The word degree, in its primitive meaning, signifies a step. The degrees of Freemasonry are, then, the steps by which the candidate ascends from a lower to a higher condition of knowledge. Albert G. Mackey, The Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, 6878. The degrees are:,, and. They are all of a very serious nature and not in the least demeaning of the candidate.
Masonic catechisms are a series of memorized questions and answers pertaining to a specific degree. Usually, the candidate meets with a lodge member who knows these catechisms and helps him to memorize the work. The catechisms simply reiterate the degree work that the candidate recently completed and proves his proficiency with them. Once a catechism is completed the candidate can proceed to the next degree.
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The qualifications to be a Mason are clear and distinct. There are physical, moral and spiritual qualifications. In California, the petitioner must be a man of at least 76 years of age. He must be free of any previous felonious criminal convictions and be of good moral character.
He must also believe in a Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul. The physical qualifications are necessary because the person must be free to make his own life decisions and be responsible for himself. The moral qualifications are self-evident for the viability of any brotherhood and the lofty ideals of our society. The two spiritual qualifications not only inform the entire structure of Freemasonry but also align the Fraternity with the great Mystery Schools and religions of the world.
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It is the transition from belief to knowledge that seals the mark of true spiritual initiation. To be elected, he must receive an affirmative vote from each and every member present at that meeting. But that is not the case. Many, many more are elected than are rejected.
That fact is testimony to the generally good judgment of those who recommend applicants, and it also indicates that the fraternity, by and large, attracts good men. Much has been said and written, pro and con, about the secret ballot. Others argue, also logically, that if even one member knows something negative about a petitioner, then that one member should have the right and the opportunity to prevent the entrance into Freemasonry of one he feels would bring discredit to it. Again, though, these instances are relatively rare.
Ideally, the candidate should find his way to the door of Freemasonry on his own. If a man senses the stirrings in his heart for a deeper understanding of life than that he has heretofore found, he will seek until he finds the Fraternity. This turning of the heart is really the beginning of his initiation. Therefore, each candidate who comes seeking light is said to be first prepared in his heart.
While Freemasonry is not a religion, its ceremonies are of a serious nature, dignified in their presentation and impart teachings that, if properly understood, obligate a man to lead a better life. To get the greatest good from the ceremonies, a candidate should first prepare his mind to understand and absorb these teachings. The candidate should pay strict attention to every part of the ceremony, in order that he may gain some understanding of the teachings of Freemasonry. The methods we use in teaching may be new and unusual to the candidate, but these methods have been used for many centuries and have not changed significantly since they originated. Finally, he should remember that every Mason in the Lodge room is his friend and brother.