By Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple, AO RFD, Past Deputy Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales & the Australian Capital Territory.
In each of the craft degrees the Lodge is opened and closed in the name of God. In the First Degree, He is the Great Architect of the Universe, in the Second Degree the Grand Geometrician of the Universe, and in the Third Degree the Most High. Some old rituals also opened the Lodge in the name of Holy St John. Which St John is not certain.
What entitles a Worshipful Master to say, “In the name of the GAOTU (or other title for God), I now declare this Lodge duly open”, or a Senior Warden to say, “In the name of the GAOTU (or other title for God)… I declare this Lodge closed”? It could be argued with little warrant that a theoretical chain of authority stretching back to the Israelite monarchy enables a Master or Senior Warden to speak in the name of King Solomon, but how can anyone believe that God himself empowered Masonic officers to speak on His behalf? How can any Lodge officer speak as if he has a spiritual status akin to ordination?
In seeking an answer we have to look at Scripture passages that contain the words, “in the name of the Lord”. The dozens of such instances do not imply that whoever is speaking does so as God’s agent with express Divine sanction. Generally the context is a prayer calling upon the name of God. Probably the most relevant passage is King Solomon’s prayer of dedication of the Temple (I Kings 8:20), which reads: “I have built the house for the name of the Lord, the God of Israel”. In line with this, what should be said in opening a Lodge meeting ought to be something like this: “I declare the Lodge dedicated to the name (or open for the service) of the GAOTU”. This does not make the occasion a formal act of religious worship. It is as little a technical expression of denominational commitment as is the use of the words “In God we trust” on American currency notes.
The old ritual which not only mentioned God but Holy St John (without saying which one – the Baptist? The Evangelist? The Almoner?) added, “forbidding all cursing and swearing, whispering, and all profane Discourse whatsoever”. Harry Carr suggests in his “Freemason at Work”, 1977, that this phrase need not be taken literally; its aim may have been to scare the brethren and warn them to behave with decorum and dignity, ie, “Act in Lodge as you would in church. Otherwise God (and the saints) will call you to account.”
This also suggests that we place little importance on the fact that when Lodges took on names, some called themselves after saints. It may have been a matter of social routine, emerging in days when church-going was taken more seriously than today. Similarly, the St John’s cards of good wishes which Masters used to send their brethren derived their name from the fact that they were dated 27 December, St John’s Day.
On the main issue itself, the best way of handling the opening and closing the Lodge in the name of God is to amend the ritual and leave out these phrases altogether and use the Grand Orient formula, “in (by) virtue of the powers invested in my by my brethren…”.
For more articles on Freemasonic issues by Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple, AO RFD, visit his Freemasonry webpage.
Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple’s book on the history, symbolism and teachings of Freemasonry, enlivened with personal reminiscences and humour.