Peter Lowndes on the importance of reciting the ritual

Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes explains why masonic ritual needs to involve a proper understanding of what’s being said rather than simply reciting the words on a page.

Over the past year or two there has been a certain amount of correspondence in the various masonic magazines regarding the pros and cons of reading, rather than reciting, our ritual.

One correspondent suggested that, as ritual was read throughout European Grand Lodges, we should follow. I am not sure all our politicians would agree with that. Certainly, it is true that reading ritual is prevalent in many European Grand Lodges. However, it’s not universally so and, in any event, there is no good reason for us to follow their example. Indeed, I have many friends in European Lodges who envy the way we deliver our ritual.

You will note that I said that they are envious of the way we ‘deliver’ our ritual. In my experience, ritual that is recited has much greater meaning to the candidate than ritual that is read, although I am pleased to say that I have not been present on many occasions that it has been read.

I entirely accept that learning ritual is time consuming. But how often is it true that the busiest people are those who find the time to learn it?

I am not going to pretend that I have ever found ritual learning easy, and, as time goes by, I find learning new ritual more difficult. Nonetheless, I shall never forget the satisfaction of carrying out a Second Degree ceremony at the first meeting that I was in the chair of my mother lodge. To be told by an extremely demanding Director of Ceremonies that it had been adequate was as good as it gets! This was a great deal more complimentary than anything he ever said to me during the year that he taught me classics.

‘Our ritual is to be treasured, and there are few better experiences than seeing and hearing a really well-conducted masonic ceremony.’
By definition, reading means looking at the book. If the deliverer is looking at the book, he is not looking at the candidate or the brethren to whom he is speaking. To read a text well is a skill that not everyone has. Good reading needs preparation and unless our ritual is understood by the deliverer, what chance is there that it will be understood by the recipient? For the reader to have a good understanding of what he is saying, he will need to have read through the text on several occasions.

Our ritual is to be treasured, and there are few better experiences than seeing and hearing a really well-conducted masonic ceremony. One of the prime reasons that lodges are being encouraged to share the workload is so that members can spend time really learning and understanding what they are delivering and not just reciting ritual parrot fashion.

It is inevitable that some members will find ritual easier than others, and it is incumbent on all of us to ensure that as much help as possible is given to those who need it.

I don’t expect what I have said here to be universally accepted, but I would be surprised if the majority of our members do not agree with at least part of it.