The Masonic Lodge is the basic organizational unit of Freemasonry. The Lodge meets regularly to conduct the usual formal business of any small organization (pay bills, organize social and charitable events, elect new members, etc.). In addition to business, the meeting may perform a ceremony to confer a Masonic degree or receive a lecture, which is usually on some aspect of Masonic history or ritual. At the conclusion of the meeting, the Lodge might adjourn for a formal dinner, or festive board, sometimes involving toasting and song.
The bulk of Masonic ritual consists of degree ceremonies. Candidates for Freemasonry are progressively initiated into Freemasonry, first in the degree of Entered Apprentice. Some time later, in a separate ceremony, they will be passed to the degree of Fellowcraft, and finally they will be raised to the degree of Master Mason. In all of these ceremonies, the candidate is entrusted with passwords, signs and grips peculiar to his new rank. Another ceremony is the annual installation of the Master and officers of the Lodge. In some jurisdictions Installed Master is valued as a separate rank, with its own secrets to distinguish its members. In other jurisdictions, the grade is not recognized, and no inner ceremony conveys new secrets during the installation of a new Master of the Lodge.
Most Lodges have some sort of social calendar, allowing Masons and their partners to meet in a less ritualized environment. Often coupled with these events is the obligation placed on every Mason to contribute to charity. This occurs at both Lodge and Grand Lodge level. Masonic charities contribute to many fields from education to disaster relief.
These private local Lodges form the backbone of Freemasonry, and a Freemason will necessarily have been initiated into one of these. There also exist specialist Lodges where Masons meet to celebrate anything from sport to Masonic research. The rank of Master Mason also entitles a Freemason to explore Masonry further through other degrees, administered separately from the Craft, or “Blue Lodge” degrees described here.