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by W.Bro. YASHA BERESINER
MASTERS' LODGESA paper delivered at the first meeting of the
Montefiore Lodge of Installed Masters No 78
Grand Lodge of the State of Israel
at the Masonic Temple, Tel Aviv Tuesday 29 April 1997
It is a particular privilege to be the first speaker at this new Installed Masters Lodge. All the more so for my being a very proud founding member of the Montefiore Lodge No 78. For this evening’s lecture I have selected a topic which I feel is both relevant and of interest.
INSTALLED v PASTAlmost surprisingly, there is nothing in our Book of Constitutions relating to Installed or Past Masters Lodges, the two terms being effectively interchangeable and self explanatory.
An Installed Masters Lodge includes Masters currently in the chair of their respective Lodges, whilst a Past Masters Lodges consists entirely of Brethren who have already come out of the chair i.e. to the exclusion of reigning Masters. The practical difference manifests itself in the fact that Past Masters Lodges are formed for a specific purpose. In this context, in Israel, we have a good example in the Cubic Square Lodge No 25 which is a Past masters Lodge (now a Lodge of Instruction) consecrated with the sole purpose of giving each Master the ‘word’ as practiced in the Schröder ritual by a number of Lodges under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of the State of Israel.
The newly formed Montefiori Lodge No 78, on the other hand, which has no specific reason for its formation, can legitimately claim to be the first Installed Masters Lodge in Israel.
There are several other well known Lodges in England that restrict their membership to Past Masters alone, such as the unnumbered Grand Stewards’ and the Scrutator Lodge No 9379 of today or the Lodge of Promulgation and Reconciliation of the time of the Union. They are not Installed Masters Lodges.
RAISON D’ÊTREThe concept of an Installed Masters Lodge is a relatively modern innovation within the context of Masonic history. Its popular spread is traceable only to the end of the last and beginnings of this Century.
The raison d’être of an Installed Masters Lodge, as mentioned, - from the earliest evidence we have, that of a failed attempt to form such a Lodge in Derby, England around the 1870s - can be summarized under two main headings:
a) A social gathering for the more senior members of the craft
In principle, Installed Masters Lodges do not carry our any ceremonies outside of the Installation of the new Master each year. The Installed Masters Lodge complements the activities of existing Lodges. The problem of drawing membership away from other Lodges does not arise. And, finally, from a lecturer’s view point, the semi-interest of a group of Brethren of an ordinary Lodge cannot match attention given by a captive audience of Brethren at an Installed or Past Masters Lodge. You are here because you want to listen.
Should there be any objections, they should be directed at the concept of dual membership not at the existence of an individual Lodge whose only purpose is to improve the quality of freemasonry in Israel.
USEFUL BODYThese aspects are manifest in practical terms in England. Provincial Grand Masters and other officers often use the Installed Masters Lodges as an informal opportunity to convey information and instruction to the Brethren of the various Lodges in their jurisdiction.
Most see in an Installed Masters Lodge a blessing to freemasonry, allowing for the expansion of the horizons of genuine Masonic sentiments, beyond the repeated working of the craft degree ceremonies. These Lodges are the jewel in the crown of the craft.
For all practical purposes, Brethren, this brings me to the end of my lecture on Installed Masters Lodges, there really is not much more to be said.........except that totally out of context and isolated, we find a warrant issued by the Duke of Sussex for a Lodge of Installed Masters constituted on the 20th of April 1813. More than a half century before the concept of the Installed Masters Lodge, as we understand the term today, came into being.
ISOLATED CASETo appreciate the unusual circumstances which led the then Grand Master to issue a special warrant for this new Lodge, we have to look back into the development of freemasonry in England, leading to the Union of 1813.
The establishment of the first Grand Lodge in the world, in London on 24 June 1717, is an undisputed and well recorded event. In 1751, however, a competing Grand Lodge, that of the Antients, was formed by one Laurence Dermott and successfully contested all aspects of freemasonry practiced by the Premier Grand Lodge, who were dubbed the Moderns.
For the next 60 years the two Grand Lodges run side by side with considerable animosity. At the turn of the Century, the first moves began to be made with a view to a union between the rival Grand Lodges.
The Duke of Sussex, Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge and effective Grand Master elect of the imminent United Grand Lodge, began to make every conceivable effort to ensure a smooth transition and union.
Among the problems he encountered was a total neglect of the actual installation ceremony in the Lodges under his jurisdiction. Masters were simply elected and physically placed in the chair. That was it. The Grand Master was persuaded that it was necessary to ensure that both sides understood and learnt the proper way to install a Master.
Thus on 20 April 1813 a short term Warrant was issued - for just one year - for a number of named senior Brethren to form an Installed Masters Lodge with a view of properly installing existing Masters and instructing them on the proper ceremonies for the installation of their successors.
The work carried out by its senior members is still enjoyed by us today in our installation ceremonies.......
Thus for a second time I come to the end of my lecture .. .............except for a most interesting phenomenon, aspects of which remain unresolved to date. This is a reference in 1733 to A Masters Lodge. The list of Lodges compiled by Dr Richard Rawlinson and deposited with the Bodelain Library in Oxford, names Lodge no 116 A Masters Lodge. Not a Past or Installed Masters but simply Masters Lodge.
MASTERS LODGESFrom this date a series of Masters Lodges appear regularly in the engraved lists published in England annually. These Masters lodges are invariably a supplement to a named ‘parent’ lodge. They are not independent Lodges. They did not have separate warrants and there is no record ever of a Masters Lodge being constituted as such. They were attached and formed part of an existing Lodge. A lodge within a lodge.
What was their purpose? We do not know for sure.
Masters Lodges, unlike their ‘parent’ lodge, invariably met on Sundays, and with reasonable frequency. The very few separate minutes of Masters Lodges that have been discovered, refer only to the relationship between the Masters Lodge and its parent craft Lodge. There is no reference whatsoever or any detail of the work or ceremonies undertaken in the Lodge.
To understand the concept better and speculate on the subject, we again have to delve into early English Masonic history.
In our own speculative craft history, we have no evidence of the degree work that was practiced in Lodges before about 1730. We know, without a doubt, that there were only two degrees, that of the Entered Apprentice as the first degree and the Fellow of the Craft or Master, as the second.
In operative tradition, within the Lodge, a Fellow of the Craft was equal to the Master Mason. It is only in 1730, with the publication of the most famous of all exposures, Masonry Dissected, that a third degree appears in writing.
‘Exposures’ are publications intended to divulge the supposed secrets of the masons. They are invariably commercial ventures and a popular way of attacking freemasonry, still today. Masonry Dissected, although not the first exposure, is undeniably the most important. It was written by a Samuel Prichard who claimed to be a member of a recently constituted Lodge. There is, in fact, no evidence at all that he ever was a freemason. It was clear, however, that his intention was a publication that would allow lay persons access to Masonic Lodges.
EXPOSURE PROBLEMSThese publications caused serious problems to the Premier Grand Lodge at the time, but they are a blessings in disguise to modern historians. The exposures are the only factual evidence we have of what took place in a Masonic lodge in those early days of speculative freemasonry.
Masonry Dissected is the first written detailed report we have of the working of a third degree, the Hiramic Legend as practiced today. And here, in the text we also find a reference to 'The Master's Part' which has always been presumed to be the working of the third degree.
What is clear at this period, the time of the first appearance of the third degree, is that the majority of the Brethren enjoyed and were more than satisfied with just the two degrees. Being a Fellow Craft was a very respectable status and allowed all the privileges that could be expected, including nomination to Grand Lodge office.
Most Lodges did not, and could not, confer or practice the third degree simply because they had no practical knowledge of its working. The number of members who may have taken the third degree was minimal and certainly not sufficient to enable a Lodge to confer it on others.
THIRD DEGREE ONLYThus, it maybe, that special Masters Lodges came into being, within the framework of the existing Lodge, composed of experienced Master Masons whose sole function was to confer the third degree on qualified Brethren. No evidence, mind you.
There is an interesting aside here. Prichard's Masonry Dissected went into three editions in 11 days. That appears to be exceptional popularity for a book relating to just one of the many fraternal organizations in existence at the time. The majority of the London population in the 1730s was still relatively illiterate, so what was it that made this particular exposure about the freemasons so popular...the answer...it was freemasons themselves, possibly Master Masons responsible for the Masters Lodges, who were buying copies of the exposure as ritual books. Imagine, the third degree in print. What a blessing to all those Masters Lodges that were about to be formed!
Coming back to the Maters Lodges, after their appearance in 1733 and every year thereafter in the engraved lists of Lodges, they are briefly mentioned, without comment, in the 1738 edition of Anderson’s Constitutions. Then, suddenly, from 1739 there appears to be an end to them.
A logical explanation to their disappearance would be that by then, a decade at least into the adoption of the Hiramic Legend as a separate third degree, most Lodges were able to perform their own third degree ceremonies within the Lodge. This dispensed with the need of a separate Masters Lodge.
We can reasonably confidently, although without evidence, reach the conclusion that the sole purpose of Masters Lodges had bee to raise Fellow Craft masons to the third degree.
MORE MASTERS LODGESThat is not the end of the story, however. In 1750 we suddenly have the re-appearance of the Masters Lodges in the engraved lists. And now they continue uninterrupted and in rising numbers, right up to 1813, the year of the union of the two rival Grand Lodges.
Why this renewed need for Masters Lodges after 1750?
We know that by the 1750s, notwithstanding the objections of the Premier Grand Lodge, Royal Arch meetings were being held in Craft Lodges, as well as in separate special ‘Chapters’. When the Antients Grand Lodge was formed, they incorporated the Royal Arch as a formal fourth degree in Freemasonry. This placed the Brethren of the Moderns Grand Lodge who wanted to practice the degree in a quandary. Their own Grand Lodge refused to recognize or acknowledge anything beyond the three degrees of freemasonry whilst their opponents, Brethren of the Antients, were freely practicing Royal Arch Masonry.
Was this then, the purpose of the re-establishment of the Masters Lodges after 1750? An ambiance for Modern masons to practice the Royal Arch beyond the view and control of their own Grand Lodge?
It may have been, but then the question arises as to why such Masters Lodges should continue after 1766. In that year the Supreme Grand Chapter was formed and now individual Royal Arch Chapters consisting of Masons of the Modern Grand Lodge could meet formally and openly. Why should there be continued need for Masters Lodges?
The theoretical conclusions are that Masters Lodge were practicing degrees beyond the craft and Royal Arch. This theory is not only unsupported but also disputable. If that were the case why did all Masters Lodges suddenly cease totally just before the Union took place in December 1813. Other side orders continued to be practiced without impediment. There certainly did not appear to be a need for Masters Lodges.
VIRTUAL MASTERThe most viable theory has been put forward by the great Masonic scholar Bernard Jones - whose article in AQC I acknowledge as my source for much of the material in this lecture. He thinks that Masters Lodges continued after 1750 till the Union of 1813 to confer one very special type of degree: that of the Constructive Master.
Today it is only the three principals in a Royal Arch Chapter that need to be Past Masters in the Craft. In the early days of Royal Arch masonry, only past masters could become members. In order to facilitate the increase in numbers of Royal Arch masons, ordinary Brethren were made, what is known as a ‘Virtual Master’ to enable them to join the Royal Arch. This ceremony of temporarily installing a Brother as Master of the Lodge, may have been the ceremony conducted in Masters Lodges up to the time of the Union. (Still practiced today in some jurisdictions).
Once the Union took place and the Royal Arch practices were standardized the necessity for Masters Lodges disappeared, which they rapidly did.......or was this just a change in the name of the Masters Lodge that made it appear as if they had so suddenly disappeared?
I shall let you think about that.
FLOURISH AND PROSPERAs to us, Brethren, we can look back at our history with pride and curiosity. More so with regard to the Montefiori Installed Masters Lodge, making our own mark in History now, here, today, as the first Installed Master's Lodge in Israel...... may it flourish & prosper.