The Necessity of the Royal Arch to the Master Mason

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The system of Masonic degrees, as now practiced, is the product of  evolution.  Prior to 1717 there is no record that Freemasonry consisted of more than one degree. The symbolism, the beautiful lecture, the ornate diction, with which we find it clothed today, represents the growth and development from the crude and transition stage of past centuries.  Strictly speaking, there was no degree from the dawn of Freemasonry until it began to take on the speculative feature.  Before the speculative era, the initiate or apprentice was sworn on ‘the buke” to observe certain charges, know as the “Ancient Charges and Regulations.”  This constituted the entire ceremony, with perhaps the recital of the various legends of the Craft, portions of which are retained to this day.


The Mason, prior to the “Revival” of 1717 was designated as an Apprentice, Fellow Craft, or Master not because of any special ceremony or degree work, but because of the length of time of service and skill in his handicraft.  The Ancient Charges and Regulations, as read to the apprentices, referred to the duties they owed to each other, to the lodge and the Holy Church.  It is doubted by some of our best Masonic historians the the grip and pass word were connected with these ancient ceremonies.


Ancient Craft Masonry, from its earliest legendary history in 625 A.D. to 1740, made no pretensions to philosophical speculations.  No latter-day wise men existed to convert the simple tools of the operative craftsman into a philosophical fog bank.  Near the middle of the eighteenth century non operatives were admitted into the guilds or lodges, and men were elected over the brethren who were not skilled in the implements of the Craft.  The introduction of the speculative Mason prepared the way for the dawn of Freemasonry.  The so-called “Revival” of 1717 was but the bursting forth of the evolutionary forces that had been slowly developing for half a century.  These same forces are at work today, so that it can truly be said that Freemasonry is a progressive science.  Masonic historians have generally agreed that some time between 1723 and1730 the Second and Third degrees evolved, and in the evolution of degrees, ritualism and symbolism were developed, resulting in the intellectual and philosophical Freemasonry of today.


The central idea of the entire system of Freemasonry became the “loss” and the “recovery” of the “word,” symbolizing death and the resurrection, the ending of the present and the beginning of the future life.  The student of Freemasonry must admit that “The Word” is the central point around which the entire system of Masonic symbolism must revolve.  “Its possession is the consummation of all Masonic knowledge; when lost its recovery is the soul’s object of symbolic labor.”  Mackey says: “No event in the history of speculative Freemasonry had so important an influence upon its development as a system of symbolism as the invention of the Royal Arch Degree and its introduction into the Masonic Ritual.”


The Royal Arch stands as the rainbow of promise of the resurrection; of that which was lost and that which shall be recovered.


Their are indications that before the introduction of the legend of Hiram Abif the “True Word” was communicated in the Third Degree and not a substitute.  It necessarily followed that when the legend of Hiram became a part of the ritual of this degree the “loss” of the “Word” followed, as the “loss” is a part of the Hiramic legend.  But the “loss” without a “recovery” would be an absurdity; to complete the symbolism of Freemasonry, the Word” must be recovered, hence the necessity for a Fourth Degree; the Royal Arch Degrees. 


We see, therefore, that the Royal Arch is merely the evolution of a truth contained in the early Third Degree.  It is not a “Higher Degree,” but the last volume of the series in a sublime story revealed through symbolism.  The Masters’s Degree without the Royal Arch is a story half told, a song half sung and a promise unfulfilled.  the candidate is promised that he should receive all the light, but is put off with a “substitute.”  He is left in darkness, in doubt, and some Masonic scholars would lead us to believe, to the thoughtful Master Mason, in a condition of disappointment once he has had time to contemplate upon the lessons and experiences of the Third degree.  Yet, there is a purpose behind this seeming deception. Light and revealed Truth come only through toil and willing service.  This lesson must be learned before a Mason is qualified to know and appreciate the Truth, the Master’s Word. It is , possibly, unfortunate that the Royal Arch was separated from the “Blue Lodge Degrees;” but whether fortunate or unfortunate, the Royal Arch stands as the last of the degrees in Ancient Craft Masonry.  It is the Summit, and no Master Mason is in possession of all that Freemasonry teaches without the Royal Arch.


Historical Note:

In America the Royal Arch series of four degrees continued to be conferred under a lodge charter until about 1750,.  The earliest history of a Royal Arch Chapter in this country was in 1753 in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  It was introduced about the same time into New York by an English military lodge and into Massachusetts in 1769  


It was around 1778 in England that the words “Chapter” and  “Companion” was used in the Chapter in place of “Lodge” and “Brother”.  These terms, Chapter and Companion, were soon carried to America, where they flourished, as today, as elements in the Capitular system of degrees.  Since that time the Royal Arch Degree has remained secure in its Chapter setting.  


Such, in brief, is the history of the Royal Arch Degree; its parentage is an legitimate as any of the degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry; it sprang form the introduction of Speculative Freemasonry into Operative Masonry.......the fruits of symbolism and allegory.  To be a Master Mason is the highest and most honorable degree that any man can attain; it entitles him to all the rights and privileges of the craft; all the accumulated so-called higher degrees do not add anything to his Masonic stature.  The Royal Arch is a part of the Master’s Degree....the summit of its excellency.  It is the privilege and should be the duty of all Master Masons to complete the Masonic story, told in allegory and revealed in symbolism, by receiving the Royal Arch.  


Sources:

THE YORK RITE of FREEMASONRY, a History and Handbook

As well as writing by Wm. F. Kuhn, P.G.G.H.P. 


Important Note………

In California, because it is considered too important to the Master Mason story to be left unsaid, the Mark Master Degree is open and given to all interested Master Masons as a courtesy.  An interested Master Mason petitions a Chapter of Royal Arch Masons and is voted upon.  If accepted he receives the Mark Master Degree without charge.  If he finds the teachings interesting and desires to receive all the Royal Arch Degrees he pays for the Degrees and continues with his quest for "all the light Masonry" has to offer.

Interested Master Masons may receive additional information from the contact page of this site. 


© Gary Jackson MacPro 2011