The right to be conducted to his last home by his brethren, and to be committed to his mother earth with the ceremonies of the Order, is one that, under certain restrictions, belongs to every Master Mason.
I have sought, in vain, in all the ancient Constitutions, to find any law upon this subject; nor can the exact time be now determined when funeral processions and a burial service were first admitted as Regulations of the Order.
The celebrated caricature of a mock procession of the "Scald Miserable Masons," (61) as it was called, was published in 1742, and represented a funeral procession. This would seem to imply that Masonic funeral processions must have been familiar at that time to the people; for a caricature, however distorted, must have an original for its foundation.
The first official notice, however, that we have of funeral processions is in November of the year 1754, when we learn that "several new regulations concerning the removal of Lodges, funeral processions, and Tilers, which had been recommended by the last Committee of Charity for Laws of the Grand Lodge, were taken into consideration and unanimously agreed to." (62)
The regulation then adopted prohibited any Freemason, under the severest penalties, from attending a funeral or other procession,  clothed in any of the jewels or badges of the Craft, except by Dispensation of the Grand Master or his Deputy.(63)
(61 A copy of this caricature will be found
in Clavel's "Histoire Pittoresque de la Franc-maconnerie,"
See revised edition, "Encyclopedia of Freemasonry," for complete account.-C.)
(62 Book of Constitutions, third edition, page 273.)
(63 Book of Constitutions, third edition, page 365.)
I can find no further regulations on this subject, either in the previous or subsequent editions of the Book of Constitutions, until we arrive at the modern code which is now in force in the Grand Lodge of England.
Preston, however, to whom we are indebted for the funeral service, which has been the basis of all modern improvements or attempts at improvement, has supplied us with the rules on this subject, which have now been adopted, by general consent, as the law of the Order.
The regulations as to funerals are laid down by Preston in the following words:
No Mason can be interred with the formalities of the Order, unless it be at his own special request, communicated to the Master of the Lodge of which he died a member-foreigners and sojourners excepted; nor unless he has been advanced to the Third Degree of Masonry, from which restriction there can be no exception. Fellow Crafts or Apprentices are not entitled to the funeral obsequies.(64)
The only restrictions prescribed by Preston are, it will be perceived, that the deceased must have been a Master Mason, and that he had himself made the request. But the great increase of unaffiliated Freemasons, a class that did not exist in such numbers in former times, has led many Grand Lodges to introduce as a new restriction the regulation that unaffiliated Freemasons shall not be entitled to Masonic burial. I have called this a new restriction; but although not made in as many words in the rule of Preston, it seems to be evidently implied in the fact that the Freemason was expected, previous to his death, to make the request for funeral obsequies of the Master of the Lodge of which he died a member. As unaffiliated Freemasons could not comply with this provision, it follows that they could not receive Masonic burial. At all events, it has now become an almost universal regulation.
As Master Masons alone possess the right of Masonic burial, and, as the Lodge, preparatory to that occasion, is required to be opened in the Third Degree, it follows that Fellow Crafts and Entered Apprentices are not permitted to join in a funeral procession, and accordingly we find that in the form of procession laid down by Preston no place is allotted to these inferior classes of the Fraternity, in which he has been followed by all subsequent monitorial writers.
(64 PRESTON, "Illustrations," Oliver's edition, page 89.)
As to the Dispensation spoken of in the Regulations of 1754, as being required from the Grand Master or his Deputy, for a funeral procession, as that regulation was adopted at so late a period, it cannot be considered as universal Masonic law. To make it obligatory in any jurisdiction, it is necessary that it should be adopted as a local law by specific enactment of the Grand Lodge of that jurisdiction. And although it may be admitted that, for large cities especially, it is a very wholesome regulation, many Grand Lodges have neglected or declined to adopt it. In the United States, Dispensations for this purpose have very seldom, if at all, been required.
Indeed, Preston, in explaining the object of the regulation, says: "It was planned to put a stop to mixed and irregular conventions of Masons, and to prevent them from exposing to derision the insignia of the Order, by parading through the streets on unimportant occasions; it was not, however, intended to restrict the privileges of any regular Lodge, or to encroach on the legal prerogative of any installed Master." (65) Accordingly, in America, Freemasons have generally been permitted to bury their dead without the necessity of a Dispensation, and the Master of the Lodge engaged in this melancholy task, while supposed to be possessed of competent discretion to regulate the ceremony, is of course held amenable to the Grand Lodge for any impropriety that may occur.
However, the Grand Lodge of New York, in 1845, probably for the purpose of providing against the consequences of such irregularities as are alluded to by Preston, enacted that, "no Dispensation authorizing a funeral procession in the city of New York, except for a sojourner, shall be issued, unless requested by the Master and Wardens of the Lodge to which the deceased member belonged." (66)
(65 PRESTON, page 90.)
(66 Constitution, Grand Lodge of New York,
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