The next sound of the gavel

“The Lodge will recess until the next sound of the gavel.”

You may have heard a phrase like this at a meeting of your Lodge or Masonic body. In some jurisdictions it is a phrase from ritual, while in others it is not—but in fact, the phrase “the sound of the gavel” holds several important meanings in Masonic context.

(For example: Ever wonder why some Masters say “those opposed, same sign” when taking a vote? It dates back to at least the 1890s—and is still used in some Lodges today—when Masons voted by a show of hands rather than Ayes and Nos. Masons voting in favor would be instructed to “give the sign of a Mason voting at the sound of the gavel.” After this, they would be instructed: “Those opposed: same sign, same sound.”)

And the sound itself holds special significance to us, doesn’t it? It is the sound which calls for order.  It is the sound which brings brethren to their feet. It is the sound which seats them again. It is the sound which accompanies candidate on his travels. It is the sound which begins the opening of a Lodge, and the sound which ends the closing of one. And it is the sound which calls the Lodge from labor to refreshment and from refreshment to labor.

The Lodge will recess until the next sound of the gavel.

As Masons we are taught that the common gavel is used to mold and shape stone to prepare it for use, and that we use it to mold and shape ourselves to be better men. It makes sense, then, that the Master’s gavel is made to mold and shape the Lodge over which he presides.

But when the Lodge is not in session, the sound of the gavel still carries great weight. Just as you cannot un-sink a nail or un-chisel stone, The decisions rendered under the heavy hand of the Master’s Gavel can remain long after the Lodge is closed. And we, in compliance with the gavel of authority, are in ways the echo of that sound, fulfilling the will of the Lodge by acting as upright Masons in our dealings with God, our families, and our communities.

Many Lodges go dark during the summer, or are unable to meet for some time, so we might spend those months involved in plenty of Masonic and non-Masonic activities. But just because the gavel hasn’t sounded doesn’t mean we are not Masons; we are Masons at refreshment, still living our values, ever certain that in due season the gavel will sound once more and the craft will be called back to the work we are appointed to do.

The Lodge will recess until the next sound of the gavel.

Sometimes, though, I feel it is easy to forget the amount of time some Masons go without hearing that sound. For many brethren who diligently attend, they may go mere days or weeks until the next sound of the gavel. While others, unable by circumstance or choice, may have not heard it for many years.

So then, if our actions are guided by the sound of the gavel, then it is our duty to carry that gavel’s sound with us, and bring it to the brethren we seldom see. For those who cannot come to Lodge, it is only right that the Lodge should come to them, and through something as simple as a phone call or an email, echo that sound which calls all Masons to work.

The Lodge will recess—

And most importantly, let us not forget that one day, between the closing and opening raps from the East, we too will pass to a place where the the sound of an earthly gavel cannot reach, and where eternal refreshment is our reward for the work we do in this transitory life. When that day comes, a gavel will bring the brethren to their feet, our names will be read, and the gavel will seat the brethren once more to resume the work of the Lodge without us.

When that day comes, let us hope that the sound of our tools working in the quarries here on earth is carried far and wide, in the hearts of those whose lives we have touched with our labors.

—Sam Swicegood, S.W.

Note: near the completion of this piece I came across a similar essay from 1925, which expands most beautifully on this subject.

“At the end of the day, when the lodge of our life is closed, and the sound of the Gavel is heard no more, the one thing no man will ever regret is that he lived in the  fellowship of our gentle Craft, and labored in its service.  Our life here amid sun and frost has meaning to ourselves, and worth to the Master of all Good Work, only as we invest such power as we have of light and leading to make the hard old world a little kinder for those who come after us.”