Memorizing Masonic ritual has long been an important part of carrying on the work of Freemasonry. Those that masterfully perform Masonic lectures have long been revered as prestigious members of the fraternity and have been pointed out as men worthy of emulation. However, while many Masons have relished the opportunity to memorize one of the lectures, many have avoided such an undertaking.
In modern times, it isn’t unusual to hear Masons say things like “I sure wish I could perform lectures like that” or “I’m going to memorize that lecture one of these days” without ever taking the time to actually do so. Some cite the inability to memorize, which is true in some cases, and others claim that they don’t have the time. It often seems like the few Brothers that are willing to memorize a large part in the ritual end up memorizing all of these parts, while the majority of Masons avoid memorizing anything above and beyond the minimum requirements.
This is a frustrating observation, but the point of this article isn’t to demean the Brothers that haven’t learned a lecture. Instead, it is meant to show those Brothers that haven’t done so what they can gain by making the effort to learn one of the prominent parts in Masonic ritual. The key to becoming motivated to memorize ritual is simple: learn it for your own benefit, not the benefit of the lodge.
But what do I mean by this?
In all Masonic degrees, the lecture contains a vast amount of information that explains the ritual. In the three symbolic degrees, the lectures actually contain the majority of information given to the candidate in the degree. Like with all orations, the listener retains very little information from the lecture given to him when he receives the degree. This is a travesty, since this limits a Mason’s understanding of the symbolism of the ritual. To illustrate this point, think about a lecture that you have not memorized and then consider how much of that lecture you can actually recall. Chances are that it is little to none. In order to properly grasp the degrees of Masonry, learning the lectures is essential.
The Mason that has memorized a lecture has its teachings impressed upon his mind and his heart. The slightest reference to the symbolism of the lecture that he knows brings the explanations Masonry’s allegories to the front of his mind. A person that has not learned a lecture can never understand the full benefit of having this information memorized. It expedites and enhances Masonic study and often serves as a reminder when we are about to do something of an un-Masonic nature.
There is also another benefit to memorizing ritual. Most Masons regard their passage through the degrees of the order as one of the most impressive and influential experiences of their lives. However, there is a Masonic experience which supersedes receiving the degrees: conferring the degrees. Most Masonic lecturers have had the special experience when they see the light of Freemasonry shining in the eyes of the men to which they are reciting the ritual. To see the new candidates “get it” is an incredible feeling. It is the most fulfilling of any opportunities afforded in the fraternity.
Learning a lecture is hard work. Contrary to the misconception by many that those that learn lectures just read them once and are able to perform them, most men that have taken it upon themselves to memorize large parts of the ritual spend months memorizing the work and perfecting their recitation. But the work is worth it and learning a bit of Masonic ritual is like riding a bike, you never lose the ability to perform it.
Understanding Masonic symbolism and transmitting the lessons of Masonry form the instructive tongue to the attentive ear are the actions that preserve Masonry. Do yourself and Masonry a favor and dust off that ritual and take some time to learn a lecture. You will reap what you sow.