The Ritual – Gavel Raps



Knocking Three Times

What is the symbolic significance of the three (or two or one) gavel raps given by the principal officers during the Rituals of Opening and Closing?

In the Grand Lodge of New York,

There are many elements of our Rituals of Opening and Closing that arose during a time when the practice in New York was to open directly into whichever Degree was the most convenient for the contemplated the work of the evening. This was usually the First Degree unless the Fellowcraft or Master Mason Degrees were being conferred that evening, in which case the Lodge might open on the Second or Third Degree. The documentary record also shows that Lodges in the various Degrees worked as discrete entities with no “changeover” or other way of moving between Degrees. Thus, for example, if a Lodge wanted to examine an Entered Apprentice and then confer the Fellowcraft Degree upon him in the same evening, they would open as an Entered Apprentice Lodge, do the examination, close the Entered Apprentice Lodge, open as a Fellowcraft Lodge, confer the Degree and close the Fellowcraft Lodge. We have a similar ability today through the ceremony for Closing to a Lodge of Another Degree.

So, while it may seem to modern-day New York Masons that we have been opening on the Third Degree for centuries, nothing could be further from the truth. The system employed in the Grand Lodge of New York until 2019 that required opening and closing on the Third Degree was an innovation that arose during the 1840s. The reasons behind that change are too complex and political for this format, but Brothers who are curious to know more can invite me to give my talk on that subject in their Lodges.

So, to return to the question… The principal officers give one, two, or three knocks as part of the Ritual to Opening as part of a system designed to ensure that all those in attendance are clear as to the Degree to which the Lodge will open and work. This is also why the Tiler is informed twice and why the three principal officers each inform the Brethren, among other practices designed to make sure everyone is on the same page as to the Degree.

The answers provided here reflect GLNY customs, rules, and ritual. We welcome discussion about how these may differ in your jurisdiction.

Response provided by RW Samuel Lloyd Kinsey
Chairman, Custodians of the Work, Grand Lodge of New York

Note: This site is an excellent source of information about Freemasonry. While every effort has been made to provide accurate and up-to-date information about Masonic Ritual, please remember that a website is not a substitute for your jurisdiction’s Standard Work or Approved Ritual.
Samuel Lloyd Kinsey