Since the decree “In Eminenti" of Pope Clement XII in 1738, Catholics have been forbidden to join the Masons, and until 1983, under pain of excommunication. (Please note that Freemasonry originated in England in 1717.) Scanning official documents, the Church has condemned Freemasonry and other secret societies at least 53 times since 1738, and has specifically repeated the condemnation of Freemasonry 21 times. Some confusion occurred in 1974 when a letter by Cardinal Franjo Seper, then Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was interpreted to mean that Catholics could join masonic lodges that were not anti-Catholic, an interpretation widely advanced by the media; however, the same congregation declared this interpretation as erroneous in 1981.
The most recent pronouncement came on November 26, 1983, with the approval of Pope John Paul II, when the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (whose Prefect was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI) reiterated the ban on Catholics joining the Masons: “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." Neither this declaration nor the 1983 Code of Canon Law imposed the penalty of excommunication on Catholics belonging to the Masons. However, the Holy See has upheld that belonging to Freemasonry and participating in its rituals is a mortal sin which prevents one from receiving Holy Communion.
Why the prohibition under pain of mortal sin? Since freemasonry is a hodgepodge of theology, history, and traditions of cultic groups such as the Druids, Mithars, Egyptian priesthood, Rosicrucians, and others, it blurs the Christian understanding of God. In their rituals, God is referred to as “The Great Architect of the Universe," or “The Grand Geometrician," or “The Most High." In the “Holy Royal Arch" degree, the Hebrew name for God, Yahweh, is conflated with the Canaanite deity Baal and the Egyptian god Osiris to form the name “Jah-bul-on," an act of blasphemy for any Christian. In another degree ritual, elements of the Mass are mimicked, another blasphemous act. Essentially, their belief offers a lowest common denominator of God so that all denominations of Christians and non-Christian religions may join. (Since Freemasonry includes non-Christians, the use of the name of Jesus is forbidden within the lodge.) While in America, most Masons are Christian and will display a Bible on their “altar," in the same lodges or elsewhere, non-Christians may be admitted and may use their own sacred scriptures. For instance, oaths are sworn on the “Volume of Sacred Law" which is usually the Bible, but could also be the Koran. Eventually this blurring of the Christian understanding of God eventually led to an atheistic force; in France, in 1877, the “Grand Orient" Lodge eliminated the need to believe in God or the immortality of the soul. Would a sincere Catholic participate in this hodgepodge of theology, history, and traditions that includes idolatry and blasphemy? In a word, “no."
Second, following this hodgepodge, Freemasonry is a pseudo-religion. Its practices includes temples, altars, a moral code, worship services, vestments, feast days, a hierarchy of leadership, initiation and burial rites (which include various oaths and secret acts), and promises of eternal reward and punishment. During the initiation rite, the candidate expresses a desire to seek “light," and he is assured that he will receive the light of spiritual instruction that he could not receive in another Church. Moreover, he will gain eternal rest in the “celestial lodge" if he lives and dies according to Masonic principles.
At the various degrees, oaths are taken. An oath is a religious act which asks God to witness the truth of the statement or the fulfillment of a promise. Only the Church and the state for serious reason can require an oath. A candidate makes an oath to Freemasonry and its secrets, under pain of death or self-mutilation, by kneeling blindfolded in front of the altar, placing both hands on the volume of sacred law (maybe the Bible), the square and compass, and repeating after the “worshipful master." Keep in mind that the candidate does not yet even know all the “secrets" to which he is taking an oath. This oath is wrongful because of to whom and to what the candidate is swearing. Would a sincere Catholic participate in this pseudo-religion and take such oaths? In a word, “No."
Second, anti-Catholicism permeates Freemasonry. The two traditional enemies of Freemasonry are the royalty and the papacy. Masons even believe that Christ, dying on Calvary, was “the greatest among the apostles of humanity, braving Roman despotism and the fanaticism and bigotry of the priesthood." When a Mason reaches the 30th degree in the Masonic hierarchy, called the “Kadosh," the man crushes with his foot the papal tiara and the royal crown, and swears to free mankind “from the bondage of despotism and the thraldom of spiritual tyranny." Now pause for a moment: Would a sincere Catholic commit such an action? In a word, “No."
Here are a few examples of Freemasonry’s anti-Catholicism: In the United States, Freemasonry has inspired the anti-Catholic sentiment since colonial times; for example, one of the leaders of Freemasonry, General Albert Pike (d. 1891), referred to the papacy as “a deadly, treacherous enemy," and wrote, “The Papacy has been for a thousand years the torturer and curse of Humanity, the most shameless imposture, in its pretense to spiritual power of all ages." In France in 1877 and in Portugal in 1910, Freemasons took control of the government for a time and enacted laws to restrict the activities of the church particularly in education. In Italy, the movement in the mid-1800s to unify the country was infiltrated by Freemasons who were intent on abolishing the papacy and restricting the rights of the Catholic Church. Freemasonry spread into Latin countries, and its fruit is well evidenced in the Mexican Revolution and the persecution of the Catholic Church, as depicted in the recent movie “For Greater Glory." Would a sincere Catholic belong to any organization that has persecuted the church and claimed the lives of so many of the faithful? In a word, “No."
Granted, some Masonic lodges may provide great service to the community. Nevertheless, when a Catholic understands this group’s history, religious pretense, anti-Catholic bias, and violence against the church, no serious Catholic can justify joining Freemasonry. A good basic resource for more information is the Catholic Truth Society’s Freemasonry and the Christian Faith.
Written by Rev. Father William P. Saunders