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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Nineteenth Degree - Grand Pontiff

Nineteenth Degree - Grand Pontiff
On August 13 there will be a reading of the Nineteenth Degee in the Symbolic Lodge Room beginning at 7:00 PM (The parking lot will be open at 6:30)

W. Charles Smithson, 32° - Junior Warden of the Lodge of Perfection will again organize this reading. Following the degree there will be a discussion of the degree. The following is a brief description of the degree. (borrowed)

The title of this Degree sometimes causes confusion, for the term "pontiff" is sometimes applied to the Pope. But the word is used here in its original sense of "bridge builder." A Mason is to build bridges to the future, both his own future and the future of his society and culture.

Our nation is great, not by accident, but because of the sacrifices and efforts of our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and all those who have gone before us. One of the key lessons of this Degree is the importance of building for the future. Another is the certainty that good will triumph over evil. Those lessons are reflected in the regalia of the Degree.

Perhaps the most unusual piece of regalia for the 19° is the blue satin fillet or headband. (See photo above.) Embroidered with twelve gold stars, it brings together two of the traditional colors of the Blue Lodge, blue and gold, and symbolically suggests that the process of bridge building begins in those foundation Degrees. But the ritual tells us that the fillet also symbolizes purity, for the slightest contact of the satin with the earth will soil it. It reminds us that it does no good to try to be "virtuous most of the time" or "usually honest."

We have to strive for perfection, even if we know it's not possible to attain.
The blue color also symbolizes the heavens. Thus, the fillet and its stars become a kind of miniature of the "starry canopy of heaven." The twelve stars are rich in symbolism, referring to, among others, the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve gates of the New Jerusalem, the twelve signs of the zodiac, the twelve fruits of the Tree of Life, and the twelve Apostles. A little thought will suggest ways in which each of those sets of twelve represents a bridge toward heaven or the future. The same twelve stars appear on the cordon. The cordon is crimson bordered with white. We have already seen that crimson symbolizes zeal and white symbolizes purity.

The suggestion here is that the Grand Pontiff must act with zeal and determination, but that that zeal must be set off or confined by the greatest possible purity of morals, character, and motivation. The A & W (Alpha and Omega) on the cordon are used in their traditional meaning of "the first and the last" and, therefore, represent totality.

The regalia also includes the breastplate of a High Priest of ancient Israel. The breastplate is of gold, set with twelve different stones. On each stone is engraved, in Hebrew characters, the initial of one of the names or attributes of God as cited in the ritual. The jewel of the Degree is a rectangular plate of solid gold. On one side is an Aleph (a), the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, corresponding to the Greek Alpha. On the other side is a Tau (Z), a letter of the Hebrew alphabet that corresponds to the Greek Omega. Again, the suggestion is of the first and the last, the beginning and the end, the full cycle, totality.

The Degree reminds us that we are supposed to make a difference in the world. We are to make it a better place for others, and we are not to do that reluctantly but with zeal and fire. But we must always be sure of the purity of our own motives. A Mason who desires to help the world or to benefit others so that he can feed his own ego or for self-aggrandizement, completely misses the point.

Check back here for further information about this exciting event. This is a chance to see the degree which is not usually done at the Reunion and to have some in depth discussion about its meaning.

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