Saturday, July 10, 2010

‘Elbow Square’

At New Jersey’s 2010 AMD Ingathering today, the ritualists who conferred the Degree of St. Lawrence the Martyr, joined by the brethren who presented papers, rally around Grand Superintendent Paul Ferreira (wearing collar) at the end of the day. Forty-three AMD Masons attended this celebration of Masonic culture at J. William Gronning Council No. 83 in Freehold. Next year’s Ingathering will be hosted by DaVinci Council in Westfield.

On behalf of the Master, Wardens, and brethren of J. William Gronning Council No. 83 of Allied Masonic Degrees, I thank all who contributed to the great success enjoyed today at the 2010 Ingathering. We had three deeply thoughtful papers presented – one meticulously researched academic paper, one cathartic personal essay, and one speculative paper delving into spiritual symbolism – all provocative and gratefully received. Then a Lodge of Saint Lawrence the Martyr was opened on “Elbow Square” to admit dozens of candidates into the Order of St. Lawrence.

Brethren came from across New Jersey, plus Pennsylvania and Upstate New York. Right Venerable Matthew Dupee, Junior Grand Warden of the Grand Council of Allied Masonic Degrees, joined us, as did New Jersey’s new Grand Superintendent, RV Paul Ferreira, both praising the scholastic and ritual work on display.

Gronning Council’s own Bro. Ben Hoff presented his well tested thesis titled “Possible Common Origins of the Royal Arch and Master Mason degrees” (with his trademark hand-outs). Excerpted:

Ben Hoff.
“It is often said that the Royal Arch Degree is the ‘completion’ of the Master Mason Degree. This seems apparent from the stories or legends told in the degrees, where the Royal Arch legend focuses on the recovery of the Word whose loss was the principle point of the legend in the Master Mason Degree. The story of Solomon’s Temple and its builders continues. But the word ‘completion’ implies far more than mere connection and continuation. It implies finality and the restoration of essential unity….

“The author of this paper proposes that, at one time, there were two different, competing versions of the Master Mason Degree. One was the Hiramic Legend version disclosed by Samuel Pritchard [in his Masonry Dissected exposure], which continues to this day as the Master’s degree. The other survives, just barely, as the Past Master Degree, with its left over pieces included with an unrelated story in the Royal Arch Degree.”

Bro. Ben draws from a number of embryonic Masonic rituals to illustrate how the MM and RA degrees we know today came to be. It is a dizzying exploration of Masonic history rendered comprehensible thanks to Ben’s finely detailed explanation of it all.

Next, Venerable Howard Kanowitz, Past Sovereign Master of J. Howard Haring Council, asked the stimulating question “So How Come You’re Not a Templar!” Excerpted:

“There are amongst the infinite number of Masonic bodies one I choose to single out amongst several, which outright demand of their members advocacy of a religious point of view. Off and on these several decades since I became a Mason, not many times but enough, I have been asked the same question ‘So, how come you’re not a Templar!’ The answer to that question is the subject of this paper and will call upon all my skills as a whitewater navigator, for I can find no way to address the issue other than to point out the differences between Christian and Jew, and how in the presence of the same God, we got that way.

Howard Kanowitz.

“The object of this paper is not to criticize, nor to advocate. Rather, despite the discomforting words to follow, I write this in the Masonic spirit, as an effort to promote an understanding of a minority view of the religious side of Masonry; to aid in the appreciation of who we are, Christian and Jew.

“As an Entered Apprentice, again as a Fellowcraft, and finally as a Master Mason, I was told – I was assured – that there is no conflict between Masonry and the duty I assume in my understanding of God. I have long held that since there is only one God, the God of us all, that it is only our understanding of God that separates us. The truth as to who got it right and who got it wrong will be revealed to us when God is ready, and I’m willing to take my chances on my chosen religion. You see, I’m not worried about who got it wrong, because I’m not prepared to say that any of the other monotheistic religions got it wrong.”

Venerable Bro. Howard borrowed from various literary works, history, his own experiences, and other sources to explain to the brethren how identification with the Crusades by some Masons can be antagonizing to other Masons, and he did so convincingly and diplomatically.

Along the way, Gronning Council turned itself into a Lodge of Saint Lawrence the Martyr for the purpose of conferring the Degree of St. Lawrence the Martyr, a ritual that is centuries old, and was used by Operative Masons in the shires of northern England. The degree teaches fortitude and humility. A candidate in this degree is said to be “introduced, received and admitted as a Brother of Saint Lawrence.” After the degree, Bro. Ben explained to the brethren that many of the ritual elements of this degree are borrowed directly from English Craft ritual. In fact, the ritual of this degree states that a candidate is “a worthy brother of a lodge dedicated to Saint John,” a serendipitous foreshadowing of the next paper presented.

Bro. Matthew Riddle, a new AMD Mason from the newly chartered DaVinci Council in Westfield, continued the religious theme with his speculative interpretation of the importance of Masonic lodges being dedicated to the Holy Saints John. Excerpted:

Matthew Riddle.
“In the opening of lodge, in the exchange between the Worshipful Master and the Senior Warden, we hear it is our obligations that make us Masons. We learn a new obligation for each degree, where we are given new responsibilities and penalties. However, there are a few elements which are found in each of the obligations which too often are passed over; we hear the phrase ‘in this lodge of Free and Accepted Masons, erected to Him and dedicated to the Holy Saints John.’ But what does this mean?”

Bro. Matthew ventures into the New Testament, explaining his understanding of the Gospel of Saint John (“In the beginning was the Word….”) as a path to wisdom and virtue.

He writes: “If John the Baptist represents the Entered Apprentice, the one who wears his apron with the flap turned up, then it is St. John [the Evangelist] who is representative of the transformed man, the Initiate who has been raised and wears the apron with the flap turned down. The ways in which we wear our aprons as the degrees progress is very significant when we understand that the equilateral triangle has always been a symbol of deity and the square has always been a symbol of the manifest world. When the flap is turned up as the Entered Apprentice wears it, our perception and experience of divinity is of a transcendent deity: God is above and outside of us. However, when as a Master Mason, the flap is turned down it is a symbolic gesture of the transformation of our experience of deity. Divinity now is immersed in the manifest world, God is imminent in his Creation and we experience the ‘Divine Indwelling,’ where the Word has become flesh which is one of the main points of emphasis in the Gospel of John.”

In fact, there were common elements found in all the papers presented, and in the degree as well, that unified them as though there was a theme for the day. It was only happenstance, but the harmony of it radiated warmly and brightly for the betterment of the fraternity. (A fourth paper was scheduled for presentation, but the hour was late, and the writer, Bro. Steve Burkle of Cushite Council, graciously offered to withdraw his “The Masonic Ashlar and the Kabbalistic Cube of Space.”)

The 2011 Ingathering will be hosted by DaVinci Council next summer on a date to be announced.

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