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Introduction to Emulation Lectures


The Masonic Lectures associated with the three Degrees of the Order describing the ritual and the moral and symbolic meaning are in catechetical form - that is a question and answer form - to be performed by two or more brethren. The content of the lectures had very few changes from their beginning . They describe in detail the ritual of the Degrees and contain much of the phraseology used in ceremonies, with whom there must be a precise match. The mentioned Tracing Boards are the common ones (in the Emulation Ritual, which should be consulted), belonging to the Emulation Lodge of Improvement. They were designed and executed in 1845 by the Emulation Lodge of Improvement order. The use of the catechetical form is known in Freemasonry from the earliest existing documents, though the catechisms appeared until the end of the 18th century were almost all "presentation" of Masonic procedures, they did not come from a direct source. The lectures of William Preston, introduced in 1772 (the full text of the lectures was known twenty years later) and the Master Key by John Browne, published in 1801, were the first texts that give us real authentic information. From that moment on, the lectures have become a complete education system in Freemasonry, not only in the ritual procedures of the Degrees-Ceremonies, but in the overall spirit of Freemasonry.

The ceremonies were short and, until the beginning of the 19th century, were often performed by a small number of participants, often in a separate room, before the Lodge meeting . At that time, this meeting usually took place by sitting at the table and the whole lecture was often performed as an instruction to the candidate. With the merger of the two previous Grand Lodges in order to form, in 1813, the United Grand Lodge of England, there were attempts to standardize a system of lectures. The Lodge of Reconciliation (1813-16) had formulated a new system of rituals to introduce into a system of lectures in order to teach these new procedures and to adapt the symbolism to the new practice. No system of lectures has never received a formal approval by the Grand Lodge, while the new ritual obtained it in 1816.

At that time in the London area there were at least three different systems of lectures. In that period the system used in the ordinary performances during the 'Public Evenings' of the Grand Stewards’ Lodge was generally accepted. It was based on the model of catechism contained in John Browne’s Master Key, commonly used in the Lodges of the previous 'Moderns', with the addition of the new ritual. Since 1817 everything had been arranged in a system of lectures that included education according to the new ritual, with seven, five and three sections, respectively in the lectures of the first, second and third Degree-the same model in use today.

The Emulation Lodge of Improvement for Master Masons was formed in 1823 and since its inception it provided education following the system of lectures of the Grand Stewards’s Lodge. Since then it has always continued to lecture although, certainly since 1840, the ceremony rehearsal had become prominent.

When in the 1860s the 'Public Evenings' of the 'Grand Stewards’ Lodge' ended, the Emulation Lodge of Improvement became the best-known body that regularly conducted these lectures. A few small changes have been introduced over the years - in fact, the Grand Stewards’ Lodge made some revisions in the early 1860s - but these lectures are basically the same ones conducted in 1817 and, except for the necessary adjustments for adaptation to the new ritual procedures after 1813, their content is almost identical to the lectures conducted in English Freemasonry in the late 18th century.

The natural, but not necessarily exclusive places for lecturing are the meetings of the Lodges of Instruction, so the lectures can be all fully performed at least once a year. Lectures are divided into sections and one or more sections are executed during the meeting. Lectures are designed to be controlled by a Preceptor or a Lecture Master, that is the one who puts the questions; the answers can be provided by one or more assistants. In the Emulation Lodge of Improvement, the Lecture Master is always a member of the Committee and occupies either the seat of the WM or the place of the former WM. It is considered that putting questions in the lectures means having the control of the work and this should normally be done by a former WM.

In meetings of a Lodge of Instruction, the usual solution is that a Brother assumes the task of assisting the execution of an entire section, providing answers to the questions in that section. When it is possible this work is done by the SW for the first section and from the JW for the next one. When the Wardens do not do this work, the Brother who performs, stands at the north side of the pedestal of the SW. The Emulation Lodge of Improvement has a defined procedure for the work of the Lectures. The WM turns to the Brother who will give the answers: "Brother ... please assist ... the Worshipful Brother to perform the ... section… of the lecture ...". The Brother who is going to assist can be called by name or by his office, the former WM is called by name, the section and the lesson are indicated with the appropriate numbers. The one who is going to assist stands up, stays in his place and replies, "I'll do my best, WM", without giving any greeting and if the assistant is not a Warden, he will stand at the north side of the pedestal of the SW. When the assistant is a Warden, he will stand in his place. Then the assistant greets the WM according to the Degree in which the Lodge is open and then the Lecture Master begins with the first question. At the end of each section there is a Recommendation, usually given by the Lecture Master and followed by a kind of "fire". Except for the “fire” at the end of the last sections of the first and second Lecture, it is performed by all present, who remain seated (except the Brother who assist during the execution). The fire is always performed in a loud voice, making a certain sound with each shot. For the first six sections of the first-degree Lecture, the fire is performed with a sign of the Apprentice and the movement ends each time with a beating on the thigh. For the first four sections of the second-degree Lecture, the sign is similar to the greetings used in this degree in the ceremony of installation, after the readmission of the Fellow Craft.

In all three sections of the third-degree Lecture it is foreseen an audible beat of the hands in making the sign and in beating on one’s thigh. For the last sections of the first and second Lecture everyone is standing, having been given to the Brothers the opportunity to get up during the section. In both cases the fire is the same, similar to that one performed at the table in many parts of the world, with a speed appropriate to the circumstance. After the fire, the Lecture Master will say to the Assistant: "Thank you, Brother ...", who will greet according to the degree in which the Lodge is open and will return to his seat. Then it proceeds to the next section of the Lecture, or the next work. Lectures are conducted correctly with the Lodge opened in the appropriate Degree and they must never be performed in a Degree lower than that one concerning the lecture. The content of these lectures has never received any formal approval from the UGL of England or the Regular Grand Lodge of Italy.

As the ritual itself, the lectures have been developed over many years, incorporating at various times thoughts and ideas of a large number of Brethren who and generally accepted in the Order. There may be a lot of thoughts and materials that have never resulted in these lectures, while some of the content now included may no longer be current.

Emulation lectures are very ancient and represent an interesting exercise for picking up the themes and the illustrations that have attracted our ancestors.