Mass in ‘Masonic Auditorium’ raises questions

A Mass meant to foster Catholic brotherhood at the border between the U.S. and Canada has raised questions, after organizers scheduled it to take place in an auditorium built and sponsored by an international coalition of Freemasonic organizations.

The Masonic Auditorium at the International Peace Gardens. Credit: Grand Masonic Lodge of Manitoba.

The International Field Mass began in 1960 as a Mass of solidarity and friendship between Knights of Columbus in North Dakota and the Canadian province of Manitoba. The Mass has been held since that year at the International Peace Garden, a large park which straddles the border between the U.S. and Canada.

The Mass was initially held on a large field with a tent to shelter the altar, and then on a band shell constructed by the Knights of Columbus in the park. Promotional material from prior events says the Mass has been held in recent years in an auditorium connected to a music camp with facilities on the grounds of the peace garden park.

But promotional material for the 2023 Mass says it will be held July 9 in the “Masonic Auditorium” on the grounds of the park. 

That auditorium, which can seat some 2,000 people, is built in the shape of the Masonic square and compass logo. The building was constructed as a joint initiative of the Masonic Grand Lodges of Manitoba and North Dakota, and is home to the Peace Garden Lodge of Freemasons, which holds annual Masonic meetings there. 

It is not clear whether the Mass has been held in the Masonic Auditorium previously. But the location of the Mass has raised questions, given the Church’s longstanding ban on Catholic participation in Masonic organizations.

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Fargo, on the U.S. side of the border, directed questions to the Archdiocese of Winnipeg, on the Canadian side, because Archbishop Richard Gagnon of Winnipeg is scheduled to offer the Mass. 

The Winnipeg archdiocese referred The Pillar to Knights of Columbus organizers, who have not yet responded to questions.  

A Winnipeg archdiocesan official speaking on background told The Pillar that the archbishop had expected the Mass would be celebrated outdoors when he agreed to it, and was waiting for the Knights of Columbus to clarify plans for the Mass venue. 

The choice of a Masonic venue for an event organized by the Knight of Columbus could be seen as a kind of historical irony. 

The Catholic fraternal society was founded in 1882 by Fr. Michael McGivney in Connecticut, in part to offer a direct Catholic alternative to Masonic lodges which, at the time, offered to members benefits that would later be associated with workplace insurance and trade union membership, including disability and survivor benefits. Many Masonic lodges, especially in the New England region, used those benefits to encourage Catholic laborers to join, despite the penalty of excommunication imposed by the Church at the time.

Knights of Columbus policies explicitly prohibit Freemasons from membership in the Catholic fraternal organization.

The Church has taught for centuries that Freemasonry has an explicitly religious nature, which is antithetical to Christianity, and described Masonic lodges as “societies which plot against the Church.”

In 1738, Pope Clement XII banned Freemasonry for Catholics, saying it promoted religious indifferentism and undermined a Catholic’s proper relationship to the Church.

From Clement until the promulgation of the first universal Code of Canon Law in 1917, eight popes issued encyclicals or papal bulls denouncing Freemasonry and imposing a penalty of excommunication, reserved to the Holy See, for any Catholic who joined.

The ritual for initiation into the first level of Masonry involves explicitly renouncing the unique saving power of the Church and the sacraments, and accepting that all religions are essentially equally partial truths, with Masonry offering the real, secret truth needed to understand God.

The higher degrees of some Masonic branches, like the Royal Arch and Scottish Rites — whose membership has included some Deer Park Masons — have explicitly anti-Catholic rituals. 

In one initiation ceremony, a replica human skull wearing a mock papal tiara is presented to the candidate, to represent “the cruel and cowardly pontiff” — an “imposter” pretending to be the vicar of Christ. The candidate is invited to stab the skull with a dagger, and trample on the tiara.  

In his Masonic catechism, “Morals and Dogma,” the founder of the Scottish Rite, former Confederate General Albert Pike, described the society as “at its very origin devoted to the cause of opposition to the tiara of Rome.”

The Church still considers it a canonical crime for a Catholic to become a Mason, and maintains penalties for anyone who does so — including in the recently revised Book VI of the Code of Canon Law, promulgated by Pope Francis in 2021.

In 1983, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reaffirmed its stance. “The Church’s negative judgment in regard to Masonic association remains unchanged,” the CDF said, “since their principles have always been considered irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Church and therefore membership in them remains forbidden. The faithful who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion.”

The Church’s canon law also specifies that Mass “is to be carried out in a sacred place unless in a particular case necessity requires otherwise; in such a case the celebration must be done in a decent place.”