- Circumambulation and Scripture Reading
- Approaching the Altar
- Working Tools
- Return and Revestment
In the Three Symbolic Degrees, the Prologue is found in the Entered Apprentice Degree and consists of a series of questions propounded to the candidate who has been patiently waiting during the opening ceremonies. These questions establish the man's eligibility to proceed with the degree. In York Rite's Chapter and Council the Prologue of a Degree sometimes takes on a dramatic character of its own, serving a purpose similar to "Act I" of a three-act play.
The candidate is changed into certain symbolic clothing and/or given some basic instructions. He is then led to the door of the Lodge where he knocks to gain admission.
After some questions at the door to establish the purpose of the alarm, and the qualifications of the candidate, he is admitted and "received" into the Lodge by a symbolic act accompanied by a short explanation of this symbolism, which varies in each degree.
4. Circumambulation and Scripture Reading
Depending on the degree, and particularly in the Entered Apprentice Degree, an additional prayer may be offered at this point (in addition to the one at opening.) Next, the candidate is led clockwise around the Lodge a certain number of times, while a passage of Scripture is recited appropriate to the degree being conferred.
5. Approaching the Altar
After more questions with the Junior Warden, Senior Warden, and Worshipful Master, the candidate is conducted to the altar where he will receive his obligation.
This is the heart of the degree. It is what makes the man a Mason. The candidate is informed that his Masonic obligation can never conflict with his duty to God, to his country, his neighbor or himself. He is also given the opportunity to "back out" at this point, if unwilling to proceed. Once he proceeds, he takes the full obligation, which varies in each degree.
Now that he is obligated, the Brother learns the secrets pertaining to the degree to which he has just attained. These secrets are much discussed elsewhere, and I can only say with propriety that they typically consist of a password, a grip ("secret handshake") and a couple of signs. His knowledge of these signs is then demonstrated to the Junior Warden, Senior Warden, and Worshipful Master.
The candidate is given an Apron and/or taught how to wear his existing one, according to his particular degree. A short history or explanation of the symbolism of the Apron is given.
9. Working Tools
Now that he is wearing his Apron properly, the Brother is ready to be presented with the Working Tools of the degree. These are regular builder's tools with which the world is already acquainted, but they are presented with an explanation of their moral symbolism. For example, the plumb-line teaches us to walk uprightly before God and man.
10. Return and Revestment
The Brother is conducted out of the Lodge, where he changes back into his ordinary clothing (continuing to wear the Apron, however, as taught in the degree) and he is returned to the Lodge room.
The drama varies greatly with each degree. For the Entered Apprentice, it is nothing more than a short admonition from the Master (we're talking two sentences.) For the Fellow-craft the Drama is integrated with the Lecture itself (which will be explained next). For the Master Mason Degree, and many of the York Rite Degrees, it is an elaborate and beautiful performance in which the Candidate takes an active role (with his conductor guiding him and sometimes speaking on his behalf.) The drama section of the degree is often done in costume with great effect. If the obligation (although short in duration) is the main course of the Degree, the drama is like a fine dessert, without which the meal would be incomplete.
The lecture recounts the ceremonies of the degree which have been performed, endeavoring to explain some of their meaning and inspiring contemplation upon the rites and symbols by the candidate. It often contains a commentary of philosophical and moral value, along with additional historic material pertaining to the degree. These Lectures can range from a half hour to an hour long and are, today, memorized word-for-word (quite an impressive feat!) A portion of this lecture includes a Question and Answer examination about what the candidate has passed through and a test of his knowledge of the passwords, grips, and so forth. This portion of the lecture becomes the Candidate's duty to learn and present before the Lodge before he may be advanced to the next degree.
The charge is a short statement given to the Mason outlining the particular type of moral behavior and refinements of character expected by a Brother of this degree. (A historical side note: After reading The New Masonic Trestle-board, a product of the National Masonic Convention of 1843 held in Baltimore, I believe all the charges used in the USA were written wholly by brother Thomas Smith Webb, which accounts for the slightly different ring to their vocabulary as compared to the rest of the degree work and lectures.)
I hope this post has been enjoyable. I'm also curious how accurately it reflects the order of the degree work as it is conducted by other Masons around the world.