Why can't Catholics be Masons?
Dear Father Joe: What is the Church’s teaching regarding being a member of a Freemason Lodge? I was taught it is a grave sin and that members of a Masonic Lodge should not go to communion, but I know Masons in my Church who do.
In many ways, this question leads to many disputed points. There is a lot of bad or contradicting information out there about the Masons and what the Church teaches about it. Let’s start with why there is some confusion.
Some confusion revolved around the Code of Canon Law published in 1917. In this code was the following law:
Those who join a Masonic sect or other societies of the same sort, which plot against the Church or against legitimate civil authority, incur ipso facto an excommunication simply reserved to the Holy See. (Canon 2335)
Historically, Masons were well known for plotting against the Church and financially supporting organizations that attacked the Church. However, as some of the Masons seemed to be moving more away from anti-Catholicism and were noted for their many and fine works of charity, folks began to reason that since their particular lodge had no history of attacking Catholics it was okay to join them.
Church leaders even seemed to struggle with this idea: if an individual lodge isn’t active in or even concerned with attacking Catholicism but is doing charitable works, maybe it’s OK to join? To add to the confusion, Canon Law removed specific mention of the Masons in the line that previously addressed them.
To address this confusion and clarify the Church’s teaching on Catholics joining the Freemasons, the Sacred Congregation released the following statement in 1983 with the approval of Pope John Paul II:
The Church’s negative position on Masonic association … remains unaltered, since their principles have always been regarded as irreconcilable with the Church’s doctrine. Hence, joining them remains prohibited by the Church. Catholics enrolled in masonic associations are involved in serious sin and may not approach Holy Communion. (November 26, 1983)
Why would the Church hold fast to this position if many, perhaps even most, Masons had no desire to attack the Church but do good works and provide a fraternal organization? Because the anti-Catholic talk and action were only part of the problem.
The key issue for the Church concerning the Masons revolves around the idea of presenting a kind of stripped-down and reworked alternative to Christianity. This is best summarized by this paragraph in the New Catholic Encyclopedia:
Freemasonry displays all the elements of religion, and as such it becomes a rival to the religion of the Gospel. It includes temples and altars, prayers, a moral code, worship, vestments, feast days, the promise of reward and punishment in the afterlife, a hierarchy and initiative and burial rites. (Vol. 6, p. 137)
There are other reasons that we Catholics cannot and should not join the Masons, but I think we’ve got enough here. Holy Mother Church has been asked if Catholics can be Masons and she has answered with a resounding “No.”
Many active, faithful Catholics are simply not aware of the history of this conflict or the current stance we hold as Catholics, and have been participating in the Masonic rites and rituals without knowing that they are not to do so. This is one of those times when we recognize that God, in his mercy, does not judge us for what we do not know (with some exceptions).
So, now you know. I imagine, for some people, this is really sad to hear and there may even be some anger. I ask you to invite Jesus into this moment and go sit with him at Church. Pray and ask him to guide you into what to do.
I would recommend a couple of things here. You could join the Knights of Columbus: a fantastic Catholic fraternal order which offers men opportunities to gather, pray and do good works.
If your Knights Council isn’t particularly active or as Christ-focused as you’d like, talk to your priest about forming a men’s group at your parish. Bring with you the things you liked from the Masons and reshape them into a group more consistent with our Catholic Faith.
Enjoy another day in God’s presence.
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