Friday, April 17, 2009

What's in an Apron?

I attended my first Fraternal visit to another lodge as a member of our District Deputy Grand Master's Suite last night, and as such I got to wear a purple-bordered apron. I felt a bit conflicted about this temporary status symbol as I listened to the section of the Entered Apprentice lecture which tells a new Brother that "Masonry regards no man for his worldly wealth or outer appearance."

I believe that presiding and past DDGM's are absolutely entitled to wear their purple aprons with pride and well-deserved respect for the amount of work and pure time they spend serving their district, but me putting on a purple apron felt a little bit presumptuous and/or showy; the DDGM's Official and Fraternal visits are a part of Masonry (in Massachusetts, anyway) that seem to be less about the tenets of our profession than about ostentatious formality.

Don't get me wrong, in many ways ostentatious formality is one of the things I cherish about Freemasonry in Massachusetts; as a society, we don't treat much of anything with formality any more, and if you ask me one of the biggest secrets of Freemasonry is that it's a last bastion of the lost art of gentlemanliness. I love the courtesy, civility, and mutual respect to be found in a well-governed lodge. Give me another 20 years and I'll probably be one of the old timers who manages to look dowdy in a tuxedo, but right now I rather enjoy dressing formally for the evening's work.

The thing about all of the announcements, processions, and ceremonies around a District Deputy Grand Master's visit, though, is that they don't really have anything to do with "the business in which we are engaged"... they're really more about hierarchy. And that's OK, I guess - I'm not one of those "down with the Grand Lodge system" people, and from what I've seen the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts provides a lot of support for its constituent lodges. I think things would be a lot more chaotic and fractious without it. As for that purple-bordered apron I wore last night, it felt... superficial. I won't say I didn't like it - not so much because of the purple but because it wasn't a tattered, slightly yellowed old thing made of flimsy cloth. As an officer I get to wear a nicely embroidered apron most of the time, and the contrast to the lodge loaners I wear when visiting other lodges is always a bit stark.

In most (all?) jurisdictions in the United States, an Entered Apprentice is given a nice white lambskin (or perhaps "lambtex") apron during their initiation, but then they're told to put it away in a drawer until they die, at which point it is to be buried with them. Instead, lodges typically provide a big stash of plain white cloth aprons for members and visitors to wear. Past Masters and Past District Deputy Grand Masters are often given nice presentation aprons at the end of their terms, but most Masons are stuck with the white cloth loaners. This has bugged me for a while - if an apron is the badge of a Mason, shouldn't we take a little more pride in the ones we wear in lodge? If you try to argue that it's not the apron but the man who wears it, then why do Past Masters and Past DDGMs wear such nice and ornate ones?

I tend to fall into the "formal" camp when it comes to the question of how lodges should dress and conduct themselves - to me it signifies the respect that Brethren should have for the Craft and especially for the candidates being introduced to it. When I see photos of Brothers wearing their aprons over jeans and t-shirts in other, more casual jurisdictions, I admit that it rankles. However, the purple apron I wore the other night seemed like a cautionary reminder that formality should not be for its own sake.

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