In the First and Second Degrees you were surrounded by the symbols and emblems of architecture. In the Third Degree you found a different order of symbolism, cast in the language of the soul — its life, its tragedy, and its triumph.
To recognize this is the first step in interpretation of this sublime and historic step in so-called “Blue Lodge” Masonry.
The second point is to recognize that the Third Degree has many meanings. It is not intended to be a lesson complete, finished, or closed.
There are many interpretations of the Degrees. But most essentially, it is a drama of the immortality of the soul, setting forth the truth that, while a man withers away and perishes, there is that in him which perishes not.
That this is the meaning most generally accepted by the Craft is shown by our habits of language. We say that a man is initiated an Entered Apprentice, passed to the degree of Fellowcraft, and raised a Master Mason.
By this it appears that it is the raising that most Masons have found to be the center of the Master Mason Degree.
Evil in the form of tragedy is set forth in the drama of the Third Degree. Here is a good and wise man, a builder, working for others and giving others work, the highest we know, as it is dedicated wholly to God.
How did the Craft meet this tragedy? The first step was to impose the supreme penalty on those who had possessed the will of destruction and therefore had to be destroyed lest another tragedy follow.
The greatest enemy man has makes war upon the good; to it no quarter can be given.
The next step was to discipline and to pardon those who acted not out of an evil will, but one of weakness.
Forgiveness is possible if a man himself condemns the evil he had done, since in spite of his weakness he retains his faith in the good.
The next step was to recover from the wreckage caused by the tragedy whatever value it had left undestroyed.
Confusion had come upon the Craft; order was restored. Loyal Craftsmen took up the burdens left by traitors. It is in the nature of such tragedy that the good suffer for evil and it is one of the prime duties of life that a man shall toil to undo the harm wrought by sin and crime, else in time the world would be destroyed by the evils that are done in it.
But what of the victim of the tragedy? Here is the most profound and difficult lesson of the drama. It is difficult to understand, difficult to believe if one has not been truly initiated into the realities of the spiritual life.
Because the victim was a good man, his goodness rooted in an unvarying faith in God, that which destroyed him in one sense could not destroy him in another.
The spirit in him rose above the evil; by virtue of it he was raised from a dead level to a living perpendicular.
The Symbols, Emblems, and Allegories of the Master Mason Degree
In your experience with the ritual you have learned that every detail in the ceremonies of initiation is full of meaning.
In the Third Degree are the deepest secrets and the most profound teachings of our Fraternity.
You passed through the degree in one night. To understand it will require many nights. In the paragraphs that follow we can give you but a few hints, in the hope that they may inspire you to study the Degree for yourself.
The symbolism of the First and Second degrees centers around the art of architecture. Its purpose is to teach you, in the First, to be a builder of yourself; in the Second, a builder of society. In the Third Degree, this symbolism takes another form.
Although its background continues to be architecture and its action takes place in and about the Temple, it is a spiritual symbolism of life and death.
Principally, it teaches Immortality.
If a man permits himself to be buried under the rubbish of sins and passions, it is possible, if he has learned the secret of the spiritual life and with the help of his God, to rise again
into a new life.
This note is struck in the Scripture reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes, which pictures a man, once flushed with the health and strength, brought tottering by old age to the brink of the grave.
This, the Chapter tells us, will become a light burden to him who has learned to trust God.
But brotherly love itself has its source and seat in the soul.
To love a man above his sins, to cherish him in spite of his faults, to forgive him in all sincerity is possible only as we live in the spiritual life, our souls purged of selfishness.
This has an historical background. To the early Jewish people, the name of God was held in extreme reverence. This holy name was never pronounced above a whisper.
After a while, only the Priests were permitted to use it. Finally, only the High Priest and then only when alone in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement.
During some national calamity, perhaps at the time of the Babylonian captivity, the High Priest perished before he had opportunity to pass it on to his successor.
In this way was the name lost. All this appears in our ritual in the form of an allegory. A word was possessed; the Word was lost.
Of the emblems of the Third Degree, one after another is set before us, apparently in no given order, and each with only a hint of what it signifies. Yet each stands for some great idea or ideal, necessary throughout our lives.
Each of them is a master of truth. In the Three Pillars we have the three great ideas of Widsom, Strength, and Beauty.
The Three Steps remind us that youth, manhood, and age is each a unity in itself, each possessing its own duties and responsibilities with each calling for its own philosophy.
The Book of Constitutions is the emblem of law and reminds us that our moral and spiritual character is grounded in law and order as much as in government or nature. It teaches that no man can live a satisfactory life who lives lawlessly.
The Sword pointed to the naked heart discovers that one of the most rigorous of these laws is justice, and that if a man be unjust in his heart, the inevitable results of injustice will find him out.
The Anchor and Ark stand for that sense of security and stability of life grounded in Truth and Faith.
The 47th Problem of Euclid is an emblem of the arts and sciences. By them we are reminded that next to sinfulness the most dangerous enemy of life is ignorance.
In the Hour Glass we have the emblem of the transitoriness of life; no man lives forever in this world.
The Scythe reminds us that passing time will bring an end to our lives as well as our work and if we are to become what we ought to be, we must not delay.
Master Mason Degree Scriptures
Ecclesiastes, Chapter 12: 1-7
“Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth,
while the evil days come not nor the years draw nigh,
when thou shalt say I have no pleasure in them.”
The lesson here conveyed: Think who made you and for what purpose you were made. Reflect, that a sentient being, you were molded by the hand of God and to him made responsible for the proper use of the faculties with which you have been endowed, for the proper employment of the years, and the acceptance of the opportunities offered during the period of active, vigorous manhood.
“While the evil day come not, nor the years draw nigh,
when thou shalt say I have no pleasure in them.”
The grievance of old age, the days of sorrow, the years of pain, when the natural decay of the faculties brings the “ills that flesh is heir to” and ushers in the years of mental and physical decrepitude,when there is no longer any pleasure in life.
“While the Sun, or the light, or the Moon,
or the Stars be not darkened,
nor the clouds return after the rain.”
And as the Ecclesiastic continues the imagery, picturing the abiding and increasing infirmities of age, defer not the duties of life to intend accomplishment.
“In the days when the keepers of the house shall tremble,
And the strong men shall bow themselves”
When the hands and arms that guard and protect this tenement of clay are palsied with old age and we are no longer firm and erect.
“And the grinders cease because they are few,
And those that look out of the windows be darkened.
And the doors shall be shut in the streets.”
The teeth now few in number and the eyes which are the windows through which the soul of man looks out are now curtained by the shadow of declining years. The ears lose their activities in old age.
“When the sound of the grinders is low,
And he shall rise up at the voice of the birds,
And all the daughters of music shall be bought low.”
The pressing of food upon the toothless gums; The soundness of slumber no longer his, the old man sleeps lightly and rises from restless couch at the crowing of the cock at dawn; The daughters of music are the organs of speech.
“Also, when they shall be afraid of that which is high,
and fear shall be in the way.
And the almond tree shall flourish,
And the grasshopper shall be a burden,
and desire shall fail.”
When the dizziness of old age prevents the mounting to high places; The silver hair of old age; no longer able to sustain the lightest weight and sensual desire no longer occurs.
“Because man goeth to his long home,
And the mourners go about the streets”
That undiscovered country from whose borne no traveler returns;Those who sorrow at his death.
“Or even the silver chord be loosed,
or the golden bow be broken.
Or the pitcher be broken at the fountain,
or the wheel broken at the cistern.”
The golden bowl, the head, the silver chord,the spinal column which supports it. Golden and Silver denote the preciousness of man’s life and nature. The wheel the heart, the pitcher the great vessels which pour blood into the arterial system.
“Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was,
and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.”