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The Three Degrees of Freemasonry

"Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was,

and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it."

Entered Apprentice Degree

of Freemasonry

Let us begin by defining the term "Entered Apprentice." As an Entered Apprentice Mason, the first step in your journey to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason has been taken. We are sure that you found your initiation an experience you will never forget. A degree in Masonry is not an isolated experience once had and then done with, but is an ever enduring privilege. You can sit in an Entered Apprentice Lodge to observe, to participate in, and to study its ceremonies.

Your possession of the degree is a life-long possession which you can continue to enjoy and to enter into as long as you live. As an Entered Apprentice Mason you therefore are a learner, or beginner, in Speculative Masonry. You have taken the first step in the mastery of our art. Certain things are expected of you.

First , you are expected to show a certain humility. As a learner, you must have guides and teachers, and you must be willing to have them lead you.

Second, you must learn the catechism of the Degree, so as to prove your proficiency in open Lodge. The purpose of learning the lecture is for you to master it so thoroughly that its lesson will remain with you for life. Third , you must study and improve yourself in Masonry in all other possible ways. Your Lodge will not be content merely to receive your dues; it requires that you become a real and active member. Fourth, you will learn the rules and regulations that govern an Entered Apprentice Mason. As you stood in the northeast corner of the Lodge, you were taught a certain lesson concerning a cornerstone. From that lesson, you should know that you are a cornerstone of the Craft. It is our hope and prayer that you will prove to be a solid foundation as you proceed to the Fellow Craft Degree and then to the Master Mason Degree. Our great Fraternity depends on new members like you to conduct its work in the years to come.

Fellowcraft Degree

of Freemasonry

You are now a Fellowcraft Mason.

This means that you passed through its ceremonies, assumed its obligations, are registered as such in the books of the Lodge, and can sit in either a Lodge of Entered Apprentices or of Fellowcrafts, but not in a Lodge of Master Masons.

Doubtless you recognized in the Fellowcraft Degree a call for learning, an urge to study. Truly, here is a great Degree -- one to muse upon and to study; one to see many, many times and still not come to the end of its stirring teachings.

There are two great ideas embodied in the Fellowcraft Degree. They are not the only two ideas in it, to be sure; but if you understand these, they will lead you into an understanding of the others. But before we turn to these two main ideas, exactly what is a Fellowcraft?

Fellowcraft is one of a large number of terms which have a technical meaning peculiar to Freemasonry and is seldom or never found elsewhere.

In the dictionary sense it is not difficult to define. A "craft" was an organization of the skilled workmen in some trade or calling, for example, masons, carpenters, painters, sculptors, barbers, etc. A "fellow" meant one who held full membership in such a craft, was obligated to the same duties, and allowed the same privileges. Since the skilled crafts are no longer organized as they once were, the term is no longer in use with its original sense. It is more difficult to give it the larger meaning as it is found in Freemasonry, but we may be assisted to that end by noting that with us it possesses two quite separate and distinct meanings, on of which we may call the Operative meaning, the other the Speculative.

We can first consider the OPERATIVE meaning.

In its operative period, Freemasons were skilled workmen engaged in some branch of the building trade, or art of architecture; as such, like all other skilled workmen, they had an organized craft of their own. The general form in which this craft was organized was called a "guild." A Lodge was a local, and usually temporary organization within the guild. This guild had officers, laws, rules, regulations, and customs of its own, rigorously binding on all members equally. It divided its membership into two grades, the lower of which was composed of apprentices. The Operative Freemasons recruited their membership from qualified lads of twelve to fifteen years of age. When such a boy proved acceptable to the members, he was required to swear to be obedient, upon which he was bound over to some Master Mason; after a time, if he proved worthy, his name was formally entered in the books of the Lodge, thereby giving him his title of Entered Apprentice. For about seven years this boy lived with his master, gave his master implicit obedience in all things, and toiled much but received no pay except his board, lodging, and clothing.

In the Lodge life, he held a place equally subordinate because he could not attend a Lodge of Master Masons, had no voice or vote, and could not hold office. All this means that during his long apprenticeship, he was really a bond servant with many duties, few rights, and very little freedom. At the end of his apprenticeship, he was once more examined in Lodge. If his record was good, if he could prove his proficiency under test and the members voted in his favor, he was released from his bonds and made a full member of the Craft, with the same duties, rights, and privileges as all others. In the sense that he had thus become a full member, he was called a "Fellow of the Craft." In the sense that he had mastered the art and no longer needed a teacher, he was called a "Master Mason." So far as his grade was concerned, these two terms meant the same thing. Such was the Operative meaning of the Fellowcraft. We come next to the meaning of the term Speculative Masonry. Operative Freemasonry began to decline about the time of the Reformation when Lodges became few in number and small in membership. After a time, a few of the Lodges in England began to admit into membership men with no intention of practicing the trade of Operative Masonry, but were attracted by the Craft's antiquity and for social reasons.

These were called SPECULATIVE Masons.

At the beginning of the 18th century, the Speculatives had so increased their numbers that at last they gained control, and during the 1st quarter of that century, they completely transformed the Craft into the SPECULATIVE Fraternity as we know it today. Although they adhered as closely as possible to the old customs, they were compelled to make some radical changes in order to fit the Society for its new purposes. One of the most important of these changes was to abandon the old rule of dividing the members into two grades or degrees, and to adopt the new rule of dividing it into three grades or degrees. It was necessary to find a name for the new degree. Therefore, the degrees of symbolic Masonry became known as the Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason.

Master Mason Degree

of Freemasonry

You have just been raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason. It is indeed a "sublime" degree, which a man may study for years without exhausting. In the First and Second Degrees you were surrounded by the symbols and emblems of architecture. In the Third Degree you found a different order of symbolism, cast in the language of the soul --- its life, its tragedy, and its triumph. To recognize this is the first step in interpretation of this sublime and historic step in so-called "Blue Lodge" Masonry.

The second point is to recognize that the Third Degree has many meanings. It is not intended to be a lesson complete, finished, or closed. There are many interpretations of the Degrees. But most essentially, it is a drama of the immortality of the soul, setting forth the truth that, while a man withers away and perishes, there is that in him which perishes not. That this is the meaning most generally accepted by the Craft is shown by our habits of language. We say that a man is initiated an Entered Apprentice, passed to the degree of Fellowcraft, and "raised" a Master Mason. By this it appears that it is the raising that most Masons have found to be the center of the Master Mason Degree.

Evil in the form of tragedy is set forth in the drama of the Third Degree. Here is a good and wise man, a builder, working for others and giving others work, the highest we know, as it is dedicated wholly to God. Through no fault of his own he experiences tragedy from friends and fellow Masons. Here is evil pure and simple, a complete picture of human tragedy. How did the Craft meet this tragedy? The first step was to impose the supreme penalty on those who had possessed the will of destruction and therefore had to be destroyed lest another tragedy follow. The greatest enemy man has makes war upon the good; to it no quarter can be given. The next step was to discipline and to pardon those who acted not out of an evil will, but one of weakness. Forgiveness is possible if a man himself condemns the evil he had done, since in spite of his weakness he retains his faith in the good.

The next step was to recover from the wreckage caused by the tragedy whatever value it had left undestroyed. Confusion had come upon the Craft; order was restored. Loyal Craftsmen took up the burdens left by traitors. It is in the nature of such tragedy that the good suffer for evil and it is one of the prime duties of life that a man shall toil to undo the harm wrought by sin and crime, else in time the world would be destroyed by the evils that are done in it.

But what of the victim of the tragedy? Here is the most profound and difficult lesson of the drama. It is difficult to understand, difficult to believe if one has not been truly initiated into the realities of the spiritual life. Because the victim was a good man, his goodness rooted in an unvarying faith in God, that which destroyed him in one sense could not destroy him in another. The spirit in him rose above the evil; by virtue of it he was "raised" from a dead level to a living perpendicular.

The Worshipful Master

of the Lodge

The incumbent of the Oriental Chair has powers peculiar to his station; powers far greater than those of the President of a society or the Chairman of a meeting of any kind. President and Chairman are elected by the body over which they preside, and may be removed by that body. A Master is elected by his lodge, but he cannot be removed by it; only by the grand Master or Grand Lodge. The presiding officer is bound by rules of order adopted by the body and by its by-laws. A lodge cannot pass by-laws to alter, amend or curtail the powers of a Master. Its by-laws are subject to approval by the proper Grand Lodge Committee or by the Grand Master; seldom are any approved which infringe upon his ancient prerogatives and powers; in those few instances in which improper by-laws have been approved, subsequent rulings have often declared the Master right in disregarding them.

Grand Lodges differ in their interpretation of some of the "ancient usages and customs" of the Fraternity; what applies in one Jurisdiction does not necessarily apply in another. But certain powers of a Master are so well recognized that they may be considered universal. The occasional exceptions, if any, but prove the rule. The Master may congregate his lodge when he pleases, and for what purpose he wishes, "provided" it does not interfere with the laws of the Grand Lodge. For instance, he may assemble his lodge as a Special Communication to confer degrees, at his pleasure; but he must not, in so doing, contravene that requirement of the grand Lodge which calls for proper notice to the brethren, nor may a Master confer a degree in less than the statutory time following a preceding degree without a dispensation from the Grand Master.

The Master has the right of presiding over and controlling his lodge, and only the Grand Master, or his Deputy, may suspend him. He may put any brother in the East to preside or to confer a degree; he may then resume the gavel at his pleasure - even in the middle of a sentence if he wants to! But even when he has delegated authority temporarily, the Master is not relieved from responsibility for what occurs in his lodge.

It is the Master's right to control lodge business and work. It is in a very real sense "his" lodge. He decides all points of order and no appeal from his decision may be taken to the lodge. He can initiate and terminate debate at his pleasure, he can second any motion, propose any motion, vote twice in the case of a tie (not universal), open and close at his pleasure, with the usual exception that he may not open a Special Communication at an hour earlier than that given in the notice, or a Stated Communication earlier than the hour stated in the by-laws, without dispensation from the Grand Master. He is responsible only to the Grand Master and the Grand Lodge, the obligations he assumed when he was installed, his conscience and his God.

The Master has the undoubted right to say who shall enter, and who must leave the lodge room. He may deny any visitor entrance; indeed, he may deny a member the right to enter his own lodge, but he must have a good and sufficient reason therefore, otherwise his Grand Lodge will unquestionably rule such a drastic step arbitrary and punish accordingly. "Per contra," if he permits entry of a visitor to whom some member has objected, he may also subject himself to Grand Lodge discipline. In other words, his "power" to admit or exclude is absolute; his "right" to admit or exclude is hedged about by pledges he takes at his installation and the rules of the Grand Lodge.

A very important power of the Master is that of appointing committees. No lodge may appoint a committee. The lodge may pass a resolution that a committee be appointed, but the selection of that committee is an inherent right of the Master. He is, "ex officio," a member of all committees he appoints. The reason is obvious; he is responsible for the conduct of his lodge to the Grand Master and the Grand Lodge. If the lodge could appoint committees and act upon their recommendations, the Master would be in the anomalous position of having great responsibilities, and no power to carry out their performance.

The Master, and only the Master, may order a committee to examine a visiting brother. It is his responsibility to see that no cowan or eavesdropper comes within the tiled door. Therefore, it is for him to pick a committee in which he has confidence. So, also, with the committees which report upon petitioners. He is responsible for the accuracy, fair-mindedness, the speed and intelligence of such investigations. It is, therefore, for him to say to whom shall be delegated this necessary and important duty.

It is generally, not exclusively, held that only the Master can issue a summons. The dispute, where it exists, is over the right of members present at a Stated Communication to summons the whole membership.

It may now be interesting to look for a moment at some matters in which the Worshipful Master is not supreme, and catalog a few things he may "not" do.

The Master, and only the Master appoints the appointive officers in his lodge. In most Jurisdictions he may remove such appointed officers at his pleasure. But, he cannot suspend, or deprive of his station or place, any officer elected by the lodge. The Grand Master or his Deputy, may do this; the Worshipful Master may not.

A Master may not spend lodge money without the consent of the lodge. As a matter of convenience, a Master frequently does pay out money in sudden emergencies, looking to the lodge for reimbursement. But he cannot spend any lodge funds without the permission of the lodge. Some Jurisdictions do allow the lodge by-laws to permit the Master to spend emergency funds up to a specified amount without prior consent of the lodge.

A Master cannot accept a petition, or confer a degree without the consent of the lodge. It is for the lodge, not the Master, to say from what men it will receive an application, or a petition; and upon what candidates degrees shall be conferred. The Master has the same power to "reject" through the "black cube" as any member has, but no power whatever to "accept" any candidate against the will of the lodge.

The lodge, not the Master, must approve or disapprove the minutes of the preceding meeting. The Master cannot approve them; had he that power he might, with the connivance of the secretary, "run wild" in his lodge, and still his minutes would show no trace of his improper conduct. But the Master may refuse to put a motion to confirm or approve minutes which he believes to be inaccurate or incomplete; in this way he can prevent a careless, headstrong Secretary from doing what he wants with his minutes! Should a Master refuse to permit minutes to be confirmed, the matter would naturally be brought before the Grand Lodge or the Grand Master for settlement.

A Master cannot suspend the by-laws. He must not permit the lodge to suspend the by-laws. If the lodge wishes to change them, the means are available, not in suspension; but, in amendment. An odd exception may be noted, which has occurred in at least one Grand Jurisdiction, and doubtless may occur in others. A very old lodge adopted by-laws shortly after it was constituted, which by-laws were approved by a young Grand Lodge before that body had, apparently, devoted much attention to these important rules.

For many years this lodge carried in its by-laws and "order of business" which specified, among other things, that following the reading of the minutes, the next business was balloting. As the time of meeting of this lodge was early (seven o'clock) this by-law worked a hardship for years, compelling brethren who wished to vote to hurry to lodge, often at great inconvenience.

At last a Master was elected who saw that the by-law interfered with his right to conduct the business of the lodge as he thought proper. He balloted at what he thought was the proper time, the last order of business, not the first. An indignant committee of Past Masters, who preferred the old order, applied to the Grand Master for relief. The Grand Master promptly ruled that "order of business" in the by-laws could be no more than suggestive, not mandatory; and that the Worshipful Master had the power to order a ballot on a petition at the hour which seemed to him wise, provided - and this was stressed - that he ruled wisely, and did not postpone a ballot until after a degree, or until so late in the evening that brethren wishing to vote upon it had left the lodge room.

A Worshipful Master has no more right to invade the privacy which shrouds the use of the "Black Cube" (or Ball), or which conceals the reason for an objection to an elected candidate receiving the degrees, than the humblest member of the lodge. He cannot demand disclosure of action or motive from any brother, and should he do so, he would be subject to the severest discipline from the Grand Lodge.

Grand Lodges usually argue that a dereliction of duty by a brother who possesses the ability and character to attain the East, is worse than that of some less informed brother. The Worshipful Master receives great honor, has great privileges, enjoys great prerogatives and powers. Therefore, he must measure up to great responsibilities. A Worshipful Master cannot resign. Vacancies occur in the East through death, suspension by a Grand Master, expulsion from the Fraternity. No power can make a Master attend to his duties if he desires to neglect them. If he will not, or does not attend to them, the Senior Warden presides. He is, however, still Senior Warden; he does not become Master until elected and installed.

In broad outline, these are the important and principal powers and responsibilities of a Worshipful Master, considered entirely from the standpoint of the "ancient usages and customs of the Craft." Nothing is said here of the moral and spiritual duties which devolve upon a Master.

Volumes might be and some have been written upon how a Worshipful Master should preside, in what ways he can "give the brethren good and wholesome instruction," and upon his undoubted moral responsibility to do his best to leave his lodge better than he found it. Here we are concerned only with the legal aspect of his powers and duties.

Briefly then, if he keeps within the laws, resolutions and edicts of his Grand Lodge on the one hand, and the Landmarks, Old Charges, Constitutions and "ancient usages and customs" on the other, the power of the Worshipful Master is that of an absolute monarch. His responsibilities and his duties are those of an apostle of Light!

He is a gifted brother who can fully measure up to the use of his power and the power of his leadership.

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