I wish to speak to you about our most revered symbol of our Fraternity . . . our aprons.
All of us in this room have, at some point in our lives, been aware of the Apron as a symbol of Freemasonry. Many of us have met individuals in our lives who impressed us with their honesty, integrity, and honorable demeanor. As some point we may have learned that they were Freemasons through a conversation or by the ring we may have noticed on their hands. We asked questions and learned that they held this fraternity in high esteem and were members. Eventually, many of us decided to seek further light through Freemasonry. This is where many of our paths diverged.
Some of us have joined the Masonic Fraternity. One night, the Mason in your life came home with a small box or blue tube with an apron in it. You were likely told that this was very important and that it should be kept in a safe place and held in trust. You may have even been told that it would not be worn again until the death of this man.
This seems odd. Why would something that is clearly of great value and importance remain hidden away for years in the bottom of a dresser drawer or cedar chest? Just what exactly is in that box or tube that deserves such attention and reverence? It is your Mason’s lambskin apron; the very one which many of us are wearing tonight.
Why an Apron as a Masonic Symbol? We trace our historical and philosophical roots to the trade guilds of stonemasons who worked on the great buildings of Europe as early as the 1300’s. As a working tradesman, our Masonic ancestors were likely to wear aprons as a means of protecting their clothing. Such a practical device came to symbolize all of the skilled trades and was elevated to a position of respect and importance in any community as tradesmen were revered for their talents and skills. As the apron grew in importance as a symbol in the community, our Masonic ancestors attached special significance to the apron as a tool for reminding us of our obligation to support morality and the conduct that stems from such beliefs.
White has been deemed a color of innocence, purity, and goodness throughout the ages; a symbol of one to be admired. As such, the white apron came to symbolize the pure of spirit within our fraternity.
When your Mason received his apron, he heard something like this. “I now have the pleasure of presenting you a white Lambskin Apron which is an emblem of innocence and the badge of a Mason.” He was told that it is an ancient symbol that has been worn by the most powerful, wealthy, and admirable men on earth who have never been ashamed to wear it.
One example was Harry S. Truman, an outstanding Mason and President of the United States. He was once asked which of the honors that have been bestowed upon him was the greatest. Brother Truman answered without hesitation, stating that it was becoming a Mason and being elected Grand Master of Masons in Missouri. He stated that “anybody can get themselves elected President of the United States. Only the finest among men can become Masons.”
Your new Mason was told that everyone ought to wear his apron with pleasure to himself and honor to the fraternity and that even though great honors and recognition for achievements may come to him in the future, that “never again from mortal hands will any honor so distinguished, so emblematical of purity and all perfection be presented to you than this which we now bestow.” He was informed that he should care for it throughout his life and that it should be deposited with his lifeless remains at the end of his life.
He then heard the following. “Let its pure and spotless surface be an ever present reminder of a purity of life and rectitude of conduct; a never ending argument for nobler deeds, higher thoughts, and greater achievements. And when at last your weary feet shall have come to the end of life’s toilsome journey, and the working tools of life drop forever from your nerveless grasp, may the record of you life and actions be as pure and spotless as this fair emblem that I now place in your hands.”
That last line still gives me chills 34 years after I first heard them. When we think of this particular line, it speaks volumes about the purpose of Freemasonry. We are to live our lives in such a manner that we are proud of everything we do as if our aprons become a scroll onto which the actions of our life are recorded; a record for which we are likely to be held accountable both in this life and in the hereafter.
We know about the hereafter part since the next line we hear states “when at last your trembling soul shall stand naked and alone before the great white throne, may it be your portion to hear from him; who sitith as judge supreme those welcome words, well done good and faithful servant. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”
The Grand Lodge of Ohio has established rules regarding the wearing of Aprons. We are not to wear them in public settings without authorization from the Grand Master. We are authorized to wear them when we make appearances in public as Masons, such as parades, certain Masonic Ceremonies, and at the funerals of our brethren. We are expected to wear them and wear them with pride. The only other time we can wear our aprons is in a tyled or secured meeting. When in a meeting, it is a requirement that all in attendance are properly clothed referring to wearing an apron.
My apron is a small thing. It is not particularly becoming as a fashion accessory since, in many cases such as mine, it accentuates my portly and not so healthy physique. However, I wear my apron with pride and without shame and embarrassment. It ranks among the most valued of my possessions because of what it represents to me, what it reminds me to do, and the hope I have for my future. I look forward to that day when I can, as I have been told, stand before that great white throne, naked and alone, and hear those truly welcome words. Well done good and faithful servant. Welcome into the joy of thy Lord.”