In your journey through the three degrees of Symbolic masonry and as you have learned the proficiency lecture for each degree, no doubt many questions have arisen concerning the meaning of the ritualistic ceremonies, the historical implications and the “why” of the legends of Freemasonry. In every country of the earth; on every continent and on many isles of the sea, will be found Royal Arch Chapters, eager and willing to receive their companions from other parts of the world into that full fellowship that characterizes Royal Arch Masonry.
Many believe the Sublime Degree of Master Mason to be the ultimate degree of Freemasonry and all others to be added and explanatory. Students of Freemasonry agree that the story of the Craft as presented in the three degrees is incomplete and that the degrees of the Royal Arch complete the story and answer many of the questions in the mind of the newly made Master Mason.
The Royal Arch Degree was considered most important in the early years of Freemasonry and so dogmatic was the Mother Grand Lodge from which all Speculative Masonry derives that in 1813, when the two grand lodges in England united, a firm and solemn landmark was adopted and placed in the Articles of Union to guide Masons throughout the world forever on this matter:
“Pure Ancient Freemasonry consists of but three degrees, viz., that of Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason. including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch.” This Landmark has never been changed and to this day no other degree has been officially recognized by the Mother Grand Lodge and every rite, system or additional degree of Freemasonry cannot confer its degree on a Master Mason until he has received the Royal Arch Degree. Naturally, this is as it should be, because a man is not a Master Mason until he receives the Master’s Word and he can only receive it in the Royal Arch!”
The Chapter or Royal Arch Masonry consists of these three degrees: Mark Master, Most Excellent Master and Royal Arch Mason.
The Mark Master Degree is believed to have originated as a ceremony of registering a craftsman mark in those years distinguished by the operative craft masons and their temple building. It was later developed into a full fledged degree by the Masonic fraternity as we know it today. Some scholars say it was the earliest degree and may predate all others by many years. It is highly regarded by students and ritualists as one of the most beautiful degrees in all Masonry, teaching lessons that have proven of value in all walks of life. Some Grand Lodges place so high an eminence on the Mark Master Degree, that they confine it to the jurisdiction of a separate grand body, the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons.
The Past Master Degree (not conferred in Ontario – in some other jurisdictions and the U.S.A.) came into being because originally the degree of Royal Arch was conferred by the Symbolic (Blue) Lodge only on actual Past Masters. This degree was instituted to make it possible for all worthy Brethren to receive the Royal Arch Degree. The first record of its conferral is found in 1768 in England.
The Most Excellent Master Degree is a product of American innovation. It was conferred in Royal Arch Chapter as early as 1783 in Middletown, Conn. It is by far the most spectacular degree in all Freemasonry. It is the only degree that brings forcibly to our attention the completion and dedication of King Solomon’s Temple; the very idea upon which all Masonic symbolism has been based.
The Royal Arch Degree is the climax of Ancient Craft Masonry and Masonic Symbolism. It is described as “the root and marrow of Freemasonry.” It is the complete story of Jewish History during some of its darkest hours. Jerusalem and the Holy Temple are destroyed. The people of Israel are being held captive as slaves in Babylon. Here you will join with some of the captives as they are set free to return home and engage in the noble and glorious work of rebuilding the city and the Temple of God. It is during this rebuilding that they make a discovery that brings to light the greatest treasure of a Mason – the long lost Master’s Word.
Many historians have traced the earliest origins of the Royal Arch Degree to Ireland, late in the 17th century and in England in 1738. In 1752, ambulatory or military warrants for lodges were introduced. This was instrumental in placing the Royal Arch Degree on a par with the Master Mason Degree.
Military lodges were greatly responsible for planting Freemasonry in the Colonies and also gave birth to use of the Mark and Royal Arch Degrees in the “New World.” The value of Royal Arch Masonry will be appreciated by all who are exalted to that most sublime degree, particularly by those who are seeking to complete their Masonic education. It reveals the full light of Ancient Craft Masonry, presents it as a complete system in accordance with the original plan and justly entitles you to claim the noble name of Master Mason. Royal Arch Masonry contains some simple, plain statement of Truth, easily understandable and helpful in our relation to life. Lodge symbolism deals with lessons of the material side of life.