Royal Arch Masonry

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The Triple Tau.
(Grand Emblem of Royal Arch Masonry)

Royal Arch Masonry (also known as "Capitular Masonry") is the first part of the York Rite system of the Masonic degrees. Royal Arch Masons meet as a Chapter, and the Royal Arch Chapter confers four degrees: Mark Master Mason, Past Master, Most Excellent Master, and Royal Arch Mason.

Constituent degrees[edit]

Within the York Rite, a Royal Arch Chapter works the following degrees:

  1. The Mark Master Mason degree is in some respects an extension of the Fellow Crafts' second degree. In some jurisdictions the degree is conferred in a Fellow Craft Lodge, that is, the second degree of the Blue Lodge.
  2. The Past Master (Virtual) degree is conferred because of the traditional requirement that only Past Masters of a Blue Lodge could be admitted to Royal Arch Masonry. Because there are so many applicants for this degree, Virtual Past Master is required to qualify them for it. Much of the work is the same given to install the Worshipful Master of a Blue Lodge. There is no such requirement or procedure outside the USA. (In Pennsylvania, this degree is under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and is conferred only to newly-elected Masters of Symbolic Lodges.)[1]
  3. In the Most Excellent Master degree the building of King Solomon's Temple, which figures so prominently in Blue Lodge, has been completed. In England and Wales, the degree is conferred by Cryptic Councils, along with three other degrees (see below).
  4. The Royal Arch Mason degree is said by many to be the most beautiful degree in all of Freemasonry.[citation needed] Freemasons who reach this degree may continue to Cryptic Masonry or go straight to Knights Templar (where permitted—requirements vary in different jurisdictions).
  5. Honorary Degrees of Valor.

Administrative organization[edit]

Chapter level[edit]

A Royal Arch Chapter is in many ways the same as a Lodge; it has officers and a ritual degree system, which in this case consists of four degrees: Mark Master Mason, Past Master (in some jurisdictions the degree is named Virtual Past Master, to distinguish those who have taken this degree in a Royal Arch Chapter from those who were installed as a Worshipful Master in a lodge), Most Excellent Master, and Royal Arch Mason. However, unlike Lodges, the titles of the Officers change depending on the degree being conferred:

Mark Master Mason (Virtual) Past Master Most Excellent Master Royal Arch Mason
Master Master Master High Priest
Senior Warden Senior Warden Senior Warden King
Junior Warden Junior Warden none Scribe
Senior Deacon Senior Deacon Senior Deacon Captain of the Host
Junior Deacon Junior Deacon Junior Deacon Royal Arch Captain
Master Overseer none none Master of the Third Veil
Senior Overseer none none Master of the Second Veil
Junior Overseer none none Master of the First Veil
Marshal Marshal Marshal Principal Sojourner
Tyler Tyler Tyler Sentinel
Secretary Secretary Secretary Secretary
Treasurer Treasurer Treasurer Treasurer

Jurisdictional level[edit]

Every US State has a Grand Chapter, which performs the same administrative functions for its subordinate Chapters as a Grand Lodge does for its subordinate Lodges. In other countries there are either national or state Grand Chapters. The Chapter also has its own equivalents of Grand Lodge Officers, modified from the titles of the officers of a Royal Arch Chapter:

  • Grand High Priest
  • Deputy Grand High Priest
  • Grand King
  • Grand Scribe
  • Grand Treasurer
  • Grand Secretary
  • Grand Chaplain
  • Grand Captain of the Host
  • Grand Principal Sojourner
  • Grand Royal Arch Captain
  • Grand Master of the Third Veil
  • Grand Master of the Second Veil
  • Grand Master of the First Veil
  • Grand Sentinel

In jurisdictions that have them, there are also District Deputy Grand High Priests appointed by the Grand High Priest to oversee the districts of the jurisdiction as the representative of the Grand High Priest. Grand Representatives are appointed to keep in contact with their counterparts in other jurisdictions.

Grand Chapters also contribute to specific charities which differ from state to state.

General Grand Chapter[edit]

Many of the Grand Chapters around the world (notable exceptions include: Massachusetts, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia)[2] are members of an umbrella group called the General Grand Chapter, founded October 24, 1797.[3] It publishes a quarterly magazine called Royal Arch Mason and supports Royal Arch Research Assistance, a charity dedicated to researching CAPD or Central Auditory Processing Disorder.[4]

History of the Chapter degrees[edit]

The exact origins of the four Chapter degrees in its current form as part of the York Rite are unknown.

Mark Master Mason[edit]

The degree of a Mark Master Mason is seen as an extension of the Fellowcraft Degree. It originated in England, and is believed to have entered the York Rite via immigrants to America from Scotland and Palestine.

The first record of the Mark degree is in 1769, when Thomas Dunckerley, as Provincial Grand Superintendent, conferred the degrees of Mark Mason and Mark Master at a Royal Arch Chapter in Portsmouth, England.[5]

In Ireland, the degree of Mark Master Mason is still required to join a Royal Arch Chapter. A Royal Arch Chapter meets as a Mark Lodge, confers the Mark Degree on a candidate making him eligible become a Royal Arch Mason as a subsequent meeting. A Mark Lodge and a Royal Arch Chapter share the same Warrant within the Irish system.

In Scotland, the Mark Degree is still conferred in a Craft lodge. The degree may also be conferred in a Holy Royal Arch Chapter as a prerequisite for exaltation to the Holy Royal Arch. Should a candidate for a Scottish Royal Arch Chapter already have taken his Mark Degree in his Craft Lodge then he will affiliate to the Mark Lodge belonging to the Chapter before proceeding to the Excellent Master and then Royal Arch Degrees.

Past Master (Virtual)[edit]

The April 30, 1793 minutes of St. Andrew's Royal Arch Chapter state that the so-called Excellent degree may have become the Past Master Degree, and that a similar degree by that name was conferred in 1790 by King Cyrus Chapter in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

The Past Master Degree was already in existence by 1797, and appears in a few monitors of the era: it is one of the four degrees in the Webb Monitor (1797) and appears in Jeremy Cross' monitor in 1826.[6]

Most Excellent Master[edit]

The Most Excellent Master Degree is considered American in origin,[7] although it has been postulated by Denslow and Turnbull that it was merely a rearrangement of preexisting material.[8] They state that the first mention of it by name is when it was conferred on William S. Davis on August 28, 1769 in St. Andrew's Royal Arch Lodge, and that the degrees came from lodges originating from the Irish Constitution.[9]

There was also a "Super Excellent" degree that simply disappeared from the St. Andrew's minutes after December 21, 1797, and it was postulated that it may have become the Most Excellent Master degree, first noted in St. Andrew's minutes on February 21, 1798.[10]

Similarities between this degree and material in the 19° in the Early Grand Rite of Scotland are also enumerated upon, and they conclude that the degree is from that Rite.[11]

Royal Arch Mason[edit]

Origins and early development[edit]

As for the degree of Royal Arch Mason, Turnbull and Denslow contend that "It is the most widely known and talked about degree in the Masonic system" because it had been part of the third degree until the formation of the United Grand Lodge of England.[12] Although glimpses of Royal Arch Masonry vocabulary appear in Masonic literature from the 1720s, the first verifiable appearance of Royal Arch Masonry is in Ireland in the 1740s during a Dublin procession. According to Lodge No. 21’s records, the “Royal Arch” was carried in a procession by “two excellent Masons” through Youghal, Ireland, on December 27, 1743. However, the oldest known Chapter in the world is Stirling Rock Royal Arch Chapter No 2 in Scotland, which has worked since 1743.[13][14][15]

The degree is also mentioned disapprovingly in Dassigny's "A serious and impartial enquiry into the cause of the present decay of Free-masonry in the Kingdom of Ireland" published in Dublin in 1744.[16][17] Separate notes in this work indicate that the rite was practiced in Dublin, London and York, and described it as an "organis'd body of men who have passed the chair" (i.e. served as the Master of a Craft lodge).[18]

In 1749, the Grand Lodge of Ireland issued warrants to Lodges 190 and 198 to establish “Royal Arch Lodges”.[19]

From Ireland, the Royal Arch spread to England, where it fueled the rivalry between the two Craft grand lodges in existence at that time. In 1717 the original Premier Grand Lodge of England had been formed in London to govern Craft Freemasonry in England. From 1751, its claim to represent the whole of English Craft Freemasonry was contested by the Antient Grand Lodge of England. In the ensuing debate, the newer grand lodge became known as the "Antients", while the older was referred to as the "Moderns". In 1746, Laurence Dermott, later the Grand Secretary of the "Antients", had been accepted into a Royal Arch Chapter in Dublin, which at that time was open only to those who had previously served as master of a Craft lodge. He regarded the Royal Arch as the fourth degree of Craft Masonry. Under his influence, the "Antients" championed the Royal Arch degree in England, while it was met with hostility in the "Moderns". At the beginning of the 19th century, when the "Antients" and the "Moderns" moved from rivalry towards union, the role and purpose of the Royal Arch became a sticking point. The "Antients" viewed the Royal Arch as a fourth degree of Craft Freemasonry and worked it as part of the Craft ceremonies, while the "Moderns" held that Craft Freemasonry consisted of three degrees only and that the Royal Arch was at the most an extension of the third (Master Mason's) degree which was to be administered separately. When the "Antients" and "Moderns" merged in 1813 to form the United Grand Lodge of England, this was possible only after reaching a compromise on the role and purpose of Royal Arch Masonry. After the union, the "Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch" would be fully recognized by the United Grand Lodge, but become a separate order with all Craft Lodges permitted to work the ceremony. In its Book of Constitutions, the United Grand Lodge of England declared that "...pure Antient Masonry consists of three degrees and no more, viz. those of the Entered Apprentice, the Fellow Craft, and the Master Mason including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch."[20][21] In 1823, the United Grand Lodge of England allowed Master Masons to join Holy Royal Arch Chapters without having previously passed through the chair of a Craft lodge.[5] In Freemasonry in Scotland, a candidate for the Royal Arch must also be a Mark Master Mason, a degree which can be conferred within a Royal Arch Chapter if required.

History in the United States[edit]

In Northern America, freemasons until the end of the 18th century performed Royal Arch ceremonies as well as some others that are now more familiarly part of Knights Templar and the Red Cross of Constantine.[22]

In Virginia and West Virginia, there is no separate Cryptic Council. The Cryptic Degrees are given under the Royal Arch Chapter.

Fredericksburg Lodge in Virginia lists a conferral of the Royal Arch degree on December 22, 1753.[23][24] There is also a Royal Arch Chapter noted in 1769 in Massachusetts (St. Andrew's Royal Arch Chapter in Boston, then known as Royall Arch Lodge), where the first Knights Templar degree was also conferred.[25] Through a report compiled by the Committee on History and Research appointed by the Grand Chapter of Massachusetts in 1953 and 1954, it was found that St. Andrew's Royal Arch Chapter was the oldest Chapter in the Western Hemisphere by date of constitution, having been officially constituted April 9, 1769, though the records implied that the Chapter had been working prior to that date, and perhaps as early as 1762. The report also states that it is unknown whether the Fredericksburg Lodge in Virginia conferred only the Royal Arch degree or the entire series of degrees.[26] Pennsylvania, however, claims to have the oldest extant Royal Arch Chapter in the world. Royal Arch Chapter No. 3 (formerly Jerusalem Royal Arch Chapter No. 3, and before that Royal Arch Lodge No. 3) has complete minutes going back as far as December 3, 1767. (The minutes from this date mention approving the minutes from the previous meeting.) This Chapter began meeting under the authority of the Grand Lodge of England (Ancients) and it is believed that the Chapter was constituted around 1758, but this date has yet to be proven. It currently works under a renewed warrant from 1780.[27] The Grand Chapter of Pennsylvania claims to be the first Royal Arch Grand Chapter in North America and was formed on November 23, 1795 by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania[28], whereas in the South of U.S. the State of California had done its chapter 1855[29] (like the State of the Indiana[30]) and in 1876[31].

After the independence of the American Colonies in 1776, Freemasonry in the United States remained relatively little influenced by the rivalry between the "Antients" and "Moderns" in England. In 1797, a group of Royal Arch masons met in Hartford to try to establish some sort of governing body for degrees that were largely conferred in the New England states, which became the Grand Chapter of the Northern States, and later was broken down into the state-by-state Grand Chapter system.[32] This body later became the General Grand Chapter, Royal Arch Masons International.[3]

On 10 November 2004, the Grand Chapter of the Holy Royal Arch in England declared the Royal Arch to be a separate degree in its own right, albeit the natural progression from the third degree, and the completion of "pure, antient Masonry", which consists of the three Craft degrees and the Royal Arch.[33] Following this decision by the Grand Chapter in 2004, there are currently significant ritual differences between Royal Arch Masonry as worked in England and Royal Arch Masonry worked as part of the York Rite in the USA.[citation needed] Fraternal inter-relations remain as before.

History in Canada[edit]

Royal Arch Masonry in Canada differs slightly from that explained above from an American perspective[citation needed]. In Canada it tends to have stronger ties to the UK than to the USA, and in Canada unlike in the USA, the link to the monarchy remains. Recent changes to the Holy Royal Arch in the UK, did not necessarily occur in Canada. In most Chapters in Canada the Past Master degree is not worked, there are only a few exceptions. The degree of the Holy Royal Arch is considered the "completion of the Master Mason's degree" in Lodge – a phrase inherited from England, but which was officially abandoned by the United Grand Lodge of England in 2004. The Officer's titles listed above may differ slightly, and of course the history is different, and more intertwined with that of the British Empire from which it largely grew, there are Chapters that received their charters from the Scottish Grand Chapter and therefore differ in respects.[citation needed]

Prince Hall Origin and Affiliation[edit]

Within Prince Hall Freemasonry, the capitulary degrees are performed with little difference under the organizational title of Holy Royal Arch Masons, P.H.O. / P.H.A.[34]


  1. ^ Jones, Bernard E. (1957). Freemason's Book of the Royal Arch. ISBN 978-1-312-93908-0.
  2. ^ Ambassadors Archived 2008-09-16 at the Wayback Machine. General Grand Chapter Royal Arch Masons International. Accessed 15 August 2008.
  3. ^ a b General Grand Chapter, Royal Arch Masons International Accessed 15 August 2008.
  4. ^ GGCHAPTER'S RARA Archived 2008-09-15 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed 15 August 2008.
  5. ^ a b Phoenix Masonry Bernard E.Jones, Freemason's Book of the Royal Arch, revised Carr, 1966, retrieved 20th October 2012
  6. ^ Denslow, Ray and Everett C. Turnbull. History of Royal Arch Masonry Part One. Kessinger. ISBN 1-4179-5004-8. pp. 93-94.
  7. ^ "Most Excellent Master Degree". Monroe Chapter No. 1, R.A.M. Accessed September 2, 2008.
  8. ^ Denslow, Ray and Everett C. Turnbull. History of Royal Arch Masonry Part One. Kessinger. ISBN 1-4179-5004-8. p. 115. "There has existed, in the Americas, a belief that the degree was fabricated by Webb, Hanmer, and other early American ritualists...but the substance of the degree can be located in other degrees which were being conferred at about the same time it was introduced into this country."
  9. ^ Denslow, Ray and Everett C. Turnbull. History of Royal Arch Masonry Part One. Kessinger. ISBN 1-4179-5004-8. p. 116.
  10. ^ Denslow, Ray and Everett C. Turnbull. History of Royal Arch Masonry Part One. Kessinger. ISBN 1-4179-5004-8. pp. 199-200.
  11. ^ Denslow, Ray and Everett C. Turnbull. History of Royal Arch Masonry Part One. Kessinger. ISBN 1-4179-5004-8. p. 116-19.
  12. ^ Denslow, Ray and Everett C. Turnbull. History of Royal Arch Masonry Part One. Kessinger. ISBN 1-4179-5004-8. p. 124.
  13. ^ "Hampshire Royal Arch – Origins and History".
  14. ^
  15. ^ "Edinburgh Number One".
  16. ^ Douglas Knoop, "The Genesis of Freemasonry", Manchester University Press, 1947
  17. ^ Fifield Dassigny’s “A serious and impartial inquiry into the cause of the present decay of Free-masonry in the Kingdom of Ireland,” published in Dublin in 1744, it is recorded that: "…a certain propagator of a false system some few years ago in this city [Dublin] who imposed upon several very worthy men under a pretense of being Master of the Royal Arch, which he asserted he had brought with him from the city of York; and that the beauties of the Craft did principally consist in the knowledge of this valuable piece of Masonry. However he carried on this scheme for several months and many of the learned and wise were his followers, till at length his fallacious art was discovered by a Brother of probity and wisdom, who had some small space before attained that excellent part of Masonry in London and plainly proved that his doctrine was false.
  18. ^ Harry Carr, The Relationship between the Craft and the Royal Arch, in Harry Carr's World of Freemasonry, Lewis Masonic, 1984, p 383
  19. ^ A Short History of the Grand Lodge of Ireland by Br. Robert C. Blackburn
  20. ^ United Grand Lodge of England Constitutions 2001, p 1
  21. ^ See the 'Preliminary Declaration' of the combined-volume "Grand Lodge Constitutions & Grand Chapter Regulations" for England and Wales.
  22. ^ Denslow, Ray and Everett C. Turnbull. History of Royal Arch Masonry Part One. Kessinger. ISBN 1-4179-5004-8. pp. 3-4.
  23. ^ Denslow, Ray and Everett C. Turnbull. History of Royal Arch Masonry Part One. Kessinger. ISBN 1-4179-5004-8. pp 194-5.
  24. ^ Denslow, Ray and Everett C. Turnbull. History of Royal Arch Masonry Part One. Kessinger. ISBN 1-4179-5004-8. p. 125. Denslow and Turnbull also quote earlier Masonic historian Robert Freke Gould's assertion from documentation that the Royal Arch existed in Youghal (in County Cork, Ireland), some time prior to 1743.[1] Dr. Fifield D'Assigny also wrote of it in Ireland in 1744(Denslow, Ray and Everett C. Turnbull. History of Royal Arch Masonry Part One. Kessinger. ISBN 1-4179-5004-8. p. 127-129.)
  25. ^ Karg, Barb, and John C. Young. 101 Things You Didn't Know About The Freemasons: Rites, Rituals, and the Ripper-All You Need to Know About This Secret Society!. Adams Media, 2007. ISBN 978-1-59869-319-5 p. 91.
  26. ^ Denslow, Ray and Everett C. Turnbull. History of Royal Arch Masonry Part One. Kessinger. ISBN 1-4179-5004-8. pp. 195-99.
  27. ^ Proceedings of the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of the State of California at its Annual Convocation, A.I. 2418. San Francisco: Frank Eastman & Co., 1888. p. 315.
  28. ^ Proceedings of the Grand Holy Royal Arch Chapter of Pennsylvania and Masonic Jurisdiction thereunto Belonging for the Year Ending December 27, 1910 Being Its One Hundred and Fifteenth Year Philadelphia: William & Marcus Co., 1911.
  29. ^ Proceedings of the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of California. Sacramento: James Anthony & Co., Printers, Union Book and Job Office. 1855. OCLC 999860125.
  30. ^ "Proceedings of the Annual Communication of the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of the State of Indiana". Google Books. Indianapolis: Grand R.A. Chapter. 1856. Archived from the original on Nov 18, 2018., since ten years before
  31. ^ "Proceedings of the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of the State of California at Its, Annual Convocation (1876)". 1876. Archived from the original on Nov 18, 2018.
  32. ^ Denslow, Ray and Everett C. Turnbull. History of Royal Arch Masonry Part One. Kessinger. ISBN 1-4179-5004-8. p. 244.
  33. ^ There are many public-domain documents verifying these changes. This one is merely one example of many which demonstrate the requirement for removal of all references to the former compromise linking the Royal Arch with the Third Degree.
  34. ^