Masonic Funeral Rites

by M-Gillies
The Holy Bible with square and compass on open page

During a Masonic funeral service, the Three Great Lights – the Bible, square and compass may be used and are placed on a stand in front of the casket.

“A man is obliged by his tenure, to obey the moral law; and if he rightly understands the art, he will never be an atheist nor an irreligious libertine… Let a man’s religion or mode of worship be what it may, he is not excluded from the Order, provided he believe in the glorious Architect of heaven and earth, and practice the scared duties of morality…”  The Old Charges of the Free and Accepted Masons

Freemasonry is the ancient fraternal organisation that traces its origins to the loose organisation of late medieval stonemasonry. With roughly 1.4 million Freemasons in the United States alone and over 4 million worldwide, the Freemasons have long been seen as a secret society bound by ritual, symbolism and morality.

For those who are part of this esoteric society, the rites of the Masonic Funeral can readily be performed at one’s funeral.

As such, the Masonic Funeral rites are based on the teachings of the Volume of Sacred Law – the religious or philosophical texts which are displayed during a Lodge meeting. While the fundamental principles behind a Masonic burial vary depending on jurisdiction, they follow the basic teachings of the Lodge of Sorrow.

Before a Lodge of Sorrow or Masonic Funeral service can take place, pre-service preparations are required which include Three Great Lights and the Two Columns. The Three Great Lights – the Holy Bible and the square and compass, will be displayed in the Third Degree mode. The Holy Bible should be opened to Ecclesiastes 12:1 and placed in front of the casket, directly between the Two Columns. The Two Columns will be placed in front of the casket with the Senior Warden column positioned, erect at the head of the casket, while the Junior Warden column is positioned retired (lying down) at the foot of the casket.

It is recommended that any greenery be placed on a small table rather than on the casket or on the floral arrangement which may adorn the casket.

As such, it is said that when a Masonic husband, father or brother dies, the Masonic Funeral becomes an important part of the grieving process; acting as a fundamental objective for the living to be taught the very useful lesson that death is a certitude whose visitation is unknown. It further reminds the family members and Masonic brothers of the important characteristics of the individual’s life.

When a brethren passes, only Masons in good standing may be interred with the formalities of the fraternity and only at the request of the brethren or that of a near relative or friend.

When notice of the death of a brother is announced, the Worshipful Master should immediately confer with the family, ascertain their wishes and explain to them that Masonic Funeral services have been adapted for use in the church for the comfort of the family.

It is then the duty of the Worshipful Master to decide whether to open an Emergent Lodge or hold a special meeting in order to conduct each Masonic Funeral service.

An Emergent Lodge is considered to be convened when the members gather at the location requested by the family, be it church, chapel, graveside or funeral home.

As such, it is the duty of Worshipful Master to ensure all necessary items are brought to the location, which will include Masonic History, Holy Bible, aprons and sprigs of evergreen.

The Secretary must prepare three copies of the Masonic History of the Brethren who has passed, being sure to include the date and place of birth, dates of initiation, passing and raising; date of affiliation and date of death. One copy will be deposited into the casket, one copy will be given to the nearest relative and the third copy will be retained by the Lodge.

While any qualified Brother may conduct the funeral service, it is ultimately the responsibility of the Worshipful Master to ensure the quality and dignity of the public ceremony. As such, the minimum number of Brethren participating in the service should be four, representing the Worshipful Master, Senior Warden, Junior Warden, Secretary and Chaplain.

During the ceremony, the Worshipful Master and Secretary will position themselves at the head of the casket. The Worshipful Master will stand nearest the congregation at the corner of the casket; meanwhile the Chaplain and Senior Warden will take position at the foot of the casket, with the Chaplain at the corner nearest the congregation.

It is the responsibility of the Worshipful Master (or his representative) to conduct the service. The Senior Warden deposits flower petals on the casket when indicated by the Worshipful Master, while the Secretary presents, reads and deposits the Masonic History into the casket. Meanwhile, the Chaplain holds the Holy Bible and may also present the closing prayer.

As recommended, the Worshipful Master will wear two aprons, with the top apron being removed at the time the Secretary performs his duties, until the Worshipful Master resumes his charge.

The symbolism of the Masonic apron represents the apron worn by operative Masons during the middle ages. Meanwhile, the evergreen fig represents life, peace and prosperity, as well as being represented as the Tree of Knowledge at times.

Music represented by the Masonic Funeral is the Mauerische Trauermusik (Masonic Funeral Music) in C minor, K 477 composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1785 in memory of two of Mozart’s Masonic brethren, Duke Georg August of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Count Franz Esterhazy von Galantha.

Photo by: Bill Bradford

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