In it’s long experience Masonry has established many things that go beyond the realm of experiment and mere opinion; among these is the established fact that one’s appreciation of Masonry grows with the increase in his understanding of it’s symbolism and philosophy, it’s world-wide character, it’s ethical standards, and the ideal of genuine brotherhood fostered among it’s multitude of members.
You are now an Entered Apprentice. The first step in your journey to the Sublime Degree of a Master Mason has been taken. Doubtless you found your initiation an experience you will never wish to forget. A degree in Masonry is not an isolated experience, but an ever-enduring privilege. Always you may sit in your own lodge when open on the Entered Apprentice’s Degree; always you can return to observe, to participate in, and to study it’s ceremonies. Your possession of the degree is complete.
Doubtless you are eager to learn more about this remarkable degree before you receive that of a Fellow Craft. Perhaps it’s ceremonies seemed strange to you; it’s language fell on your ears in unaccustomed accents; and at it’s end you may have been somewhat bewildered. It will be helpful if you are given a brief explanation of the term “Entered Apprentice.”
The builders of the remarkable structures in Europe and Great Britain, from six hundred to nine hundred years ago, we call “Operative Masons” because they were builders in the literal sense.
It was necessary for the Operative Masons to recruit new members to replace those lost through removal, accident, illness or death. To do this they used the apprenticeship system, which was in vogue in all crafts for many centuries.
The word “apprentice” means “learner”, or “beginner”, one who is taking his first steps in mastering a trade, art or profession. The Operative apprentice was a youth, usually of ten to fifteen years of age. He was required to be sound in body in order to do work requiring physical strength and endurance. He had to be of good habits, obedient and willing to learn, and of unquestionable reputation, and be well recommended by Masons already members of the Craft.
When such a youth was chosen as an apprentice he was called into the lodge where all the members could assure themselves of his mental, moral and physical qualifications. If they voted to receive him, he was given information about the Craft, what it required of it’s members, something of it’s early history and tradition, and what his duties would be. He gave a solemn promise to obey his superiors, to work diligently, to observe the laws and rules, and to keep the secrets.
After being thus obligated, he was bound over, or indentured, to one of the more experienced Master Masons. As a rule he lived with this Master Mason, and from him day by day learned the methods and secrets of the trade. This apprenticeship usually lasted seven years. When he was able to give assurance of his fitness to master the art and to become an acceptable member of society, his name was entered on the books of the lodge and he was given a recognized place in the Craft organization and because of this official entering of his name he was given the title “Entered Apprentice”.
It is difficult to exaggerate the care our Operative Masonic forebearers devoted to these learners. The Intender, as the Master Mason to whom the Apprentice was indentured was called, was obligated by law to teach him theory as well as practice. Not until the Apprentice, after many years, could prove his proficiency by meeting the most rigid tests of skill, was he permitted to advance to a higher rank in the Craft. Other Master Masons with whom he was set to work at the simpler tasks also were his teachers. He was given moral instruction; his conduct was carefully scrutinized; many rules were laid down to control his manner of life.
When we read the Old Charges and ancient documents that have come down to us we are impressed by the amount of space devoted to Apprentices. As time passed, therefore, there grew up about the rank and duties and regulations of the Apprentices an organized set of customs, ceremonies, rules, traditions, etc. These at last crystallized into a well-defined unit, which we may describe as the Operative Entered Apprentice’s Degree. When, after the Reformation, Operative Masonry was gradually transformed into Speculative Masonry, the Entered Apprentice’s Degree in a modified form was retained as one of the degrees of the Speculative lodge.
As an Entered Apprentice you are a learner, a beginner, in Speculative Masonry. You have taken the first step in the mastery of our art. And it is because you have this rank that certain things are expected of you.
First, you must learn certain portions of the degree, so as to prove your proficiency in open lodge. But you are to learn these parts not merely to pass this test; you should master them so thoroughly that they will remain with you through life, because you will have need of them many times in the future.
Second, you must learn the laws, rules and regulations by which an Entered Apprentice is governed. As you stood in the northeast corner of the lodge during your initiation you were taught a certain lesson concerning a corner stone. The meaning of that lesson should now be clear to you. You are a corner stone of the Craft. The day will probably come when into your hands will fall your share of the responsibilities of the lodge. It is our hope and expectation that you will prove a worthy part of the foundation on which our great Fraternity may safely build.