Having been elected to receive the degrees of Masonry, the candidate proceeds to do just that. (In a few states, a candidate is balloted upon between each of the degrees, in most states one election is for all three degrees.)
The first degree is that of entered apprentice and during it the candidate is introduced to the basic principles of Freemasonry. As noted in an earlier chapter, symbolic use of various building tools is employed to impress upon him moral truths and doctrines. The degree is serious throughout and, contrary to some wild tales occasionally circulated, there is no horseplay or frivolity involved (this is true of all three symbolic degrees). Upon completion of the degree, the candidate begins learning a catechism in which he must become proficient before he may receive the next degree.
In the second degree he becomes a fellow craft, learning still more of the principles and teachings of Freemasonry, especially of its close alliance with the arts and sciences. Again, he must commit a catechism to memory before proceeding to the next degree.
The third and final degree is that of master mason, teaching still more of the moral truths of the fraternity, culminating with an impressive lesson concerning the rich rewards awaiting all good men. In most states the candidate must also memorize a catechism on this degree, in others it must be learned only if the new Mason desires to take additional steps, and in others it is not required at all. Some jurisdictions have shortened memorization requirements.
The catechisms a Mason is required to learn as he progresses through the degrees are often, at the outset, regarded as considerable chores and candidates sometimes wonder why they are required at all. But, they serve useful purposes for the fraternity and—although he may not realize it at the time—they are particularly useful to the Mason all through his life. It would be an extremely rare thing to ever hear a Mason regret having to learn the catechisms.
In committing the catechisms to memory the candidate is of necessity further impressed by the lessons and instructions he received in the degrees, for this is what the catechisms are all about. He thus begins his Masonic career a much more knowledgeable Mason than would otherwise be the case. He learns to memorize, an ability that will serve him and Masonry well through the years. When he visits a lodge in which he is not known to be a Mason, the knowledge he gained in learning his catechisms will enable him to prove his eligibility to visit. He will, as a good and active Mason, have many occasions to feel thankful for the lessons he learned in his catechisms.
Sometimes, despite their professions of good intent, men seek Masonic membership out of mere curiosity, or for other piddling reasons. The requirement that candidates learn the catechisms will often weed these out at an early stage; their motivations will not lend themselves to the effort required.
The catechisms pose no problem for men of reasonable intelligence and energy. It is rare to hear of anyone failing to learn a catechism if they really wanted to.