The Empty Chair Ceremony

The ceremony is thought to date back to 1875, a decade after the close of the American Civil War when it was used in Masonic Lodges throughout the United States to pay tribute to those who did not return from the war.

The information for the ceremony described in the article was undertaken by City of London Rifles Lodge 5606 from their own adaption researched from the World Wide Web.

The Ceremony of the “Empty Chair” described below is part of the Article that was published in Arena Magazine issue 47

The Lodge was Called Off for the Empty Chair Ceremony. Although all invested officers were present, acting positions were given to the younger brethren of the Lodge to conduct the ceremony.

An empty chair was placed in front of the Worshipful Masters podium facing West.

A Brother supporting an Entered Apprentice’s Apron retired from the Lodge to the Ante Room to await the Deacons. There was an alarm at the Lodge entrance.  The Inner Guard, investigated the cause and reported to the Acting Worshipful Master that:

 “Brothers who had fallen in service of their country wanted admission here, not in person, but through their spiritual presence. They wanted our continued remembrance.”

The Worshipful Master gave consent for their admission and commanded the Deacons to accompany the Entered Apprentice’s Apron. The Brethren stood to order with the sign of Reverence, the Inner Guard admitted the fallen brothers

Upon entering the Lodge, the Brother supporting the Entered Apprentice’s Apron with the Deacons on either side assembled in front of the Senior Warden’s chair to then slowly process towards the Empty Chair, the Deacons a couple of steps in the lead. The music that accompanied this slow walk was a recording of Nimrod (the composition by Edward Elgar).

The procession stopped in front of the Empty Chair. The Deacons moved apart, faced inwards, lifted and crossed their wands to allow the Brother supporting the Entered Apprentice’s Apron to pass between them and under the wands to the Empty Chair. The Deacons then lowered their wands and turned to face the Worshipful Master. The rest of the standing brethren were requested to take their seats.

The Worshipful Master requested the acting Senior Warden that in recognition of our fallen Brethren’s spiritual presence the apron of an Entered Apprentice be positioned as it would have been had our departed brethren been present in body as well as in spirit. The Senior Warden took the Entered Apprentice’s Apron from the procession and performed this act in memory and honour of our fallen brethren.

“The Lambskin white apron was the first honour bestowed on our fallen Brethren. It is an emblem of innocence and the badge of a Mason. As our ritual tells us it is more ancient than the Golden Fleece or Roman Eagle, more honourable than the Star and Garter. This emblem was placed on the seat of our deceased Brethren, a symbol of recognition of their dedication to the highest ideals of the Craft during times of war. By this act we were reminded of the Masonic ideals of our fallen Brethren. We saw in clear vision the noble thoughts, generous impulses, words of truth, acts of love and deeds of mercy. The Masonic apron represents these highest aspirations of a Brother in all ways, as each Brother knows they give to man his only genuine happiness, his lasting satisfaction.

Our Brethren gave themselves freely not only to the Degrees of Masonry, but also to the obligations of service to their country in a time of great need. It is said that a Man is made a Mason first in his heart. A Mason may have earned honours before, or after being raised to the Sublime Degree. But as the world sees, those honours do not decorate his Masonry, but rather highlight the spirit, which makes him both a Mason and a man of Service. For our tomorrows they gave their todays.”

The Chaplain advanced to the Empty Chair and placed an evergreen sprig on it.

 “The evergreen is an emblem of immortality. Beyond a world of shadows, man has a glorious destiny, since, within the earthly tabernacle of clay, there abides an imperishable immortal spirit, over which the grave has no power nor death dominion.”

Brother Chaplain turned to face the Lodge and recited Psalm 23, The Lord is my shepherd and returned to his position.

The Worshipful Master reminded the Brethren that at this time of the year it is traditional to wear the poppy as a symbol of remembrance. It is also meant to recall the verse that gave rise to this poignant symbol, The Acting Director of Ceremonies read out:- 

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie,

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

– John McCrae 1915

The Worshipful Master placed the Lodge Poppy Wreath on the Empty Chair.

The Brethren stood to attention to observe a full two minute silence.  The Lodge Standard was lowered in front of the Empty Chair and the Last Post played.

The Acting Junior Warden recited part of “For the Fallen”:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them

– Laurence Binyon 1914

The Brethren repeated “We will remember them”

The Lodge Standard was raised, the Brethren came to ease and were requested to take their seats. The Empty Chair Ceremony being concluded the Lodge was “Called On” for the further despatch of Masonic Business with the Lodge Officers resuming their rightful places. The Lodge was then closed in peace and harmony.

The Lodge Poppy Wreath was then taken and placed temporarily at the memorial opposite the doors of the Grand Lodge Temple as an act of remembrance. The Lodge Poppy will, when circumstances permit be escorted to its final resting place at the Menin Gate in Ypres Belgium as part of the Last Post Association’s Ceremony in an act of remembrance to the fallen members of the City of London Rifles Regiment.

The Ceremony of the Vacant Chair is a touching ceremony which simply involves the Lodge member who goes to war for his country and does not return leaving a vacant chair. We should never forget them;

We will remember them.