Worshipful Master

Masters & Past Masters: The Real Role of These Worshipful Men

Wor. Micahel A. Rose, after being installed as Master of Veritas Lodge No. 556, Norman, Oklahoma.

Wor. Micahel A. Rose, after being installed as Master of Veritas Lodge No. 556, Norman, Oklahoma.

We often encounter problems when words describing ancient concepts are translated by language of today. The choice and definition of words which were popular a few centuries ago in interpreting ideas or rendering meaning to everyday subjects often seem archaic and/or misleading when used in a contemporary sense. A typical example of this problem in the language of Freemasonry applies to the titles of our principal lodge officers.

For instance, a Master Mason is a brother who has been regularly initiated, passed and raised in a legally constituted lodge of Free and Accepted Masons. But, in the 15th century, a Master Mason was a workman who was qualified by training and experience to teach his trade to a younger, inexperienced worker. He was a man of approved learning; a scholar of authority.

The title of Worshipful Master is the term given today to mean the presiding officer of a Masonic lodge. But in the 1500’s such a title meant honorable and reputable; applying to a person who was distinguished in regard to character or rank; entitled to honor and respect. By the 1700’s, to call a man worshipful was an honorific and often temporary designation; applying to persons or bodies of distinguished rank or importance. When the title worshipful became attached to the word master, the two together denoted a man of great honor, integrity and learning who also had control or authority over something or someone. Justices of the peace, aldermen and mayors, governors and rulers; all carried the title of his worship, or worshipful master.

A Passed (or Past) Master is a Master Mason who is no longer the installed Master of a lodge of Freemasons. He has “passed the chair” as the presiding officer of his lodge. But in the 16th century, a Passed Master was one who had been examined and passed as a Master; and was thereafter considered a highly qualified or accomplished Master of a trade, guild, society or corporation.

Today, the Past Masters, Worshipful Masters and Wardens (the traditional gatekeepers or sentinels of the realm, and later the regents who ruled in the King’s absence—now vice presidents of the lodge), in addition to their hierarchical status within the structure of a lodge, also make up the body of the Grand Lodge, or state assembly of Masons, and are given the authority, on behalf of all members of their lodge, to collectively adopt the rules and regulations which govern all lodges in the state. These titled men represent the voice of the Grand Lodge when the Grand Lodge is not in session. This is the reason lodges can operate independently from Grand Lodges. Each lodge is a microcosm of the whole.

This is the hierarchical nature of the fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons, and its authority in regard to the function and leadership of each lodge.

However, titles alone do not address the more important function of these offices in regard to the fraternity’s ceremonies of initiation, passing, and raising. There must also be a transmission of knowledge, wisdom and insight in order for the new Mason to be transformed by his experience. The officers of the lodge are the metaphysical agents for this transmission. Thus, the meanings of the ancient titles are carried forth by the honored men who presently carry these titles to those who are undertaking the process of becoming Masons.

The Entered Apprentice (Initiate) must be bathed in the pure and moral motive of the light; the Fellow of the Craft must be passed into an intellectual understanding of light; and the Master Mason must be raised by that light to an insight of truth which transcends rational intellectualism. This spiritual transmission can only occur through an agent who is capable of knowing and honoring the spiritual sanction and sacred lineage of his office.

Herein is a serious caveat of which we, as Masons, must be always vigilant.

The man who ascends to the East in his lodge, professing to know Masonry; yet knowing only the words of the ritual without any understanding of his role as the Initiator for the lodge, is not capable of transmitting the esoteric and metaphysical attributes of the inner work to the psyche of the Initiate. He has neither qualified himself as a Master, a man of scholarly authority in the mysteries; nor as worshipful, a man distinguished by the singularity of his spiritual understanding.

Having offered the above as only a caution, in the traditional sense, I believe the titles of Worshipful Master and Past Master carry much weight when properly understood. They are, and remain, honorable and not temporal in that those who have the titles are styled “Worshipful;” and are therefore invested with the responsibility of being the teachers of Masonry, and carrying the spiritual lineage of the lodge with them for all time.

Therefore, I think these titles were never intended to be given frivolously, but should be earned by work, study, contemplation, and lasting commitment to the ideal of awakening the consciousness of humankind; the unveiling of the mysteries. This is the reason that only the most qualified and capable of the Master Masons should ever hold these offices.

Likewise, only those who are “duly and truly prepared” should strive to become a part of the elect group. To be initiated, passed and raised, one must first be receptive to receive the transmission offered by a Master or Past Master.

For, without transmitting and receiving this sacred gift of spiritual light; nothing much changes for any of us.




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The View from the Master's Chair

By: Wor. Jason E. Marshall

(Published in the January 2014 edition of Living Stones Magazine)

In 2014 I was truly blessed and honored to have served as the 5th Worshipful Master of Lodge Veritas No. 556, in Norman, Oklahoma. I, like almost every current or past master that I’ve ever spoken to, had mixed emotions about the position after my installation. On one hand, there was a sense of satisfaction, in that I felt as if I had accomplished a goal, or finally reached a summit that I had been working towards, especially given the fact that I had been a blue lodge officer for the entirety of my Masonic career. I began the chairs at my mother lodge, before leaving my mother lodge to focus exclusively on Lodge Veritas when it was created in 2009. There was also a sense of urgency given that unless I served a second term, I only had one year to accomplish the agenda and goals that I had been putting together for the previous three years. Finally, there was also a since of isolation, given that in a very real way the Worshipful Master is on an island in the east, and all eyes symbolically and literally look to him for direction. Above all though, there was a feeling of duty and responsibility that I owed to not only my lodge, but the fraternity as a whole.

My first meeting as Worshipful Master was surreal in many ways. First, my lodge performs a fairly unique entrance (at least for my state), where the entire lodge and visitors enter the lodge together by performing clockwise circumambulations. There are several reasons for this, which include: ceremonially cleansing the sacred space, establishing a sense of group intention regarding the work at hand (Egregore), and on a practical level it is convenient to have all of the brethren come in at the same time in order to make sure that all cellphones are off, everyone is properly clothed, everyone is actually ready to start, signal an end to casual conversations, etc. During our circumambulations all members and guests make the first circumambulation together, then the non-officers and guests fall off after passing the Tyler's doors, then non-dais officers fall off on the second circumambulation, and then finally during the third full circumambulation the dais officers (J.W., S.W., and W.M.) take their stations. During our circumambulations the Worshipful Master is always part of the group, that is until the S.W. takes his position in the west, which then leaves the Worshipful Master to finish the journey eastward to his seat all alone. It was a very surreal feeling to be the person who not only travels the furthest in the circumambulations, but it was poignant that the journey is completed alone.

In talking with brethren, I have jokingly called this last stage of the Master’s circumambulation the “checkered mile”, given that our lodge room has checkered tile; however, upon reflection I’m not so sure that was just a joke. Looking back on my Masonic career I’ve accomplished a lot of things, some with the aid of others, and some on my own where I have had to travel a solitary path. I am pleased to say that I have done a lot of things right, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve also made mistakes, and I still carry the emotional scars from several big mistakes. Therefore, the checkered pavement, and the last checkered mile that I walked towards my station in the East really reflected the usual symbolism that the checkered pavement represents the foundational level of Masonic work and the good and evil (Light and Dark) elements of life. In the journey towards M.L. we are each traveling Eastward, and along that path there will be ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies; however, we each have the choice to decide whether the checkered pavement will make us bitter, or if we will use it to make us better. We will also face times in our journey, where we must push forward on our journey alone, if even for a short period of time.

Upon taking my seat, I was struck by the dramatic view of the altar which was dimly lit by the candlelight of the lodge room, and framed by the smoke rising from the pot of incense in front of it. While I had a similar view in the west, there was a very different feeling viewing it from the oriental chair. I think the difference in feeling was in large part due to the Master’s position of being the spiritual heart of the Lodge, as well as the center of manifested power within the lodge. As a Senior Warden, I had to react to the will of the Worshipful Master, while as the Worshipful Master the other officers, and brethren as a whole, had to react to my will and pleasure. I don’t say this in an egomaniacal way, because there is a great deal of responsibility that comes with the power instilled in a Worshipful Master. The Worshipful Master’s position represents the sun, Light, wisdom, and King Solomon himself. Therefore, the Master is not only in charge of the organizational aspects of the lodge, but he is the transmitter and facilitator of Light within the lodge, and as such he has a tremendous responsibility.

The power of the Worshipful Master isn’t absolute, because he must still rely on the other officers to perform the work of the lodge. First, the power to open and close the lodge flows from the Master to the Senior Warden, who then communicates the Master’s order (Transmits the power) to the Junior Warden, who then transmits the order to the craft. This is similar to how the Tree of Life works in the Kabbalistic tradition. Each Kabbalistic world contains ten sephirot, which are arraigned in the familiar Kabbalistic Tree of Life pattern. The Tree of Life acts like a circuit board of spiritual energy. The power begins at the top sephirot Keter, which then flows from one sephirot to another until finally ending in the lowest sephirot Malkuth, which then manifests its energy into the world in which it resides. The sephirot act like switches and relays on an electric circuit board that react in specific ways as energy moves through them. In the same way, the duties of officers and members manifest as the orders (power) of the Master travels through the lodge.

In order for there to be an orderly lodge, the pillars of wisdom, strength and beauty must also be present, and once again the Master must rely on others for these to manifest. The Worshipful Master represents the pillar of wisdom, yet he must still rely on the Senior Warden (strength) and the Junior Warden (beauty). Basically, when you have wisdom to contrive and strength to support, then you will have beauty to adorn, and if even one of the pillars is absent, incomplete, or disharmonious, the other three will surely fail. Therefore, the Master must take care to ensure harmony and unity of purpose among all of the officers and brethren, especially between himself and the Wardens.

Finally, after the closing charges, my lodge meets at the altar for a chain of union, which is followed by our lodge song, and then finally we circumambulate counter-clockwise out of the lodge room to close the sacred space. The chain of union is a reminder for me of the bonds that unite us into a sacred band of brothers, this bond can be strong or weak, depending on the commitment and work that formed and maintains those bonds.

The counter-clockwise circumambulation that I led out of the lodge room was a reminder for me that as the Worshipful Master I was the representative of the lodge 24/7 during my tenure, even if I was outside of the tyled lodge. Therefore, anything that I did, whether good or ill, would reflect back on the Lodge. I think this was the most important and unnerving thing as Master, because while running the meeting was relatively simple, and with planning relatively drama free, it was a bit unnerving to realize that my every action inside or outside of a tyled lodge was a reflection of my lodge as a whole. Accordingly if I took an unpopular stance my entire lodge, whether they liked it or agreed with it, would be ostensibly taking the same stance. Therefore, as Master I had to take special care to utilize and reflect the teachings of our fraternity in all aspects of my life, so that I not only reflected positively on my lodge, but the fraternity as a whole, which has blessed my life in so many ways, and which granted me the opportunity to lead my beloved Lodge.


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