MASONIC GOVERNMENT AND PRACTICE

- A WORLD PERSPECTIVE

 

There are basically two types of Masonic government in the world – the Grand Lodge and the Grand Orient; and although considerable variation exists within each group – there is no standardisation, except in the broadest terms. In Victoria, we operate under a Grand Lodge structure, and most members undoubtedly assume that all Grand Lodges operate in a similar fashion. As shall soon be evinced, this is not the case.

The purpose of this paper is to compare Grand Lodge Government, and the Grand Orient Government, at both the lodge and the Grand Government level. This comparison will, I trust, provide a further perspective of our varied and complex Craft as it exists around the world.

Definition of a Grand Lodge

What is a Grand Lodge? In mainstream (see endnote) Freemasonry a Grand Lodge can be defined as an independent, sovereign and self-governing body formed and maintained by the Freemasons of its jurisdiction. It consists of free and equal representation of its constituent lodges. It assumes power over its lodges through written constitutions, incorporating legislative, administrative and judicial powers. A Grand Master, elected from its membership, and Grand Officers, controls it. All elected or appointed officers are responsible to its laws. That is the theory, but what are the facts?

Independent, Sovereign, and Self-governing?

It is hard to refute the proposition that Grand Lodges are independent, sovereign and self-governing entities although historically, the latter has not always been the case. Each mainstream Grand Lodge is limited by conventions accepted throughout the regular Masonic world. If a Grand Lodge strays from these conventions, it is likely to be ostracised by other Grand Lodges. These conventions largely consist of the “Ancient Landmarks of the Order”. While, historically, there is considerable debate as to what constitutes these “Landmarks”, all mainstream Grand Lodges accept this proposition of Masonic mores in some form.

The “Landmarks” of the regular Order consist of such things as: the division of the Craft into three degrees, the right of every Mason to be represented in the assemblies of the Craft, that candidates profess a faith in a Supreme Being, the indispensability of the Volume of the Sacred Law in lodges, that lodges do not admit women to membership, and others. Thus, while a mainstream Grand Lodge is independent and self-governing within its jurisdiction, there are certain limits to its powers to change its nature.

Free and Equal Representation?

In my definition of a Grand Lodge, it was stated that it consists of free and equal representation of its constituent lodges. In a mainstream Grand Lodge, each constituent lodge has representatives as members of the Grand Lodge. In Victoria, the Master and his two Wardens, together with all subscribing Past Masters, are statutory Grand Lodge members. In some Grand Lodges, notably in North America, Past Masters are not members of Grand Lodge as such. There are several types of Grand Lodge structures. The nature of each Grand Lodge depends largely on where it gained its Masonic descent and inspiration. Grand Lodges in Australia and New Zealand, whose descent is derived from the British Isles, tend to be of an appointive nature, while American Grand Lodges tend to be of an elective kind.

Appointive Grand Lodges

In most of the appointive-type Grand Lodges, all Present and Past Grand Lodge Officers, all Past Masters, Masters and Wardens of all its constituent lodges are members of the Grand Lodge. Thus, its membership is very large. For example, the United Grand Lodge of England has over 70,000 Grand Lodge members. The Grand Master is elected by