What is in a word?

by MasterMason

What is in a word?

Bro. Stephen Godfrey Victoria Council No. 213 (Allied Masonic Degrees) also  a Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of British Columbia & Yukon. Canada.

We hear the work, we present the work and even after many years of saying the same words, we still do not truly hear the words. Then, all of a sudden a word comes to life and new thoughts become engaging in our minds.

The four recognized rituals of Craft Freemasonry in British Columbia and Yukon are 4 in number:  Emulation, Canadian, Ancient and Australian. It is often said that in fact the jurisdiction has as many rituals as there are lodges. At this meeting that would be 139. For this paper I wish to focus more on Canadian and Ancient, although some reference to Emulation ritual (one of several in my possession) will be made. And I want to focus on one word – VIRTUE.

When you read ritual you note certain phrases that seem to crop up fairly regularly.  My attention has been drawn to the phrase “moral and social virtues,” and in particular the last word of the phrase.

In the Canadian ritual dated 1962 published by Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon, the word virtues is used sixteen times, and nine times in the Address to the Brethren – Ancient and Canadian installation. In the Ancient work of 1962 again published by the same jurisdiction, virtues crops up thirteen times.   In emulation virtues is written eleven times.

With that number of times used in our work, I feel it is worth further study.

The phrase moral and social virtues might suggest to the uninitiated that there are two categories of virtues but all virtues are moral and social. All virtues are good; you cannot have a bad virtue, although sometimes some virtues taken to extremes could be considered bad.

Honesty, kindness, generosity, compassion, love, integrity, happiness, loyalty, courtesy, all are virtues.

Our ritual does not name too many per se:  temperance, fortitude, prudence, justice, faith, hope, charity, peace, harmony, (brotherly) love, truth,…[relief is not a virtue by compassion] all are found relatively easily because they are printed in the ritual.

But how many virtues are there? How many are hinted at or described in phrases? Linda Popov, author of The Virtues Project and the book, A Pace of Grace, suggest that there are 96, which should be considered as important for serious study.

In The Virtues Project, Ms. Popov used 52 virtues in a school program which encouraged schools to select a virtue a week and to work with the word with the students:-

  1. Speak the Language of Virtues
  2. Recognize Teachable Moments
  3. Set Clear Boundaries
  4. Honour the Spirit
  5. Offer Spiritual Companionship1

The results can be encouraging in students’ behaviour who participate in a school program:

  1. poor behaviour is reduced
  2. conflicts easily solved
  3. students talk about virtues and what changes can be made to poor behaviour
  4. politeness is increased
  5. caring for others improves

[Ponder, if you will, at this point, what we aim to accomplish in our lodges.]

Most especially students are introduced to virtues which in the past might have been essential parenting skills passed to them by Mom and Dad or even when attending church, by the Sunday school. Sadly we see daily so much behaviour and speech that questions us all – are we losing touch with fundamental character of being good citizens?

We take good men and work to make them better we parrot.

There is more to the cliché than you know. Divide the sentence into two.

We take a good man – when we interview a man who has made a proposal to join the craft, we attend his home and talk about what he knows, what he does not know, why he is considering joining. However perhaps more so we are checking for virtues the man already possesses. From the results of the interview we determine that he is or is not a worthy candidate to enter the fraternity. Clearly we have to see characteristics of his life that it is felt fit with the aims and objectives of our fraternity.

Second – we work and plan to make him better – here is part of our contract if you will. We are there to help him improve on himself by showing him other virtues he may not possess. We do that by education, by actions and by conversation.      Here is the rub, are we doing that?

For many whom I have spoken to, often the response is, no we are not. Lodges are tied up in other problems, issues and dilemmas which absorb the energy of the members to the extent that often there is little to no energy left to truly work in the areas of showing other improvements to their characters.

The word virtue is used many times – the ritual scrapes the surface of the many virtues – it is up to us to discern. Ms Popov in her book A Pace of Grace, gives a list of 96.

In her foreword to the book, she mentions that her husband in his research of cultures around the world has found 300+, which are common to all.

In a little research over websites I have found a list of 119 and another list of 152.

But does that matter? Are we concerned to know a full list of virtues in the world?

I believe not. What is needed is to ensure that we are working towards making more and more virtues a part of our lives, that no matter what the circumstances, and to whom we are conversing with, our virtues are consistently applied to the language we use, the actions we demonstrate and the conduct we display in society.

Virtues are key to the work of Freemasonry. Yes, it is good to know of our history, of our past members and their achievements, what we each understand in our search for truth, and developmental changes that have occurred over time.

The list in your hands is but a start, and I would conjecture, the list is enough to last us a lifetime. As a way of knowing just how virtuous you are, pass the list to a close friends,  if you dare, and ask them to check off those virtues, which they ‘see’ clearly in your character.

One last point, in the curriculum of the Ashlar College of Freemasonry (Correspondence Course from GL of BC&Y) a course on Virtues is presented at the third level.

One of the assignments is for the student to explore his ritual and identify where any of the 96 virtues are written, hinted at, or a derivation of the word is found.

One student found 65 of 96 in our ritual. Enjoy further reading and exploring of your ritual.


1 Popov, Linda, Kavelin, 2004, A Pace of Grace, Penguin Group, New York. [from the forward in the book]

2   http://www.virtuesforlife.com/what-are-virtues/

3   http://www.virtuescience.com/


Beautifully written &, as I had the pleasure of being present at the meeting referred to, beautifully presented.  We, in our daily lives as men; husbands; fathers; brethren and the many other interactions of our lives, have the opportunity to practice & share these many virtues and, by doing so make this earth a better place to live in.

Thank you Stephen!!

Have a wonderful Day & God Bless


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