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Masonic obligations and their significance

11 July 23

The word Obligation is self-explanatory. It means a kind of restraint of a person’s absolute freedom of choice to do, or to refrain from doing certain things. Such restraint can either be imposed without a person’s approval or self-imposed of that person’s own volition.

There are different types of obligations:

a)  Obligations imposed upon all of us by the civil authorities to preserve law and order in society.

b)  Contractual obligations into which one enters of one’s own free will, in one’s everyday dealings in order to promote one’s own interests.

c)  Obligations which are implanted by nature in the heart of every person to regulate their relation s towards family and fellow creatures.

d)  Obligations into which one enters of one’s free volition and accord because they are considered to be for one’s moral benefit and advancement.

The Masonic obligations fall into this latter category. They are freely accepted, self-imposed obligations, the binding strength of which lies not in the threat of punishment, material loss or penalty, but flows from the depth of a man’s conscience and from the value that he places upon his personal honour. They are, therefore, more binding and of greater personal significance than any other because there is no more valuable asset than a man’s personal honour, or a more vigilant and infallible critic than a man’s conscience. What greater punishment can be imposed on a man than the constant remorse of his conscience (which will follow him to his grave) than that of being branded by his fellow-man with the stigma of being a man without honour?

Another important aspect of Masonic obligations is that they are not taken for a definite term, in respect of a particular country, or particular body of men. They are obligations taken by him as a man of the world and therefore are not confined within the limits of time, space or circle of men, i.e. ‘unfit to remain in this warranted lodge, or any other warranted lodge, or society of men who prize honour and virtue etc.’ These obligations are binding on him for the rest of his life, wherever he may be on, above or under the globe, regardless of what society he may be in from time to time, whether he continues to remain in the Craft or withdraw from it, or is expelled from Freemasonry.  In short, once taken, the obligations cannot be honourably forsaken.

Generally, masonic obligations consist of a number of clauses, both positive and negative in nature. They contain the things a mason should do, and refrain from doing, in other words, ‘masonic do’s and don’ts’. Each obligation is concluded with a final point which encompasses all of the previous points, including secrecy. This is not for any sinister reason, but because we treasure our teachings and principles, and do not wish them to become the subject of commonplace discussion and derision among people who do not understand or appreciate their value and importance.

What then, is the reason for such solemn obligations? The answer is simple. Masonry is an organisation, and as an organisation is a group of people with common aims and objects, with a system of laws and rules which are designed to achieve such aims and objects, the obligations are necessary to ensure that brethren are aware of those laws and rules. These laws and rules are regulated and policed by the duly elected leaders and officers of an organization. In order to achieve these aims and objects, the members must respect those leaders and officers. Freemasonry, being an organization with a moral and spiritual mission, has its own code of ethics and behaviour which is expressed through teachings, rituals, traditions, symbols and allegories. The strength of this world-wide organization, its success in the face of many adversaries and adversities and its exalted reputation built over centuries, are all due to the strict adherence by its members to its code of ethics and behaviour, and also the discipline observed by, and owed to, the leaders who administer its laws and rules. However, an organization as large and widespread as Freemasonry will, from time to time, have some members who either inadvertently or deliberately breach that code of ethics and behaviour.

In order to safeguard against these breaches (associated with obligations), Masonry has not only unwritten laws but also written laws contained in the Book of Constitutions. The latter contains our written laws and prescribes the action to be taken and the punishment to be imposed against those guilty of such offences. Punishments are appropriate to offences and vary from a reprimand for un-masonic conduct of a minor nature, through short and long term suspension of masonic privileges for more serious offences; to total expulsion from the Craft for very serious offences such as heresy, treason and murder. (Brethren will note that mention of these offences is made in our obligations).

Although we are all familiar with the ‘ancient penalties’ formally associated with the violation of our obligations, there are no, nor has there ever been any evidence of any, corporal punishments in Freemasonry. Such actions would not only trespass upon the province of the civil authorities, but it would also be in direct conflict with the tenets and landmarks of the Craft. Freemasonry, with its high moral and spiritual mission, would never resort to the base level of inflicting physical pain and suffering on its offenders.

The supreme authority of our organization which administers its laws, directs its functions and activities, and steers it on the proper path, is the Grand Lodge. The Grand Lodge is invested with the power to enact new laws, modify, repeal or update existing laws, interpret and apply such laws, and adjudicate at the trial of those who violate them. It sits in a proper tribunal, hears the allegation of the offence, hears testimonies in support of and against the accused, allows the accused every opportunity to present his defence, arrives at its decision and pronounces its verdict. When pronouncing its verdict, it fixes the punishment and directs its officers to enforce it. As the elected leader of each private lodge, the Worshipful Master reinforces the lodge’s commitment and support to the Grand Master and his officers at Installation and at every meeting attended by Grand Lodge Officers.

This, Brethren, is briefly the system upon which Masonry is founded, and this is the machinery through which it functions.  They form the focal point of, and the essence of masonic obligations. I sincerely hope that you will retain these points vividly in your minds throughout your masonic careers, because we are all bound to them by our various masonic obligations. May these obligations, freely taken, without evasion or mental reservation, be the unerring compass guiding your every step and thought throughout your masonic journey, that is, the journey of the rest of your life.

Significance of Obligation” by W Bro Paul Robert Bryant


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