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 Festive Board

The Festive Board - © W.Bro. W.J.Bourne, 1997 (Abridged)

The Festive Board is an important a part of any Masonic meeting, as is the work done in the Temple. It affords the Brethren the opportunity to enjoy the social side of Freemasonry as well as the more formal ritual side. That said, it must be remembered that the Festive Board is also a "formal" affair, with its structure and rules of deportment, although giving plenty of time for Brethren to chat amongst each other and enjoy each others' company. After leaving the Temple the Brethren may well have a few minutes "refreshment" before the Director of Ceremonies calls them to take their places at the Festive Board. The announcement "To order, Brethren, to receive your Worshipful Master." prompts the Brethren to applaud - in an enthusiastic and spontaneous manner. Traditions and practices of individual Lodges vary and are one of the aspects that make Freemasonry so interesting.

Most of the early Lodges, here in England as well as across the waters, held their meetings in taverns; probably for the convenience of centrality and also securing refreshments. This resulted in by-laws dealing with excess and insobriety. Fines for inebriation, indecent language (probably the result of excess liquor), for quarrelling and dispute, or for disturbing a Lodge meeting were rather severe.

Another by-law of many earlier Lodges was that part of the initiation fee was to be for food and liquor; or the initiate may even have had to furnish a banquet at his own expense. The marriage of a Brother, or the birth to him of a son also often required him to furnish a banquet. In a few instances refreshments even followed the funeral of a Brother. The by-laws of many old Lodges contained the provision that the Lodge should open at 7:00 pm, should be called to refreshment at 9:00 pm, should return to labour at 10:00 pm and should close in good harmony at 11:00 pm or at similar hours. Often, however, the Brethren did not separate until High Twelve (the noon of night), and then with prayer. A record of one old Lodge shows that the Brethren sat eighteen hours at table, so we see refreshments were a serious business with our ancient Brethren. They must have been served at several points throughout the meeting and ceremony. Numerous entries in the minutes of old Lodges indicate that liquor was served while theodge was at labour. There was a purpose of the liquor, apart from mere refreshment. Pre 1814 instruction was by catechetical lecture, worked around the table during the meeting. The lectures were divided into sections, at the end of each a loyal or Masonic toast would be honoured (after a charge) and the E.A. sign 3 times, seated.

A by-law of St. John's Lodge of Boston (in 1733) reads as follows : "No Brother shall set at victuals in the Lodge room while the Lodge is open without the leave of the Master or Wardens. Nor call for any liquor or tobacco without leave as aforesaid." The painting, by Stewart Watson, of the inauguration of Robert Bums as Poet Laureate of Canongate Kilwinning

Lodge shows a toddy bottle in the foreground, whilst, at the other end of the room a Brother presides at a punch bowl. Alt this while the inauguration ceremony is going on.

It must be remembered that in these olden days many trades had social or fraternal groups, and that there were a great many tavern and coffee house clubs. There were also many fraternities like the Gormasons, Jerusalem Souls, Gregorians, Oddfellows, etc. Masonic membership meant a great deal, since a Lodge was a social gathering place for Brethren, amongst whom were numbered the highest of the citizenship, and that the use of liquor with meals, not always in moderation, was a common custom. The earliest Masonic catechisms and exposures make it clear that the Brethren enjoyed the use of bottle and glass, but are curiously silent on the subject of drinking customs and toasting routines.

 It is generally believed by those who have made a study of Freemasonry of the early days, that despite the common use of liquor at Lodge meetings, Freemasonry exercised a salutary moral, social and educational influence. In this connection it should be noted that the by-laws of the old Lodges provided fines for the Master and office bearers who chanced to be late for a meeting. In fact, there can be no doubt that our ancient Brethren placed a high importance upon courtesies at table.

 Grace -When the Master arrives at his chair, he sounds his gavel (answered by the Wardens) and calls on the Chaplain to say Grace. This can be delivered in different ways, although many Lodges use the old "school" Grace.After the meal "Laudi Spirituali", a Grace whose origin can be traced as far back as 1336 (and is probably much older than that) is often said or sung.

Wine Takings & Toasts -During and after the gastronomic part of the evening, it is customary in many Lodges, to observe mutual wine takings or greetings. This practice was introduced to replace "cross toasting" which, although it had several rules', appeared to add little to the dignity of the Festive Board. Wine taking should be under the control of the Master to keep it within a structure and not to allow it to be overdone. There is an important difference between wine taking and formal toasts. When the Master takes wine with an individual or group of Brethren, all the participants stand. The symbolism of the taking of wine is that each party stands and pledges the other - in other words, it is an exchange of mutual esteem and goodwill. The formal toast list, which follows the conclusion of the meal, is to the health of the individual or group to whom it is directed. It is drunk by others in a one-way communication of respect, esteem and goodwill, and is directed by those drinking the toast to the subject(s). The subject(s) of e toast, be it one or more persons, therefore remain seated. It is doubtful if anyone can assign the precise origin of toasting or the drinking of health, or even how the word "toast" came to be connected with the practice of health drinking. But it was customary, in the 17th Century, for a cup or bowl of wine, ale or mead to be filled to the brim and a piece of toasted bread to be floated on top, which was said to improve the taste. By the beginning of the 18th Century health drinking had become a very serious business in England and has, more or less, continued ever since.

The Gavel - As is stated in the Installation Ceremony, the gavel is the Master's emblem of power and authority, and should, therefore, remain with him throughout the proceedings. The attention the Master receives after sounding the gavel, does not depend on the level of noise he makes! The Brethren should immediately be silent out of respect for the Master, not his gavel. Whilst it is traditional in many Lodges and some Provinces, for the I.P.M. or D.C.. to sound the gavel, it is still under the sole control of the Master.

"The Queen and the Craft" - The first toast is usually stated as "The Queen and the Craft". On every possible occasion, English Freemasons, when meeting as a body, take pride in asserting their loyalty to the Crown by honouring the Loyal toast. Although this toast may be traced back to the "Old Charges", which enjoined all Masons to be "true men to God and true lieges to the King", it does not form part of the Ritual. Doctor Anderson, in the Book of Constitutions (1738, page 38) relates that the King, with Grand Master Inigo Jones and his Grand Wardens (the Earl of Pembroke and Nicholas Stone, the sculptor), attended by many Brethren in due form and many eminent persons, walked to Whitehall Gates for the laying of the foundation stone of the new banqueting hall in 1607 and levelled the footstone "with 3 great knocks, and a purse of broad pieces of gold was laid upon the stone for Masons to drink to "The King and the Craft",the King being James I of England. In 1719, at the Festival of Grand Lodge, Dr. John Desagalier was installed as the 3rd Grand Master. After being duly installed, he received the peculiar toasts and healths of Freemasons. These were said to be to: "The King and the Craft" - representing the principle of loyalty; to "The Freemason's Health" - for the Fraternity; and : "The Tyler's Toast" - for relief. Two more toasts were added at the Festivals at a later date : The Grand Master and The Grand Stewards. By the close of the 18th Century the total list averaged around 9.

Of the eleven English sovereigns who have graced the Throne since Grand Lodge came into existence in 1717, six have been Masons; yet the toast has always been given with full Masonic honours. Some say it is a landmark of the Order. When Queen Victoria came to the Throne in 1837, the term �Queen and Craft� had never before been used, and there was no chance of this sovereign being a member of the Craft. But the need to preserve the ancient custom resulted in the period of 63 years - from 1837 to 1900 - the toast was "The Queen and the Craft"; to be followed by another 51 years in the original form of "The King and the Craft"; reverting again in 1952, on the accession of Queen Elizabeth II, to our present "The Queen and the Craft". King Edward VII was a Past Grand Master and had the title of Protector of the Craft; he was succeeded by George V, who was not a Freemason. George VI, who was a very active Mason, came to the throne when Edward VIII, who was also a Freemason, gave up his Throne for Mrs. Simpson.

Toast to The Worshipful Master -This is another ancient toast and if a Master is lucky enough to be given the 'Master's Song' it will be impressed on his mind forever: 1, The Master's Song consists of three verses; 2, the singer and the two Wardens usually "clink" their glasses three times - top, bottom and centre - this is symbolically important; 3, the singer and Wardens form a triangle around the Master at the culmination of the song. A version of the song appeared in Anderson's Constitutions, dated 1723; it consists of 28 verses, with a chorus between each, and it traces the history of Masonry from the Garden of Eden up to 1723. The present Master's Song "Here's to his health..." is of mid-Victorian origin. The composer of the music was Dr. John Morgan Bentley of Alexander Lodge No. 993, and he dedicated it to the Masonic Brethren of his Lodge.

Toast to the Initiate - This is one of the most important Masonic toasts, welcoming and celebrating the entrance of a new member into Masonry and is often given by a senior Lodge member. Some Lodges have a tradition that the initiate's proposer delivers it. It is sometimes followed by the 'Entered Apprentice's Song' which will be remembered by the Initiate for the rest of his life. This is one of the earliest known Masonic songs; it appeared in Anderson's Book of Constitutions, 1723. The author was an actor/comedian, Matthew Birkhead, who was given a Masonic funeral on the 12th of January 1723. There is an engraved sheet of 1730 with the words and music printed thereon . This would be sung in the old days around the table with great gusto and plenty of liquid refreshment. In fact, the whole ceremony would have been held around the table prior to the union in 1813. An old custom, which seems to have almost died out, is that immediately after the newly initiated Brother's health has been proposed - i.e.. by singing the Entered Appreice's Song - the Loving Cup was circulated.

The Loving Cup - A very old custom, was the passing round of the Loving Cup after the E.A. song had been sung. The procedure was for three Brethren to stand, two would unsheath their swords and the third (middle) one to hold up the cup by the two handles and to drink whilst the two others defended his back. Having taken his draught, the drinker then wipes the cup with a napkin and hands it to his neighbour, draws his sword and protects his neighbour's back whilst he drinks. A later variation of the Loving Cup for toasting is the large two handled wassail bowl or cup, usually pewter or silver and sometimes bearing the Lodge badge or crest. At the festive Board it is passed round from Brother to Brother around the table. The custom of the protection of the drinker's back dates back to Saxon times, when a man might be treacherously stabbed whilst drinking - hence a friend or two to defend him with drawn swords. In A.D.. 979 King Edward (later known as Edward the Martyr), when he was so stabbed on the orders of his stepmother, Erida, so that her own son, Ethelred could become King instead. He was stabbed at the feast while drinking mead from a two handled loving cup by a paid assassin.ain - The Mason's Chain or Fraternal Chain is another old part of the Festive board which seems to have all but disappeared, although it is still practiced in some of the "Side Degrees". The Brethren form a continuous chain by linking hands around the tables in order to impress upon the initiate that he is being welcomed with open arms into Freemasonry - into his Mother Lodge - and into the circle of the Brethren's' hearts. The chain is a double chain, indicating the strength of Masonry and the fact that if a link were to be broken, perhaps by a call to the Grand Lodge above, the chain would remain strong; in fact, its strength would increase with the addition of every new link.

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