Monday, December 01, 2008

“The Other Masonic Rites” -New currents in American Freemasonry

“The Other Masonic Rites”
-New currents in American Freemasonry

By our Investigating Reporter From the Freemasons Press

In the two hundred and seventy years of American Craft Freemasonry, the dominant ritual in use by most of the Jurisdictions was the ritual of the York Rite Craft Degrees. Some European scholars call it “American Rite”-(Preston-Webb) in order to emphasize differences between the American and English versions of the York Rite degrees. Most of the Jurisdictions came up with their “standard” versions of the York Rite ritual prescribing it as the only allowed work for use in the Lodges under their protection. Of course, there were few exemptions. Several Lodges (no more than two dozen in the whole of the USA) in some of the Jurisdictions, generally ones that predated the formation of the particular Grand Lodge, were granted dispensation to use their original ritual works, as a part of the Lodge “landmarks”. This way, some of the American Freemasons were able to experience Scottish Rite Craft degree work or some of the older forms of the English workings; but that was as far as the variations in the Craft ritual experience in the US would go.

At the same time in the continental Europe were developed numerous craft workings within a various Rites, and unlike in the United States, in many Jurisdictions Craft Lodges were allowed to choose the Rite they would practice. This was particularly case in the France and Belgium. This way, over a period of time, numerous Craft workings were developed. Today, the following Rites are practiced in Craft Lodges of the continental Europe: Craft degrees of the Ancient accepted Scottish Rite, Traditional French Rite, Modern French Rite, Rectified Scottish Rite, Swedish Rite, Schroeder Rite, Emulation Rite, Domatic workings, York Rite, as well as variations of the Rites already mentioned.

Recent appearance of the new Masonic Jurisdiction in the US, the Grand Orient of the USA, brought new opportunities for the ritualistic experience. Constitutionally, being a confederation of the private Lodges, Grand Orient allows individual Lodges under their protection to pick the Rite of their choice for the use in the particular Lodge. So far, there are six Rites available for the use in GOUSA Lodges: Modern Restored (French) Rite, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Rectified Scottish Rite, Cosmopolitan Rite, Emulation Rite, and American (Preston-Webb) standard Rite. The introduction of the Modern French Rite was followed by the formation of the first Chapter for the practice of the four higher degrees (or Orders) of the Modern French Rite. So far, there are three Lodges of the Grand Orient of the USA practicing Modern Rite: The Intrepid Lodge (Los Angeles, CA), Cosmopolitan Lodge (New York, NY), and Thomas Paine Lodge (Paris, France).

In many ways, ritualistic activities of the members of the Grand Orient of USA are pioneering. Modern (French) Rite has never been translated before in English. Set of Officers of the Lodge is different than in the American York Rite. Same is true in the case of the Rectified Scottish Rite chosen to be practiced by the newly established Lodge from Grand Rapids (MI), where at the same time Lodge Euclid practice Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite. Cosmopolitan Rite is the result of the efforts within the GOUSA to restore some of the original workings of the 18th century Craft Rituals and to use them in its unsoiled form, free from all changes and additions that occurred over the period of time. Cosmopolitan Rite is practiced by the Sirius Lodge from Atlanta (GA).

These developments in the American Free Masonry are certainly great refreshment in the bloodline of all those Freemasons who like to do and to study various ritual works. Lodges of the Grand Orient of USA, cosmopolitan in their nature, allow visitations and affiliations of the Freemasons members of the “regular” Jurisdictions. The requirements for membership in any of the Lodges of the Grand Orient of USA are similar to those of the regular Jurisdictions with several differences: The potential candidate is neither asked of his religious beliefs nor to confirm his belief in God. Members of the GOUSA believe in the freedom of conscience, mutual tolerance, respect of oneself and another, as well as in the separation of the church and state. Usually it takes two to three years to go through the three degrees of Craft Freemasonry, during which time, Apprentices and Fellowcrafts are asked to write papers on the symbolical and philosophical subject and present them in the Lodge, in order to prove their progress in the Free Masonry. It is general understanding that Freemason is not working only on his own ethical improvement, but also on the improvement of the society in which he lives. Many members of the GOUSA are active participant in the public discussions on the important social issues in our society.

It is important to mention that members of the Grand Orient of the USA understand that big number of the mainstream Freemasons don’t share their approach to Free Masonry. Nevertheless, they don’t want to enter into quarrels with those who oppose their right to exist and work, but they wish to practice their Royal Art in peace and harmony, with gentle and welcoming words and fraternal greetings to the Universal Brotherhood of Freemasons, regardless of their understanding of Freemasonry, race, or gender. So, we may be pro or contra their understanding of Freemasonry, but it seems that they are working hard in the quarries of Freemasonry.

It remains to be seen what future will bring to the American Freemasonry, and particularly to the Grand Orient of the USA. Practice of the many different Rites certainly looks very attractive to those willing to learn more about Freemasonry.

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