Rituals of Freemasons
From About Freemasons
Masons use ritual in order to conduct meetings. Each jurisdiction can choose to have or not have its own rituals, as it sees fit. Jurisdictions who choose to have rituals can set their own. There is no one set of rituals that are common to all lodges, even though many non-Masons imagine secret rituals are performed by all Masons.
Nevertheless, Jurisdictions who decide to set rituals tend to have certain similarities in ritual. For example, all Masonic rituals use the symbolic tools of operative stonemasons. These symbols are used in rituals to teach and stress the tenets of "Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth" in the rituals.
Masons use the square and compass as a key symbol. This symbol is found in all lodges and is used in rituals. In fact, some lodges incorporate explanations of these symbols in their rituals. Some lodges, for example, explain that the compass represents the controlling of desires and passions while the square represents the squaring of actions through virtue. It is important to realize, though, that even though some lodges may explain the compass and the square in a particular way through ritual, no single or overarching explanation of the compass and square exists among Masons.
Rituals in lodges are also used allegorically, to teach moral lessons. This is especially true regarding the ritual surrounding the attaining of degrees. Masons pass through degrees. Each degree is meant to improve the Mason’s understanding of himself, others, and the Supreme Being. Rituals are sometimes used to show the understanding that a Mason has gained as he attains a new degree.
When degrees are conferred, the ritual also often involves the Tracing board. This is a printed board that shows the symbols that the Initiate is taught about during lectures and other studies leading up to the ritual itself. Rituals are based on a pre-set script and all members of a lodge have all their various parts memorized in advance.
Many rituals involve taking oaths. Most oaths are taken on the Volume of the Sacred Law that is always displayed in a Lodge that is open. In many countries, this texts is the Bible, since no "Masonic Bible” exists. In lodges where Masons come from a variety of religious beliefs, many sacred texts may be open. A Mason can select his religious text of choice for his Obligation and other rituals.
There is some controversy surrounding Masonic rituals. Many people who are not Masons assume that rituals are secret and that there is something to hide. This has led some in the anti-Masonic movement to claim that Masonic rituals are hidden because they are not compatible with Christianity. Many – including Christian Masons – disagree with this perspective. Historian John J. Robinson wrote a book about this controversy: A Pilgrim's Path: Freemasonry and the Religious Right. Robinson concluded that there is no incongruity between Freemasonry and Christianity. During his book tour, he used the opportunity to tell people about his conclusions.