Formerly known as The Worshipful Society of Free Masons, Rough Masons, Wallers, Slaters, Paviors, Plaisterers and Bricklayers, the Operatives are an invitational body dedicated to the preservation of the history and workings of operative guild masonry. Membership of the Society is restricted to those who are Master Masons, Mark Master Masons and Holy Royal Arch Companions in good standing. The Order meets in Assemblages.
Assemblage includes the Stone Yard and Lodge of each of the degrees from the First to the Third and also the Erection Site and Lodge of the Fourth degree. Each Assemblage is presided over by a Deputy Master Mason representing the three Grand Master Masons who ipso facto are the masters of every lodge.
There are seven degrees in all, as follows
Iº Indentured Apprentice
IIº Fellow of the Craft
IIIº Fitter and Marker
IVº Setter Erector
Vº Intendent, Overseer, Super Intendent and Warden
VIº Passed Master
VIIº Master Mason and Grand Master Honoris Causa
Additionally, certain minimum periods of service are prescribed for qualification for promotion in the progressive degrees, as follows:
Iº to IIº - The next following meeting of the Assemblage
IIº to IIIº - At least one intervening meeting of the Assemblage
IIIº to IVº - At least two intervening meetings of the Assemblage
IVº to Vº - At least three intervening meetings of the Assemblage
Vº to VIº - At least forty-eight weeks after promotion to Vº
VIº to VIIº - At the sole discretion of the three Grand Master Masons
Although the work carried out within the Assemblages is similar in many respects to that carried out in the Masonic orders of which membership is a prerequisite to becoming a member of the Worshipful Society of Freemasons, nevertheless there are some significant differences. The origins of the various degrees of speculative freemasonry will become evident to candidates in the various operative degrees, although no attempt is made to correlate the several systems. The old charges and explanations are given in their original forms, but much of the work that has already been carried out in the speculative degrees is not repeated. The purpose of the Worshipful Society is to perpetuate the ancient operative workings to the extent that they can be established beyond doubt. In this respect, membership of the Worshipful Society can greatly enhance a speculative Freemason’s understanding of the ceremonials in which he has participated and of the rituals that he has learnt. From the foregoing it will be evident that the work of the Worshipful Society provides an important, if not essential, conclusion to the work of the Craft, the Mark and the Royal Arch. Moreover, it also relates directly to the work of the Cryptic Rite and some of the Allied Masonic Degrees.
There is neither Grand Rank nor Past Rank in the Worshipful Society. A member’s rank is signified by the degree that he holds. In earlier times the three Grand Master Masons traditionally held office ad vitam, but nowadays they waive that right. The First Grand Master Mason shall retire after five years and the Second Grand Master Mason after three years, although each may be reappointed for a further period. The Third Grand Master Mason ceases to hold office when the Ancient Drama is reenacted at the annual General Assembly. All Deputy Master Masons, Senior Passed Masters, Deputy Grand Master Masons and Grand Master Masons use these titles only during the tenure of their offices – they are not subsequently accorded the title “Past”.