This detail is often overlooked by the profanes, but the Masonic Banquet, in its various forms and names, is an integral part of Freemasons' practices, to the extent that it is often given a ritual form. The Masonic Banquet is in fact an excellent way of celebrating conviviality and fraternity, and it is not surprising that Freemasons have made constant use of it. But what is a Masonic Banquet? What forms can it take? And what are the origins of the Masonic Banquet?

Origins of the Masonic Banquet in England

The custom of sharing a common meal has always existed in Freemasonry. Anderson's Constitutions of 1723 already mention this practice, warning the Brethren against excess and drunkenness ! In addition to the Masonic banquets held in individual Lodges, the Constitutions also describe the banquet held on the occasion of the annual meeting of the Grand Lodge.

The Masonic Banquet is clearly not an invention of the Grand Lodge of London, but existed in one form or another in the early speculative Lodges of the 17th century. In "The Natural History of Staffordshire", published in 1686, Robert Plot gives us the earliest description of the reception of a Freemason and states that before the ceremony, a collation paid for by the candidate was offered to all the members of the Lodge.

The use of the Banquet has been preserved with the greatest rigour by English Freemasonry. A Banquet must be held after every ritual meeting, during which it is possible to speak - which is not possible during the ritual itself - and toasts are made. The tables are arranged in a horseshoe shape, with the Worshipful Master sitting in the middle and the two Wardens at either end. The importance of the Banquet in English Freemasonry is so great that the Officers responsible for it (the Stewarts) are particularly honoured. On certain occasions, "Ladies Nights" are also held, i.e. Banquets open to the wives and widows of Freemasons.

The Masonic Banquet in France and Europe

When Freemasonry spread to the continent, and particularly to France, it retained the custom of the Masonic Banquet, with the same arrangement of tables. This was known as the "Banquet d'ordre" (Order Banquet), but the practices differed from those in England. In France, the Banquet ritual (known as "Travaux de Table", Table Working) was very soon inspired by the practices of military Lodges. Martial terminology was developed: glasses became "canons", wine "gunpowder", knives "swords", napkins "flags", and so on. A number of official toasts were planned, as well as various speeches.


In the 18th century, such a Banquet was held as a compulsory part of the ritual after each ritual ceremony. The speaking of the Brethren, the Chain of Union and the passing of the Widow's Trunk, which today form part of the ritual in the Temple, only appeared at the Banquet. In the nineteenth century, these elements were moved to the ritual itself and the use of the Banquet changed, depending on the Obedience. Most often, the rules of the Obedience stipulate that the Banquet has to be held once a year, for example on St John's Day. As a result, the meals that followed the Tenues ordinaires often became simpler, more frugal and less ritualistic, taking the name of agape (or agapes, in the plural). On the occasion of St John's Day in winter, many Lodges also organised banquets open to the wives of Freemasons, and sometimes to their families. These meals are known as White Banquets.

The Masonic Banquet in the Higher Degrees 

Since the Higher Degrees were becoming very popular in France and Europe from the 1740s onwards, it is not surprising that they also developed their own forms of Masonic Banquet. They were most often inspired directly by the Table Works of the Craft Lodges, sometimes changing a few terms and adapting the ceremony somewhat to match the symbolism of the degree.

So, for example, in the French Rite, in the Elect degree, the knives are called "Daggers" and the glasses "Urns"; in the Scot degree, the glasses become "Cups"; and in the Rose Croix degree, the table is called "Altar" and the glasses "Chalices". And for the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, at the 24th degree, the utensils used keep the same names as in the symbolic Lodge, but the table must imperatively be round...

But the Rose Croix degree is truly original, reminding us that the meal is not simply an act of sociability and conviviality, but can also take on a truly spiritual dimension. Thus, after the closing ritual, a special ceremony takes place, known as the "Third Point of Rose Croix" or the " Supper ": it consists of the ritual sharing of bread and wine, with a ceremonial that evokes both the Jewish Passover and the Christian Eucharist, and at the end of which the remaining bread is burnt.

And once a year, on Maundy Thursday, an even stranger ceremony was celebrated, according to 18th century rituals. The Brothers would eat a roast lamb together, standing up. The lamb had to be whole, and the head and legs were cut off before being burnt on a stove.

In conclusion

In all civilisations, a meal eaten together is more than just a means of sustenance. It serves to strengthen the bonds between members of a community or family. But it has often taken on a sacred dimension and has been integrated into the rites of many religions and spiritual traditions.

The Masonic Banquet is part of both of these realities. Whether it is a simple fraternal meal eaten together in a spirit of brotherhood, or a mystical meal rooted in the most ancient sacred traditions, there is no doubt that the Masonic Banquet is charged with profound significance, and that the Freemason who attends it cannot remain indifferent.

April 15, 2024 — Ion Rajalescu