The Plumb & Refreshment

The Junior Warden in the South, who personifies the “beauty and glory” of the “sun at meridian,” wears the Plumb as a jewel. While he is the officer who calls the Craft from labor to refreshment and superintends them during the hours thereof, and in many jurisdictions the two Stewards are stationed under his watchful eye, his duty is more than to govern the brethren during their times of rest.

It all comes back to the symbol hanging from his neck: the Plumb. Masons meet on the Level and part upon the Square, but at all times we act by the Plumb.

“The Plumb admonishes us to walk uprightly in our several stations, to hold the scale of justice in equal poise, to observe the just medium between intemperance and pleasure, and to make our passions and prejudices coincide with the line of duty,” says the Installing Master to the new Junior Warden. “To you is committed the superintendence of the Craft during the hours of refreshment. It is, therefore, indispensably necessary that you should not only be temperate and discreet in the indulgence of your own inclinations, but that you should carefully observe that none of the Craft be suffered to convert the purpose of refreshment into those of intemperance and excess….”

The Oxford English Dictionary lists several definitions of “refreshment,” and the first one even before the common usage for rest and nourishment is “The act of refreshing, or fact of being refreshed, in a mental or spiritual respect.”

Only THEN comes “The act of refreshing, or fact of being refreshed, physically, by means of food, drink, rest, coolness, etc….” And then the definition mentions the “Sunday of Refreshment” with a nod toward John 6.

I turned to John 6, and Verse 27 reads: “Do not work for the food that
perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life….”

Consider the custom of our Operative Grand Master, who, every day at noon when the Craft was on refreshment, visited the unfinished Holy of Holies to offer up his devotions to God. For him, refreshment was not physical relief in the form of food, drink or rest; instead refreshment meant satisfying his hunger for spiritual peace and eternal life.

The jewel about his neck? The Plumb, by which “so great and so good a man” would be identified after his soul departed his lifeless, earthly body. Writing in his “Antiquities,” Josephus describes John the Baptist as “a good man” who exhorted people “to lead righteous lives, practice justice toward one another and piety toward God.” To John, Josephus continues, baptism was not a “pardon for the sins they have committed, but… a consecration of the body, implying that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by right behavior.”

In his “Encyclopśdia of Freemasonry,” Albert G. Mackey quotes from Ahimon Rezon: “The stern integrity of St. John the Baptist, which induced him to forego every minor consideration in discharging the obligations he owed to God; the unshaken firmness with which he met martyrdom rather than betray his duty to his Master… make him a fit patron of the Masonic institution.”

We’re reminded of the theme of the Sublime Degree: “My life you may take, but my integrity never!” The lessons to learn from both deaths are intended, in part, to reassure us of a better, eternal life awaiting the brethren beyond this earthly existence.

The tri-part rough and rugged road facing Hiram after his prayers can be likened to the three-year journey of the pilgrim-knight toward the Holy Sepulchre in the Order of the Temple. Pausing at the tent of the first hermit, the knight is duly provided food, drink and shelter, but more importantly indeed to assure his success the hermit enlightens the knight with a verse from Scripture: “Labor not for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” Food for thought as we weigh the tools and jewels of Craft Masonry this month.

Jay Hochberg, Senior Deacon
NJ Lodge of Masonic Research and Education, No. 1786
Trenton, NJ

The Square & Compasses is the defacto symbol of Freemasonry around the world.


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