Since joining the Fraternity I have often heard brethren discussing the catechism and its relevance. I have heard both pros and cons of requiring the candidate to return a catechism prior to advancing to the degrees of Fellow Craft and Master Mason and would like to share my thoughts on the subject and the reasons why I am huge proponent of its value and continue to believe it is an essential element to the new Mason’s assimilation into our Craft.
In the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of North Carolina, where I reside, we have a requirement for both Entered Apprentice and Fellow Craft to learn a catechism and be examined in open lodge prior to advancing to the next degree. In addition, a Master Mason must return their catechism in order to become a Line Officer. These catechisms are taught and learned via mouth to ear and the new Mason is not allowed to possess or use the Official Standard of Work (OSW) until they have been raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason.
The catechism, first and foremost, puts Masonry front and center in the candidates mind. A large portion of the catechism focuses on the ritual that the candidate has recently went through. In many cases we know that the candidate is so nervous during the degree and the lecture that they scarcely remember what they have gone through. Learning the catechism forces them to think about what they have been through and understand its meaning and relevance. In addition, they are likely to have many questions and the coach can share additional insight that the candidate might find interesting and valuable.
The catechism allows the new Mason an opportunity to form a lifelong bond with an experienced Brother. Since the catechism is taught mouth to ear, it requires the new Mason to spend a substantial amount of time with a well-informed brother. As naturally occurs, there is a lot more that is accomplished during the coaching sessions than strictly the study of the catechism. One of the outcomes is that the new Mason will learn about his coach and how Masonry has had an impact on his life. In addition, the coach will learn about the new Mason and be able to provide not only encouragement, but also help form a tie that will hopefully inspire the new Mason to work hard and continue to come back to the lodge through the remaining degrees and ultimately become an active and faithful member for many years to come.
The catechism teaches lessons that will be used throughout one’s Masonic career. Since the catechism teaches portions of the degree work and the opening and closing ceremonies, learning it once and learning it well will make it easier whenever one progresses through the chairs and takes part in degree work. It will also be invaluable in the future when coaching candidates.
The catechism forces one to learn the obligation in its entirety and reflect upon its meaning to oneself. Learning this portion of the catechism results in the new Mason giving serious thought to what is expected of an Entered Apprentice, a Fellow Craft, and the Master Mason as well as the symbolic penalties. Since the obligations are taken upon the Volume of Sacred Law each of us should give serious thought to their meaning and what we have solemnly swore to keep and perform before God and our brethren. The catechism provides us this opportunity.
The catechism offers one final thing that I think is missing in a lot of organizations and that is commitment, or as I like to call it, skin in the game. Since the degrees are progressive, you must return the catechism of the Entered Apprentice degree to advance to the Fellow Craft Degree and then return the catechism of the Fellow Craft Degree to be raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason, it requires the candidate to invest time and effort in order to advance. This means that the candidate must work for their advancement; nothing is given to him for free. This results in some ownership and it also weeds out those who are not willing to labor in the quarries. In my opinion, if a candidate is not going to invest the time and effort required to properly learn and return the catechism, they most likely will not invest the time and effort to be an active member of the Lodge.
It is important to note that not all jurisdictions have catechisms and in some jurisdictions other forms of proficiency are used and many of the reasons outlined above are applicable to these other forms as well. I hope that you have found this information useful and I sincerely hope that the Grand Lodge of North Carolina will continue to have this requirement for our new members due to the advantages outlined above.