• Home
  • Parashah Insights
  • Ask the Rabbi
  • Festivals & Fasts
  • Articles
  • Books
  • About

    Who’s who in Freemasonry

    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.


    “Brother” is the most common word in Freemasonry (the plural is “Brethren”, using an archaic grammatical form like the plural “children” for “child”). While it echoes the Biblical ideal, “How good and pleasant it is for brothers to sit together” (Psalm 133:1), the practice of calling a fellow-Mason “Brother” is one of a series of borrowings from technical ecclesiastical terminology. “Brother” denoted a member of a male religious order, and when speculative Freemasonry began, admission to the craft was known as “Brothering”. The entrance fee was known as payment for one’s “Brothering”. Reflecting the fact that there are two means of joining a family – birth or adoption – a Mason who belongs to another Lodge and now joins a new one is said to “affiliate”, i.e. become a brother, from the Latin “filius”.

    The inherent democracy of Freemasonry, suggestive of Micah’s affirmation in the Bible that all men are brothers, children of the one Father (Mic. 2:10), calls every Mason “Brother”, but at the same time sometimes creates a problem. Do we add titles reflecting outside rank or status, such as “Doctor”? Is it permissible to refer to “Brother Doctor X?” There is no definitive ruling; it probably all depends on which Masonic jurisdiction is involved. There is also the question of whether in introducing a candidate we should even call him “Mr”. Some prefer to omit all titles and merely use first name and surname, e.g. “John Brown”. Terms such as “The Honourable” or “The Right Honourable” should presumably be totally omitted. In Britain a peer of the realm might possibly be referred to as “John Brown, Earl of …”

    Worshipful Brother

    A Mason who is or has been Master of his Lodge is called “Worshipful Brother”. In some jurisdictions there are higher titles, again deriving from ecclesiastical usage, such as “Very Worshipful”, “Right Worshipful”, and “Most Worshipful”. “Worshipful” has nothing to do with worship in the sense of adoration; it comes from “worth”, and indicates that the person concerned is highly regarded, i.e. full of worth. Mayors and magistrates are often called “Your Worship” for the same reason. Presumably because the terminology is difficult, one hears even veteran Freemasons make mistakes like “Worshipful Mother” when they address the Master of a Lodge.


    The fully trained Freemason is a Master Mason; the head of the Lodge is the Master. An analogy is the academic practice of awarding a master’s degree, which in some universities was the first, i.e. undergraduate, degree. In operative of Freemasonry the employer or chief artisan was the Master. There is some confusion between the name for a graduate of the Third Degree – a Master Mason – and the Lodge Master. It was even more difficult before the Third Degree emerged, when the term “Master” applied to a Mason who carried no higher rank than fellow-craft: see “Education by Degrees”. The Latin “magis”, more, “magister”, a head, gave rise to the English words “master” or “mister” (with the feminine “mistress”), “magistrate”, etc.

    Grand Master

    The local Lodge is normally part of the overall structure of a Grand Lodge headed by the Grand Master. (In the 18th century the term was sometimes used loosely and meant no more than a Worshipful Master). His team includes an array of Grand Officers such as Grand Chaplain, Grand Director of Ceremonies, etc. In some jurisdictions distinguished Masons may be awarded Conferred Grand Rank, e.g. a Past Grand Chaplain who never actually held office as a Grand Chaplain. The ritual accords the title Grand Master to ancient personages who totally pre-dated Freemasonry, such as Adam, Moses, Hiram Abif, Solomon, etc.


    An expert involved in the building trade is a mason; his work entails dealing with masonry. The term may come from the Old French “macon”, a builder or worker in stone, or Old Gothic “maitan”, to hew or cut (or “macian”, to make”).


    Another name deriving from ecclesiastical tradition, the warden (from Anglo-Saxon “weard”, watchman, guard or custodian), superintends a section of the Lodge – the Senior Warden in the west and the Junior Warden in the south. (In the Middle Ages the workmen’s lodgings were probably in the south of the building site, probably so that the sun would warm the huts during the day: hence the idea that when the Mason breaks for refreshment he moves to the south). Both Wardens display their status by means of pillars which symbolise the two pillars, Yachin and Bo’az, which stood at the entrance of King Solomon’s Temple (see my article on Pillars of the Temple).


    Religion also gave the craft the term “deacon”, from Greek “diakonos”, a servant or messenger. In the ecclesiastical context the Deacon is a lesser-rung church officer; in Freemasonry he is a messenger. Presumably operative Freemasonry used a system of messengers to convey messages from one part of the building site to another.


    From Anglo-Saxon “stig”, sty, and “weard”, guard, the steward also derived his name from ecclesiastical usage. Originally holding an agricultural function, the steward became a property manager, in the church an officer handling funds and refreshments, and in Freemasonry the organiser of refreshments.


    Originally the artisan who covered the roof with tiles. A more usual spelling is “tiler” (note the use of Tyler as a surname, eg Wat Tyler). His role in the Lodge is to keep the roof (and other parts) of the building safe from intrusion. In 18th century Freemasonry, the tyler carried out other tasks such as preparing the Lodge room for meetings.

    For more articles on Freemasonic issues by Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple, AO RFD, visit his Freemasonry webpage.

    Comments are closed.