How to conduct a table lodge
Issued by the Masonic Service Committee,
Grand Lodge of Iowa, A. F. & A. M., 1941.
WHILE the ceremonies of conducting a Table Lodge are unfamiliar to Iowa Masons generally, they may be traced back over two centuries in English Masonry, and detailed records exist of their observance in France at an even earlier period. Indeed, the custom of proposing and drinking healths is apparently an ancient one, and there is even a report that they were drunk by Scottish brethren as far back as the reign of King James the First of Scotland about the year 1430.
The earliest "ritual" of the French Table Lodges was long and elaborate. In a modified form a similar ceremony was then used in England, becoming greatly abbreviated in recent years, retaining however, all the significance of former times.
A Table Lodge is conducted at the festive board, after the business of the evening has been disposed of. The lodge is called from labor to refreshment, the brethren then assembling at the table, which may be placed either in the lodge room itself or in the dining room. The conventional arrangement of the table is in the form of an elongated horseshoe, the Master's place being at the head, and those of the two Wardens at the extremities, the brethren being seated around the outer edge so far as possible. This permits the serving to be done easily and quickly from the inside, and makes unnecessary any later shifting of chairs.
At the close of the meal, the Master takes charge as presiding officer, the various toasts being proposed by him or at his direction; responses are made to all except the first and last, and by brethren who have had advance notice of their responsibility.
The early ceremonies in British lodges usually called for a long list of toasts, and those of the present day are often lengthythe first one invariably being "The King and the Craft." Certain others are never omitted.
In our own situation it would seem that the following group of seven would be acceptable, five of which should be regarded as fixed, the other two (5 and 6 in the list) of course being proposed only in event visitors or initiates are present.
They are submitted in the belief that each is appropriate for the purpose, that suitable responses should add inspiration to the occasion, and that the time allotted for this ceremony may be reasonably brief:
1. Our Country (no response)
The first and fifth toasts should invariably be proposed by the Master; the fourth by the Junior Warden in order to relieve the Master of any possible embarrassment because of the fact that he is, for the time being, the executive head of the lodge proposed; the last toast is always given by the Tyler, as above indicated.
The second, third and sixth may be proposed by the Master, or by any brother he may designate. The fourth, by the Junior Warden, is proposed only after asking and receiving the Master's permission.
The following suggested forms may be found helpful:
1. Our Country: In proposing the first toast, the Master rises, calling up the brethren with three knocks of the gavel. Each one holds his glass breast high, in front, facing the Master.
He then says, "My brethren, let us drink to the honor, peace and prosperity of our country, pledging anew our undivided loyalty. With me, my brethrenTo our Country!"
At this point all raise their glasses, repeating in unison "to our country," then drink the toast briefly, setting down their glasses at the same instant the Master sets his down. He then seats them with one knock of the gavel.
The same procedure should be exactly followed in proposing and drinking the remaining toasts, which should be brief, leaving their elaboration to those who respond. In every case the Master calls up the brethren immediately upon his own or another's rising, with the following modifications: in the fourth he calls them up but remains seated himself, and does not join in drinking the toast. The brethren face the Junior Warden as he asks permission to propose his own lodge, as they likewise do the Tyler as he proposes the final toast.
The other exceptions are those of the fifth and sixth toasts: if visitors or initiates are present, they do not rise with the others when their healths are proposed, nor do they join in the drinking. They can be posted on this matter prior to assembling at the table. The Master may quietly remind them as this point is reached in the ceremony.
2. The Craft: To the memory of our founders, to the ties which unite a world Brotherhood, and to a future made great by reason of a greater understanding of the Spirit of Masonry. With me, my brethrenTo the Craft!
3. The Grand Lodge of Iowa: To its long and honored career, its steady adherence to our principles, its unfailing answer to the call of distress, and its encouragement to those who seek further light in Masonry. May it direct with wisdom, decide with justice, and plan with a vision worthy of the Fraternity it serves. With me, my brethrenTo the Grand Lodge of Iowa!
4. ______________ Lodge No. _______ : (By the Junior Warden) Worshipful Master, I beg permission to propose our own lodge. (Master gives assent.) To the lodge so close to the hearts of its members, commanding through long years an interest and loyalty unshaken by adversity and unspoiled by prosperity. So may we reflect its integrity and stability in our daily lives. With me, my brethren To ________ Lodge No. ____ .
5. Our Visiting Brethren: (By the Master) To our guests of the evening, who will not doubt the cordial sincerity of our welcome. May this occasion persuade them to share our hospitality whenever their circumstances permit. With me, my brethren To our Visiting Brethren!
6. The Initiates: To our newly acquired brethren who have so recently entered into what should be a life relationship with a great Brotherhood. They have crossed an invisible boundary, yet one as real as light and darkness. May they find in our Fraternity at least some of its finest values, and may they contribute their share to the building of this cathedral of friendship and service which we call Masonry. With me, my brethren: To the Initiates!
7. The Tyler's Toast: (By the Tyler) (This is an ancient toast, and is never omitted) "To all Freemasons wheresoever dispersed over the face of the earth." With me, my brethren(all repeat the toast in unison).
After the toast has been drunk, all glasses are set down at the same instant as that of the Tyler. The Master then closes the Table Lodge with the gavel. Lodge is then called from refreshment to labor, and closed in form.
2. The Craft
3. The Grand Lodge of Iowa
4. _____________ Lodge No. __________ (by the J. W.)
5. Our Visiting Brethren
6. The Initiates
7. The Tyler's Toast (no response)
"To all Freemasons wheresoever dispersed over the face of the earth."
Regardless of who proposes the toasts, the Master, after the brethren are seated following the drinking, should in each case briefly and graciously introduce the one who is to respond. If any present or past Grand Officers are in attendance, the response to the toast "The Grand Lodge of Iowa" should properly come from the ranking member.
The response or responses to the toast, "Our Visiting Brethren" should be invited from the ranking officer of each lodge represented; if among the brethren of any one lodge they agree to suggest another of their number, well and good: but it should be their suggestion, not that of the host lodge. If time permits, and there are not many lodges represented, a response from each may be welcome; if this is not practicable, the recognition of lodges should be in the order of their seniority.
It should be understood that a limit of ten minutes be observed by all speakers. If this is stated frankly at the outset, no one should complain.
Some rehearsal by the officers of the lodge in advance of such an occasion is necessary in order that there shall be no confusion. A successful ceremony cannot be held unless the plan is thoroughly understood, and carried out with precision. If most of those at the table are familiar with it, others will quickly conform. If there are several present for the first time at a Table Lodge, the Master would do well to explain clearly and briefly the simple requirements in advance, prefacing his remarks with a short statement of its history and purpose.
The question, "What shall be used in drinking the toast?" can be answered easily: water. This would occasion surprise in some foreign quarters where age-old customs have dictated otherwise; but, nevertheless, water.
We suggest there be no smoking during the ceremony following the meal. Every one present takes an active part as each toast is proposed, and while it is true the lodge is not at labor, a definite program is being carried out, and if the Master will so request, the brethren should willingly comply.
Finally, it should be clearly understood that unless those present are prepared to enter into the spirit of the occasion, regarding it in the light of carrying out with sincerity and appreciation an ancient and honorable custom, it will be a flat failure. There may be occasionally a bit of levity in some of the responses, but there should be no trace of it in the "ritual" itself. It can be made very beautiful and impressive, and, observed occasionally by any fair sized lodge, cannot help but serve the cause of Masonry among the membership.
How to conduct a table lodge, Masonic Service Committee, Grand Lodge of Iowa, A. F. & A. M. : 1941. 8pp. plus soft cover. 15 cm. x 23 cm., blue ink. No author noted.