In October, we will be conducting the Master Mason Degree and raising our Brothers to Third Degree. This degree requires a significant amount of memorization and prep- aration for those conferring the degree. I wanted to share with you something I came across while reading some Masonic literature regarding Masonic Retention. In doing so, I hope to draw your attention to the fact that the rituals and ceremonies we conduct are simply tools that we as Masons use to communicate a bigger picture about man, the universe, and our role in it. Please read the excerpt below originally written by Albert Gallatin Mackey 144 years ago.
"One who commits to memory the questions and answers of the catechetical (sic: Relating to or consisting of asking questions and receiving answers by rote rather than by understanding) lectures, and the formulas of the ritual but pays no attention to the history and philosophy of the institution; is commonly called a Parrot Mason, because he is supposed to repeat what he has learned without any conception of its true meaning.
In former times, such superficial Freemasons were held by many in high repute because of the facility with which they passed through the ceremonies of a reception, and they were generally designated as Bright Masons.
But, the progress of Freemasonry as a science now requires something more than a mere knowledge of the lectures to constitute a Masonic scholar."...Mackey's Revised Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, Vol. 2, Page 752, Albert Gallatin Mackey, 33 ̊, published by The Masonic History Company, Revised ed. copyright 1929, Original copyright 1873.
The message that I retained from this excerpt is that Masonry is a life long journey of learning. It takes patience, a willingness to learn, an open mind and an open heart. We learn the rituals and ceremonies as a foundation in which to build upon as we learn more during our journey to become “Bright Masons”.
These representations of the teachings are there to encourage the brethren to find out more and to encourage us to dig deeper not only into the intricacies of Masonry, but in our own lives as well. They encourage us to think critically about our life decisions and they help us navigate our social interactions and life events. A “Parrot Mason” in my opinion, is not a bad thing. To me, it is simply the first step in understanding Free- masonry. Just a child learns a language by repeating the sounds they hear, and then learns the meaning of those sounds, we as Masons learn the language of Freemasonry by first learning the rituals. These are doors we are invited to walk through. Not eve- ryone walks through those doors at the same time, and not everyone will retain the same knowledge or understanding as everyone else. We are all unique, and we are all at different phases in our lives that subject us to different perspectives, even when re- flecting on the same idea, and I think that is okay. Our differing perspectives and knowledge bases provide opportunities for everyone in the lodge to both learn from each other and teach others around us.
I encourage everyone to join us in October and witness the hard work put in by the degree team, and to think critically about the words that are said during the degree. Not in an effort to memorize them, but in effort to understand them.
Sincerely and Fraternally,
James S. Parkhurst