Customs vary considerably in different parts of the World, and the following notes are designed to show some of the best-known procedures.
I have added a brief note, in each case, indicating the essential Masonic significance of the passages quoted.
The earliest French exposure of the Ceremonies, Reception d’un Frey-Macon, states that the E.A. took his obligation with his right hand on the Gospel of St John, and this is confirmed by the next oldest French Version, Le Secret des Francs-Macons, of 1742.
Several later documents of this period indicate that the V.S.L was usually opened at St John 1 Chapter 5. In the beginning was the word etc.
Three Distinct Knocks, an English exposure of 1760, gave different pages for all three Degrees:
First Degree The Second Epistle of Peter, with its reference to brotherly kindness and charity
Second Degree The story, from Judges 12, relating to the test of the Ephraimites.
Third Degree I Kings Chapter 7 setting out the final details of Solomon’s Pillars
Cartwright, in his Commentary on Freemasonic Ritual, cites the procedure on Old Yorkshire Lodges where the following is customary:
First Degree Psalm 133, ‘ Behold how good etc.
Second Degree Amos, Chapter 7 Verse 7. The Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumb line etc.
Third Degree Ecclesiastes, 12, Then the dust shall return to the Earth as it was etc.
The Bristol Working is unusual in that the Master actually quotes, during the Three Opening Ceremonies, the full texts from the pages on which the V.S.L. has to be opened i.e.
First Degree Ruth, 2, Verse 19. The Story of Ruth and Boaz
Second Degree Judges, 12, Verses, 5&6 relating to the test of the Ephraimites.
Third Degree Gen, 4 Verses 5-22 The Birth of Jabal & Jubal who are mentioned in the Old Charges.
Of course there is no official Grand Lodge Ruling on this question, and few of the “named” rituals prescribe any particular page-openings for the three Degrees.
Cartwright states that the Perfect Ceremonies, in their Editions from 1918 onwards, specify
Second Chronicles. Chapter 6, as a standard ‘opening’ for all Degrees; as it deals with Solomon’s prayer at the consecration of the Temple.
Generally, Cartwright agrees with the widespread practice, in English Lodges, where a haphazard opening of the V.S.L. suffices, but if a particular page is to stay open through all Degrees, he favours, Second Corinthians 2, which is prescribed in the English Ritual.
That passage deals with the preliminaries to the building of the Temple, and of Solomon’s first embassage to Hiram, King of Tyre, asking for timber, etc, and a “man cunning to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass etc.”
A German correspondent writes to say that many Lodges in that country use the following:
First Degree John, 1,1. In the beginning was the word etc.
Second Degree Matthew 22, Verse 39. Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself etc.
Third Degree 2nd Chronicles. 6. Solomon’s dedication of the Temple.
My sources indicate that English Emulation practice is simply to open the V.O.S.L. at random, rather than to specify any CORRECT opening.
As to individual Lodges, wherever located, it would appear, from the wear and tear of the pages in their Bibles, that decisions were made many years ago as to what the appropriate openings would be and for reasons that were important to those Brethren at that time.
My conclusion is that the actual opening is vastly secondary to the use we make of the teachings within.
PS. From a personal information, and educational aspect, may I suggest that the next time you are in your own Lodge, why not investigate the Bible openings, and if possible, determine WHY.
This could lead to some very rewarding findings and possibly an excellent topic for discussion.
A few years ago my Lodge, Victoria Columbia No1, made a decision to become more inclusive as to the VOSL’s on our Altar and in doing so provide an even greater comfort & welcome to Brethren among us, who may not be of the Christian faith.
We now have FOUR VOSL’s on our relatively small altar, representing the Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Christian Brethren who may be in attendance.
We have seen this as just one small step in recognizing that we really are a “Universal Brotherhood.”