The Church’s Declaration on Freemasonry
I believe it was back in 2010, that I was conversing with a parishioner in private, and I noticed that he had a ring on his hand, that displayed a symbol made up of a Ruler and Compass that surrounded the Letter “G”. Not being certain, I inquired whether it was a Masonic ring and asked if he was a Mason, and he responded “Yes”, and quickly added that there is no problem with Catholics joining, as they are warmly welcomed. It had been 50 years (way back in high school) since I last heard Masonry and Shriners discussed. My recollection was, that back then, Catholics were forbidden to join the Masons. So, I went to my computer and the Vatican website to learn what Catholic teaching was today. My concern was justified.
And, now, the recent death of a longtime parishioner who was a devout Catholic, and the Masonic son’s negative reaction to all things Catholic…such as the Rosary, a Funeral Mass, and a Catholic Vigil service…brought my attention back to the widespread misconception by Catholic men, regarding Masonry. So, I decided to provide some clarity and truth regarding Masonry (or the Masons, or sometimes called the Freemasons). It is an organization that we know is not associated with the Catholic Church. In my experience, in talking to other priests and bishops, and several Filipinos, that there are a good number of Catholic men who become involved with the Masons, very often in very good faith, thinking that they are simply in a fraternal organization that is in no way at odds with the Catholic Church. Since that is not at all the case, I felt it my duty to educate our parishioners.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has formally declared that Catholics who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion. This “Declaration” (which I can provide a copy of for any who desire it), has affirmed nearly 300 years of papal pronouncements against Freemasonry on the grounds that the teachings of the Lodge are contrary to Catholic faith and morals.
The Church’s declaration on Freemasonry exposes Catholic Masons to a number of penalties under canon law. For example, a Catholic who is aware that the Church authoritatively judges membership in Freemasonry to be gravely sinful must not approach Holy Communion (canon 916). The Church imposes the duty upon all grave sinners not to make a sacrilegious communion. Such a Catholic Mason who is aware of the grave sin must receive absolution in a sacramental confession before being able to receive communion again… unless there is a grave reason, and no opportunity, to confess (canon 916). This confession, in order to be valid, also requires the Catholic Mason to renounce his Masonic membership.
Further, because membership in Freemasonry is an external or public condition, the Catholic Mason can be refused Holy Communion by the pastors of the Church for obstinately persevering in his Masonic membership (canon 915). Such a Catholic Mason would also be forbidden from receiving the Anointing of the Sick (canon1007), as well as Ecclesiastical Funeral rites, if public scandal were to result (canon 1184, §1, °3).
Canon 1364 also imposes an automatic excommunication upon apostates, heretics, or schismatics. This canon could also apply to Catholic Masons…if… for example… a Catholic Mason embraced the theological teachings of Freemasonry, that the Church has condemned (indifferentism, syncretism), he would be in heresy by virtue of his belief in these teachings. Further, if a Catholic Mason knew the Church opposes membership in Freemasonry, and yet adamantly and persistently refused to submit to the pope’s authority in precluding his membership in the Lodge, he may also find himself in schism. Catholic Masons could also be subject to canon 1374 which imposes an “interdict” or “just penalty” upon those who join associations that plot against the Church.
For these canonical penalties to apply, the Catholic Mason would have to act in a gravely imputable way (to act ‘imputably’, the Catholic would have to be aware of the Church’s teaching on Freemasonry and, after being warned about it, choose to disregard it). I have now encountered, a fair number of Catholic Masons, who do act in a gravely imputable way in regard to their Masonic membership. In these cases, the canonical penalties, including excommunication, apply. The Church’s penalties are not meant to alienate the person on whom the penalty is levied. Instead, the penalties are meant to communicate to the person the gravity of his conduct, encourage his repentance and reconciliation with the Church, and bring him back into the one fold of Christ. After all, the mission of the Church…and it’s Canon Law… is the salvation of souls.
So, Masonry membership is a serious faith matter, not to be shrugged-off. There are many misunderstandings among the general public about the Freemasonry (known also as “Masonry” or “the Lodge”). While much of the public thinks that Freemasonry is just a fraternity, the Church has declared that it is certainly not. Masonry has been judged by every Christian church that has studied it, to be a religion that is incompatible with Christianity. Freemasonry has a very formal religious system which includes a belief in God as the “Grand Architect of the Universe”, the immortality of the soul, and the resurrection of the body. However, Masonry also believes that man can achieve salvation by his good works, independent of God’s gift of grace, and it does not require its members to believe in Jesus Christ or His Church.
Hopefully this will help alleviate the wide-spread confusion and misunderstanding surrounding Masonry Membership. Please share this information with those Catholics you know who are unaware of the seriousness of maintaining membership. And please note that I can provide the Church Documents making this declaration.
Yours in Jesus Christ, Our Savior.