CALL TO REFRESHMENT OR FESTIVE BOARD.
The call to refreshment is another instance where the student of Freemasonry must be aware of the history of early speculative Lodge practices in order to understand it. Early Lodges met chiefly in two circumstances, in Ale Houses or taverns, and in private homes. Ale Houses and taverns of that period were places of elegance and culture where men of prominence met to exchange views, ideas, and to conduct business. When Freemasonry began to appeal to the Nobility and the educated classes, Lodges frequently met in the Drawing rooms and Libraries of great estates and homes.
In such a setting, it is clear that the Masonic Lodges in those days were held in places, which were conducive to conviviality and good fellowship. Good food, drink and constructive conservation were the marks of an early Lodge. The Lodge dined together at the Festive Board and practiced all the virtues we would now associate with the sympathy and good fellowship of Brotherhood. However it must be admitted that in common with the general practices of the day the amount of alcoholic beverages consumed was very high.
The Lodge was called from labour to refreshment so that meals etc. could be served. This was also a period of socializing and conversing with Brethren of mutual interests. As the food stimulated the body so the intellectual exchange of viewpoints stimulated the mind.
Today the calling from labor to refreshment is usually used as a break “to stretch the legs” as it were, between two specific functions of business. The actual refreshment period, as we generally observe it, is after the Lodge is closed. But the same symbolic meaning is still there stimulation for the body and mind. In the Charge to the Brethren we are told that “the object of meeting in Lodge is of a twofold nature, moral instruction and social intercourse. Our meetings are intended to cultivate and enlighten the mind, to induce the habit of virtue, and to strengthen the fundamental principles of our “Order”.
Bearing this in mind it becomes obvious that our refreshment period, or the festive board, is still an integral part of our system, and although a feeling of informality and sociability should be present, good manners and protocol still prevail. It necessarily follows that nothing of an off-color or offensive nature should be condoned. The rule that nothing of a religious or political nature should be discussed in the Lodge room is just as applicable to the refreshment period. While use of alcoholic stimulants is tolerated in most refreshment halls, the overuse of these is severely censured. The use of proper Masonic protocol and etiquette is as important in the refreshment hall as in the Lodge room.
When a sit down supper of refreshment is served it is customary for the Worshipful Master and his more important guests to sit at a head table. Visiting Grand Lodge Officers should always be given a seat at the head table, if there is room for them all, with the most important visitor on the Worshipful Master’s immediate right. Any visiting Worshipful Masters should also be given a seat at the head table. On degree nights it is usual for the Candidate to be also so seated. The Toastmaster, who is usually the Junior Warden but not always, can sit on the Master’s left hand. In any case the Junior Warden is the Lodge Officer in charge who is ultimately responsible to the Lodge for the success of the evening.
At all Masonic functions where food is served there are three items, which must always be on the agenda.
• First the Invocation or Grace.
• Second – the Loyal Toast.
• Third the Tyler’s Toast, which is sometimes called the Junior Warden’s Toast or the Toast to the absent Brethren.
As at all Masonic events where food is served we give thanks for blessings received, and to remind us of our duty to the Most High. The Loyal Toast is peculiar to Masonic Lodges under the monarchy. The Toast is given by the Toastmaster and is simply “The Queen (or King) and the Craft”, nothing more and nothing less (Glasses are not clinked). This form is traditional among Masons and appears in Anderson’s Book of Constitutions 1738. It is given regardless of whether the Monarch at the time is a Freemason or not. It really indicates that loyalty to the Ruler is an essential part of Freemasonry, and that a Mason is never to be concerned in plots and conspiracies against peace and welfare of the nation. This is one of the points which set English Freemasonry apart from “irregular Masonry”. This toast is given early in the proceedings and no smoking or other activity precedes it. The Tyler’s Toast is the last Toast of the evening and is a reminder that while we are able to participate and enjoy the Brotherhood and fellowship, there are those that are not so fortunate and their needs should be remembered and catered to if within our power and ability.
Two other toasts, which are often given, are the Toast to Grand Lodge and the Toast to the Visitors. The first of these is usually given by the Senior Deacon of the Lodge or can be given by any member of the Lodge who is not a member of Grand Lodge. It is replied to by the senior Grand Lodge Officer present. The second is proposed by the Junior Deacon and can be replied to by any selected visitor. In proposing Toasts and replying to them it is important to realize that you should not try to make a major speech. Keep it short, it will be much more effective. Toastmasters should have their programs prepared well ahead and everyone notified who is going to be called upon to speak. This is only common courtesy, and the program will benefit from much better speeches.
One often hears a proposer give a lengthy preamble such as “Brother Toastmaster, Most Worshipful, Very Worshipful, Worshipful Brethren, and Brethren.” The repetition of this formula becomes boring, and it is suggested that it is unnecessary. Use “Brother Toastmaster and Brethren All” in its stead.
When dinner is being served in a public place and non Masons are present serving or otherwise, care must be taken that no Masonic Toasts are given and replied to, or any Masonic matters are openly discussed, while non Masons are present.
As previously mentioned the festive board is a period good fellowship and sociability therefore it behooves the Junior Warden to see that this part of the program is well-organized and followed through without undue delay.
At the risk of being slightly repetitious but as a closing thought, I would like to quote in part from Volume 12 British Masonic Miscellany, page 110 111 as follows:
“With the passing of the years there is constantly a diminishing number of Masons who become or remain members of the Craft simply and solely for the sake of the good things partaken of after the closing of the Lodge. This good, but whilst we recognize as an undoubted fact, that a proportion of the Brethren rarely if ever, remain for refreshment, we must take good care that the duty of hospitality is never forgotten or neglected, but that every Brother who comes as a stranger among us, is heartily welcomed, and provided with the very best the Lodge has to offer. It is not the proper use, but the abuse, of the good things provided that is deserving of condemnation, but with the due exercise of Prudence and Temperance, the Social Board should become a very interesting, a very legitimate, useful and even a very elevating portion of our Masonic proceedings.
“Let us unite to make it such.”
Taken from “Look To The Light”, published by the Educational Committee, Mount Elphinstone Lodge #130, B.C.R. Roberts Creek B.C. – Paper #016