dispensation emanates from the office of the Grand Master, and is signed by him alone. The authority of the dispensation is temporary, that of the warrant permanent; the one can be revoked at pleasure by the Grand Master, who granted it; the other only for cause shown, and by the Grand Lodge; the one bestows only a name, the other both a name and a number; the one confers only the power of holding a lodge and making Masons, the other not only confers these powers, but also those of installation and of succession in office. From these differences in the characters of the two documents, arise important differences in the powers and privileges of a lodge under dispensation and of one that has been regularly constituted. These differences shall hereafter be considered.

The warrant having been granted, there still remain certain forms and ceremonies to be observed, before the lodge can take its place among the legal and registered lodges of the jurisdiction in which it is situated. These are its consecration, its dedication, its constitution, and the installation of its officers. We shall not fully enter into a description of these various ceremonies, because they are laid down at length in all the Monitors, and are readily accessible to our readers. It will be sufficient if we barely allude to their character.

The ceremony of constitution is so called, because by it the lodge becomes constituted or established. Orthoepists define the verb to constitute, as signifying "to give a formal existence to anything." Hence, to constitute a lodge is to give it existence, character, and standing as such; and the instrument that warrants the person so constituting or establishing it, in this act, is very properly called the "warrant of constitution."

The consecration, dedication, and constitution of a lodge must be performed by the Grand Master in person; or, if he cannot conveniently attend, by some Past Master appointed by him as his special proxy or representative for that purpose. On the appointed evening, the Grand Master, accompanied by his Grand Officers, repairs to the place where the new lodge is to hold its meetings, the lodge[1] having been placed in the centre of the room and decently covered with a piece of white linen or satin. Having taken the chair, he examines the records of the lodge and the warrant of constitution; the officers who have been chosen are presented before him, when he inquires of the Brethren if they continue satisfied with the choice they have made. The ceremony of consecration is then performed. The Lodge is uncovered; and corn, wine, and oil--the masonic elements of consecration--are poured upon it, accompanied by appropriate prayers and invocations, and the lodge is finally declared to be consecrated to the honor and glory of God.

This ceremony of consecration has been handed down from the remotest antiquity. A consecrating--a separating from profane things, and making holy or devoting to sacred purposes--was practiced by both the Jews and the Pagans in relation to their temples, their altars, and all their sacred utensils. The tabernacle, as soon as it was completed, was consecrated to God by the unction of oil. Among the Pagan nations, the consecration of their temples was often performed with the most sumptuous offerings and ceremonies; but oil was, on all occasions, made use of as an element of the consecration. The lodge is, therefore, consecrated to denote that henceforth it is to be set apart as an asylum sacred to the cultivation of the great masonic principles of Friendship, Morality, and Brotherly Love. Thenceforth it becomes to the conscientious Mason a place worthy of his reverence; and he is tempted, as he passes over its threshold, to repeat the command given to Moses: "Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground."

The corn, wine, and oil are appropriately adopted as the Masonic elements of consecration, because of the symbolic signification which they present to the mind of the Mason. They are enumerated by David as among the greatest blessings which we receive from the bounty of Divine Providence. They were annually offered by the ancients as the first fruits, in a thank-offering for the gifts of the earth; and as representatives of "the corn of nourishment, the wine of refreshment, and the oil of joy," they symbolically instruct the Mason that to the Grand Master of the Universe he is indebted for the "health, peace, and plenty" that he enjoys.

After the consecration of the lodge, follows its dedication. This is a simple ceremony, and principally consists in the pronunciation of a formula of words by which the lodge is declared to be dedicated to the holy Saints John, followed by an invocation that "every Brother may revere their character and imitate their virtues."

Masonic tradition tells us that our ancient Brethren dedicated their lodges to King Solomon, because he was their first Most Excellent Grand Master; but that modern Masons dedicate theirs to St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, because they were two eminent patrons of Masonry. A more appropriate selection of patrons to whom to dedicate the lodge, could not easily have been made; since St. John the Baptist, by announcing the approach of Christ, and by the mystical ablution to which he subjected his proselytes, and which was afterwards adopted in the ceremony of initiation into Christianity, might well be considered as the Grand Hierophant of the Church; while the mysterious and emblematic nature of the Apocalypse assimilated the mode of teaching adopted by St. John the Evangelist to that practiced by the fraternity. Our Jewish Brethren usually dedicate their lodges to King Solomon, thus retaining their ancient patron, although they thereby lose the benefit of that portion of the Lectures which refers to the "lines parallel." The Grand Lodge of England, at the union in 1813, agreed to dedicate to Solomon and Moses, applying the parallels to the framer of the tabernacle and the builder of the temple; but they have no warranty for this in ancient usage, and it is unfortunately not the only innovation on the ancient landmarks that that Grand Lodge has lately permitted.

The ceremony of dedication, like that of consecration, finds its archetype in the remotest antiquity. The Hebrews made no use of any new thing until they had first solemnly dedicated it. This ceremony was performed in relation even to private houses, as we may learn from the book of Deuteronomy.[2] The 30th Psalm is a song said to have been made by David on the dedication of the altar which he erected on the threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite, after the grievous plague which had nearly devastated the kingdom. Solomon, it will be recollected, dedicated the temple with solemn ceremonies, prayers, and thank-offerings. The ceremony of dedication is, indeed, alluded to in various portions of the Scriptures.

Selden[3] says that among the Jews sacred things were both dedicated and consecrated; but that profane things, such as private houses, etc., were simply dedicated, without consecration. The same writer informs us that the Pagans borrowed the custom of consecrating and dedicating their sacred edifices, altars, and images, from the Hebrews.

The Lodge having been thus consecrated to the solemn objects of Freemasonry, and dedicated to the patrons of the institution, it is at length prepared to be constituted. The ceremony of constitution is then performed by the Grand Master, who, rising from his seat, pronounces the following formulary of constitution:

"In the name of the most Worshipful Grand Lodge, I now constitute and form you, my beloved Brethren, into a regular lodge of Free and Accepted Masons. From this time forth, I empower you to meet as a regular lodge, constituted in conformity to the rites of our Order, and the charges of our ancient and honorable fraternity;--and may the Supreme Architect of the Universe prosper, direct, and counsel you, in all your doings."

This ceremony places the lodge among the registered lodges of the jurisdiction in which it is situated, and gives it a rank and standing and permanent existence that it did not have before. In one word, it has, by the consecration, dedication, and constitution, become what we technically term "a just and legally constituted lodge," and, as such, is entitled to certain rights and privileges, of which we shall hereafter speak. Still, however, although the lodge has been thus fully and completely organized, its officers have as yet no legal existence. To give them this, it is necessary that they be inducted into their respective offices, and each officer solemnly bound to the faithful performance of the duties he has undertaken to discharge. This constitutes the ceremony of installation. The Worshipful Master of the new lodge is required publicly to submit to the ancient charges; and then all, except Past Masters, having retired, he is invested with the Past Master's degree, and inducted into the oriental chair of King Solomon. The Brethren are then introduced, and due homage is paid to their new Master, after which the other officers are obligated to the faithful discharge of their respective trusts, invested with their insignia of office, and receive the appropriate charge. This ceremony must be repeated at every annual election and change of officers.

The ancient rule was, that when the Grand Master and his officers attended to constitute a new lodge, the Deputy Grand Master invested the new Master, the Grand Wardens invested the new Wardens, and the Grand Treasurer and Grand Secretary invested the Treasurer and Secretary. But this regulation has become obsolete, and the whole installation and investiture are now performed by the Grand Master. On the occasion of subsequent installations, the retiring Master installs his successor; and the latter installs his subordinate officers.

The ceremony of installation is derived from the ancient custom of inauguration, of which we find repeated instances in the sacred as well as profane writings. Aaron was inaugurated, or installed, by the unction of oil, and placing on him the vestments of the High Priest; and every succeeding High Priest was in like manner installed, before he was considered competent to discharge the duties of his office. Among the Romans, augurs, priests, kings, and, in the times of the republic, consuls were always inaugurated or installed. And hence, Cicero, who was an augur, speaking of Hortensius, says, "it was he who installed me as a member of the college of augurs, so that I was bound by the constitution of the order to respect and honour him as a parent."[4] The object and intention of the ancient inauguration and the Masonic installation are precisely the same, namely, that of setting apart and consecrating a person to the duties of a certain office.

The ceremonies, thus briefly described, were not always necessary to legalize a congregation of Masons. Until the year 1717, the custom of confining the privileges of Masonry, by a warrant of constitution, to certain individuals, was wholly unknown. Previous to that time, a requisite number of Master Masons were authorized by the ancient charges to congregate together, temporarily, at their own discretion, and as best suited their convenience, and then and there to open and hold lodges and make Masons; making, however, their return, and paying their tribute to the General Assembly, to which all the fraternity annually repaired, and by whose awards the craft were governed.

Preston, speaking of this ancient privilege, says: "A sufficient number of Masons met together within a certain district, with the consent of the sheriff or chief magistrate of the place, were empowered at this time to make Masons and practice the rights of Masonry, without a warrant of constitution." This privilege, Preston says, was inherent in them as individuals, and continued to be enjoyed by the old lodges, which formed the Grand Lodge in 1717, as long as they were in existence.

But on the 24th June, 1717, the Grand Lodge of England adopted the following regulation: "That the privilege of assembling as Masons, which had hitherto been unlimited, should be vested in certain lodges or assemblies of Masons, convened in certain places; and that every lodge to be hereafter convened, except the four old lodges at this time existing, should be legally authorized to act by a warrant from the Grand Master for the time being, granted to certain individuals by petition, with the consent and approbation of the Grand Lodge in communication; and that, without such warrant, no lodge should be hereafter deemed regular or constitutional."

This regulation has ever since continued in force, and it is the original law under which warrants of constitution are now granted by Grand Lodges for the organization of their subordinates.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. This is a small chest or coffer, representing the ark of the covenant, and containing the three great lights of Masonry.
  2. "What man is there that hath a new house and hath not dedicated it? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man dedicate it." Deut. xx. 5.
  3. De Syned. Vet. Ebraeor., 1. iii., c. xiv., Sec. 1.
  4. Cicero, Brut. i.