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A mason’s finishing tools

22 March 24

Freemasonry is described in our ritual as a Progressive Science, the study of three degrees intended to teach making good men better men, more useful to their family and the society in which they live.

The first two degrees are preparatory, the first teaching the basic lessons of Faith and the principles of morality, truth and charity by which men are judged. The second deals with culture and the development of the intellect to prepare man for a productive life as a respected and useful member of society.

The third is quite different. It has to do with conduct through adult life and the search to discover the profound mysteries of humanity, the need for Faith and the understanding of the principles taught in the earlier degrees as the guide for our life’s work. Its working tools give clear instructions on how by assiduous effort and dedication to the immutable teaching of our Craft we each can erect our own spiritual temporal building.

The first of our finishing tools is the Skirret, an ancient implement used to determine and mark out with precision the outer limits of a building and its important parts. Symbolically, the Skirret is a vehicle of instruction in how to conduct ourselves according to the teachings of our Faith and our Craft; to clearly appreciate and apply in our daily lives the sacred principles of morality, truth and virtue; and to demonstrate to the world the goodness of the universal principles of charity and benevolence we profess as Freemasons.

The Pencil, whilst serving to delineate buildings and their parts, teaches us that we must take note and record our words, deeds and actions and to take care that we do not deviate in our conduct and actions from the principles contained in earlier degrees. Most importantly, to know that our thoughts and transgressions are recorded by the Most High to whom, at that fateful day, we must render an explanation of our life, being solely accountable and responsible for our behaviour and actions through our mortal life.

The Compasses is one of the three sacred symbols of our Craft, denoting the unerring justice and impartiality of our Maker, who has set for us, by his word in the Volume of the Sacred Law, the universal rules for charity and benevolence, good and evil. These we are challenged to choose or neglect in our daily lives in the firm belief that reward or punishment will follow at our inevitable day of judgment, It also symbolizes the continuing challenge that by our example and behaviour as Freemasons, we may improve the morals and correct men in society and demonstrate in all our actions the universal benefits of charity and benevolence.

How to use the Compasses is one of the finest of all arts, asking for the highest skills of a Master Mason. If he is properly instructed, he will rest one point on the innermost centre of his being, and with the other, draw a circle beyond which he will not go until he has properly prepared himself to go further. Within this wise limit he will live and labour and grow until he reaches the rim, then he will draw another and progress to a fully balanced and beautiful life of service attaining the objective that Freemasonry plans for all mankind.

The symbolism of the mosaic floor of our lodge rooms becomes clear in this degree. The golden cord of the Skirret symbolises the limit of behaviour of a mason. The tassels at the four corners represent the four cardinal virtues – Temperance, Prudence, Fortitude and Justice. Crossing the alternate black and white tiles of the chequered floor, where white denotes good and black evil, is to remind us of the difficulties and unending challenges we daily face when making decisions affecting our actions.

It is on the chequered floor that is revealed the ultimate purpose of the degree; that ultimately we all face ‘that last and greatest trial by which alone we can be admitted to the secrets of the Master Mason’s degree’. This demands we reflect on our past and contemplate our inevitable destiny, the termination of mortal life. There within the walls of our Symbolic Temple, overseen by the blazing star, we learn the real meaning of brotherhood, the five points of fellowship, and are challenged to renew our commitment to our Faith and the essential principles of our Craft, brotherly love and truth and the practice of every moral and social virtue.

The masonic writer, W Kirk MacNulty, in his book Freemasonry, a Journey through Ritual and Symbolism, chose the following opening sentence: ‘Throughout all history and in all civilizations, men and women have sought to acquire knowledge about human nature and the purpose of human existence.”

The Third Degree is the climax of such a journey in which the teachings of the Volume of the Sacred Law and of our infallible Working Tools reveal the intellectual beauty and ultimate purpose of Freemasonry.

 Freemason Magazine December 2012, page 14.


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