The Masonic Fraternity exists as arguably the oldest existing fraternity in the world. Even so, some of our masonically older members can often spot a mason, even in a very informal setting by their manners and the way in which they carry themselves, their deportment and manners. This sets masonry aside from most other organisations.
Masonic Etiquette starts with good manners, together with certain concepts peculiar to Freemasonry. We all should practice etiquette because of its power to help maintain harmony. It is a form of courtesy to the individual members and a manifestation of respect to the Craft. Harmony is the first law of the Lodge and the Worshipful Master of his Brethren demands it when he declares the Lodge open. "I now declare the Lodge duly opened and in order for business, at the same time strictly forbidding any idle, immoral or other un-Masonic conduct whereby the Harmony of the same may be disturbed". To quote a Brother "if good manners were lost, it would be necessary for the next generation to rediscover them".
I am a believer in our standard works and lectures, our constitution and our etiquette. Still, we must strive to build our own temples and seek perfection. One avenue that can be used to achieve this goal is through respect or etiquette. Remember to subdue your passions and improve yourself in Masonry. This is probably the most difficult task that a Mason is obliged to perform. One of the most unnerving thing is to see is a Brother, any Brother address the Worshipful Master while he remains seated and not on the sign of fidelity. How can we fault our newly raised Masons who see this discourteous behaviour and repeat the same thinking that it is the norm. If you are corrected by a Brother do not be upset or feel insulted, by his zeal, for this Brother practices Masonic Etiquette.
Where a group of Masons act as a unit, etiquette takes the form of proper decorum. Loud talk, restless movement, laughter, flippancy, irreverence toward the Worshipful Master or other officers of the Lodge, passing between the Altar and the East, omission of the sign of fidelity, giving no heed to the business at hand, improper entering and leaving. No man needs to consult a book of etiquette in order to accept the fact that such indecorous behaviour is dangerous to the harmony of the Lodge. It is in such an atmosphere that ill will and hard feelings result, not to mention the more serious menace of splits and feuds, are most likely to take root to the great danger of the Craft. A Worshipful Master who permits the intrusion of such indecorum is not faithful to the duties of his office.
The following are what I consider some of the most important rules of Masonic etiquette:
Speaking in the Lodge. The rules of order in Freemasonry do not permit discussion, during a communication, among the Brethren, unless the Worshipful Master specifically permits it. The Brother who has anything to say to the Lodge, must rise to his feet, give the sign, wait to be recognised by the Worshipful Master and speak directly to the Master. He must also remain on the sign of Fidelity until seated.
Altar: No Brother shall pass between the Altar and the East while the Lodge is at Labour, except when required to do so by ritualistic performance. The Great Lights are the particular responsibility of the Worshipful Master; no Brother should ever obscure his view of them.
Anteroom: As soon as a Brother enters a Masonic hall to attend a Communication he comes under the sway of Masonic Etiquette. If he is late, he should not indulge in loud talking that may be heard in the Lodge. His demeanour toward other Brethren, whom he may meet there, should be courteous and respectful—there as well as elsewhere, Masonry does not give any man, licence to take personal liberties with another! This is especially true if any candidates are present waiting their call to the preparation room; to give the impression that vulgar conduct, levity, practical joking, or other forms of disrespect are countenanced by the Craft as a misrepresentation of the Lodge.
Dress (Attire): The matter of attire depends entirely upon circumstances and is a point Grand Lodge leaves to each constituent Lodge to decide, though much may be said in favour of formal attire, since it is a mark of respect to the Fraternity. One thing is certain: if any of the officers are required to wear formal attire, all officers should wear it without exception. The members will dress according to the Summons, —normally a jacket with tie—and it is proper that they enter the Lodge room with apron properly arranged beforehand, and any other regalia, jewels etc., in due order. There is a philosophy in dress, as in so many other things, and the dress proper to Masonic occasion is no exception. Its principle is good taste; its practice is to wear such attire as a show of respect to the Brotherhood and expresses the dignity of Masonry.
Apron and Gloves: When wearing clothing that would conceal the apron, always wear the apron on the outside of the garment. A Grand Lodge Officer should always wear the apron of his office. Not only to pay proper respect to the Lodge or Grand Lodge, but also as a means to identify the office he holds or the highest office held, except when filling an office in the advancing line of Lodge Officers. Gloves are an essential part of our regalia in our jurisdiction and are a symbol of purity. They also show that whether a man is a brick layer, caretaker, soldier or professor, we meet, act and part as equals.
Ballot: Discussion of the ballot is a Masonic Offence and must not take place. Every Mason owes to his Lodge the duty of protecting it against poor material, and every Mason owes to every petitioner a fair ballot, which is the only protection a petitioner has against unfair discrimination and unreasonable prejudice.