The Grand Honors of Freemasonry are those peculiar acts and gestures by which the Craft have always been accustomed to express their homage, their joy, or their grief on memorable occasions. In the Symbolic Degrees of the American Rite, they are of two kinds, the private and public, which are used on different occasions and for different purposes.
The Private Grand Honors of Freemasonry are performed in a manner known only to Master Masons, since they can only be used in a Master's Lodge. They are practiced by the Craft only on four occasions; when a Masonic Hall is to be consecrated, a new Lodge to be constituted, a Master Elect to be installed, or a Grand Master, or his Deputy, to be received on an official visitation to a Lodge. They are used at all these ceremonies as tokens of congratulation and homage. And as they can only be given by Master Masons, it is evident that every consecration of a hall, or constitution of a new Lodge, every installation of a Worshipful Master, and every reception of a Grand Master, must be done in the Third Degree. It is also evident, from what has been said, that the mode and manner of giving the private Grand Honors can only be personally communicated to Master Masons. They Ere among the aporrheta-- the things forbidden to be divulged.
The Public Grand Honors, as their name imports, do not partake of this secret character. They are given on all public occasions, in the presence of the profane as well as the initiated. They are used at the laying of corner-stones of public buildings, or in other services in which the ministrations of the Fraternity are required, and especially in funerals. They are given in the following manner: Both arms are crossed on the breast, the left uppermost, and the open palms of the hands sharply striking the shoulders; they are then raised above the head, the palms striking each other, and then made to fall smartly upon the thighs. This is repeated three times, and as there are three blows given each time, namely, on the breast, on the palms of the hands, and on the thigh making nine concussions in all, the Grand Honors are technically said to be given "by three times three." On the occasion of funerals, each one of these honors is accompanied by the words, The will of God is accomplished; so mote it be, audibly pronounced by the Brethren.
These Grand Honors of Freemasonry have undoubtedly a classical origin, and are but an imitation of the plaudits and acclamations practiced by the ancient Greeks and Romans in their theaters, their senates, and their public games. There is abundant evidence in the writings of the ancients, that in the days of the empire, the Romans had circumscribed the mode of doing homage to their emperors and great men when they made their appearance in public, and of expressing their approbation of actors at the theater, within as explicit rules and regulations as those that govern the system of giving the Grand Honors in Freemasonry. This was not the case in the earlier ages of Rome, for Ovid, speaking of the Sabines, says that when they applauded, they did so without any rules of art, In medio plausu, plausus tunc arte carebat.
Propertius speaks, at a later day, of the ignorance of the country people, who, at the theaters, destroyed the general harmony by their awkward attempts to join in the modulated applause of the more skillful citizens.
The ancient Romans had carried their science on this subject to such an extent as to have divided these honors into three kinds, differing from each other in the mode in which the hands were struck against each other, and in the sound that thence resulted. Suctonius, in his life of Nero (chapter xx), gives the names of these various kinds of applause, which he says were called bombi, imbrices, testoe, and Seneea, in his Quaestionum Naturalium, gives a description of the manner in which they were executed. The bombi, or hums, were produced by striking the palms of the hands together, while they were in a hollow or concave position, and doing this at frequent intervals, but with little force, so as to imitate the humming sound of a swarm of bees. The imbrices, or tiles, were made by briskly striking the flattened and extended palms of the hands against each other, so as to resemble the sound of hail pattering upon the tiles of a roof. The testae, or earthen vases, were executed by striking the palm of the left hand, with the fingers of the right collected into one point. By this blow a sound was elicited which imitated that given out by an earthen vase when struck by a stick.
The Romans, and other ancient nations, having invested this system of applauding with all the accuracy of a science, used it in its various forms, not only for the purpose of testifying their approbation of actors in the theater, but also bestowed it, as a mark of respect or a token of adulation, on their e:nperors, and other great men, on the occasion of their making their appearance in public. Huzzas and cheers have, in this latter case, been generally adopted by the moderns, while the manual applause is only appropriated to successful public speakers and declaimers.
The Freemasons, however, have altogether preserved the ancient custom of applause, guarding and regulating its use by as strict, though different rules as did the Romans; and thus showing, as another evidence of the antiquity of their Institution, that the Grand Honors of Freemasonry are legitimately derived from the plausus, or applaudings, practice I by the ancients on public occasions. In the advanced Decrees, and in other Rites, the Grand Honors are different from those of Ancient Craft Freemasonry in the American Rite as, indeed, are those of England from those of the United States.
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