Masonic ritual and doctrine is classically defined as “A system of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols. It consists of three successive ceremonies which involve lectures and allegorical plays about morality, self governance, and the pursuit of knowledge. Commonly in Craft, or Blue Lodge Freemasonry, the allegory is focused around the building of the Temple of Solomon, and the speculative uses of tools used in operative stonemasonry.
Tools of stonemasonry and architecture are used to teach moral lessons and symbolize various methods of self improvement. The ancient operative stonemasons used the tools of their craft to complete numerous small tasks which would with time, patience, and perseverance, culminate into some of the most magnificent castles and cathedrals known to man. As Freemasons are speculative stonemasons, they use those same tools, but as symbols that represent a moral lesson which is taught through ancient Masonic Ritual. These lessons serve as a reminder of all the little things in life that can be done to improve one’s life and the world in which he lives. These small moral tasks, with that same time, patience, and perseverance can culminate into a tight network of morally diligent men who encourage self governance and improvement, and are an asset to their community and abroad.
Within the fraternity of Freemasonry, there are several rituals which are regularly performed. These Masonic rituals are used for various purposes such as the installation of lodge officers, presentation of awards, funerals, and conferring the degrees of Freemasonry. They are sometimes conducted with the aid of various symbols and ornaments, but much of the time are performed from memory. Because these rituals usually exist only in the minds of it’s members, it becomes necessary to regulate the ritual work so that it remains uniform among the various lodges. Each jurisdiction of Freemasons are free to choose whether or not to standardize their ritual. Each jurisdiction also has the choice of which form of ritual to use. Various forms of ritual are used around the world, which mostly vary in wording and movements. Once a standardization is chosen, inspectors are usually assigned to certify those who are to perform the ritual, and to hold regular schools of instruction where the ritual work is performed and perfected by the lodge leadership. With regulation in place, the fraternity is able to maintain the integrity of it’s ritual and ensure that it will remain largely unchanged through the ages.
In December 1839, the Grand Lodge of Alabama adopted a resolution that requested that each Grand Lodge send a delegate to Washington in order to determine a uniform mode of work be implemented by American lodges so to establish a common interest and increase security. On the seventh day of March in 1842, that meeting was held in Washington. Among those present at what is now known as the Washington Convention were delegates from ten Grand Lodges, who after much deliberation, decided that there was not enough representation or time to complete their objectives. The convention voted to request that a Grand Lecturer for each Grand Lodge be appointed as one who is well versed in the ritual, and would give a report at a convention which would commence the following year.
On May 8th 1843, in Baltimore Maryland, met 16 of the 23 American Grand Lodges who convened to establish much needed regulation and discuss matters that were pertinent to the fraternity at the time. For the next 9 days, the Grand Lodge representatives established many regulations which are still upheld to this day. During the Baltimore Convention, many of the regulatory systems and practices used today were established. Among them are the office of the Grand Lecturer, the implementation of standing committees, and the Certificate of Good Standing. To this day, each Masonic Jurisdiction holds regular meetings for the leadership and brethren therein, to discus prudent concerns and to review masonic law.
In American Freemasonry, the ritual is separated into two distinct forms, Free and Accepted Masons, and Ancient Free and Accepted Mason. These two forms are called F&AM and AF&AM for short. The origin of this split dates back to the 1700’s. Shortly after the Grand Lodge of England was formed, a schism of two allegiances formed, asserting themselves as the “Ancients” and the “Moderns”. The two factions have since rejoined, but the differences in the ritual still remain. The two ritual traditions are very similar in structure and performance, the main differences being in the specific style of wording used to convey the same message. These differences are not unlike the various forms of the bible, the same text but using different disciplines of language.