The Chapter of Royal Arch Masons
The Chapter degrees are an extension and culmination of the degrees in the Symbolic or Blue Lodge. The first three degrees, Mark Master, Past Master, and Most Excellent Master, develop more fully and expand on the theme of the Temple of King Solomon. The Royal Arch degree concerns itself with the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians, the "Babylonian Captivity" of the Jews, and their return to Zion after seventy years of captivity to begin building the Second Temple, that of Zerubbabel. In the course of this reconstruction, that which was lost after the death of the Architect of the First Temple, is recovered. Let us look at each degree in turn:
The candidate represents a Fellowcraft Mason, who, after finding a particularly beautiful piece of work, attempts to pass it off as his own and is detected as an impostor when he attempts to collect his wages. In due time, he is taught the proper manner of receiving his wages. This degree teaches two striking lessons: (1) to lighten a Brother's needs when possible; and (2) to be satisfied with one's wages. The first lesson bears a close affinity to the Rite of Destitution performed in the Entered Apprentice Degree of the Blue Lodge, with the difference here being the timely rendering of assistance as well as a rational explanation of the purpose of the "mark." The second lesson, occurring as it does at the conclusion of the degree, blends a well-known New Testament parable with the reception of wages by the Craftsmen on payday at the First Temple, and gives allusion to the value of the "mark." The symbols peculiar to this degree are the keystone, the chisel, and the mallet. The keystone is explained as the crowning piece of excellence wrought by GMHA for use in completing the Temple. Symbolically, it may be taken to represent the culmination of our efforts in erecting the moral or spiritual temple of our lives; that pure soul which we present to the Supreme Grand Overseer for His final inspection upon the Day of Judgement. The symbolism of the chisel and mallet are explained during the course of the degree. However, they also may be symbolized by the mallet as that thoughtfully applied intellectual force which we can use to divest our minds and consciences of vices and superfluities of life, and by the chisel as the sculpturing of our minds thus freed into that keystone whose excellent virtues are faith, hope and charity.
This degree teaches the candidate the important duties and obligations that he must assume before he can preside over a lodge. In some states, this degree, or one very similar to it, is conferred on a Master-elect before he can be installed as the Worshipful Master of a Lodge. Since in most Masonic bodies, the presiding officer serves because he has been freely elected by his Lodge members, he must not take advantage of their trust by governing in an arbitrary or arrogant manner. He also has a duty to use his best efforts to strive to improve the Lodge, both through growth and program. What good is a leader who doesn't lead? How does the Lodge grow and prosper without interesting and timely programs and activities? The lesson implicit in this degree is one of dynamic leadership. The principal symbol is the Holy Bible, which should be the wise counselor and intimate friend of every Masonic leader, as well as the blueprint for conducting his Lodge and his life.
MOST EXCELLENT MASTER:
This degree consists of two sections. In the first section, the candidate assumes the obligation and is made aware of the loss of GMHA. In the second section, the candidate witnesses the completion and dedication of King Solomon's Temple. He marches in procession to the Temple, sees the keystone placed, hears the sublime prayer of King Solomon, witnesses the Sanctum Sanctorum adorned and consecrated, observes the Holy Ark of the Covenant placed in position and the acceptance by the Lord of the sacrifice offered unto Him. He, along with the other Temple workmen, is promoted from Fellowcraft to the rank of Most Excellent Master, a surrogate for the Master Mason Degree. This degree teaches that he who would achieve his dreams and goals must persevere steadily along the paths of knowledge and virtue, coupling these with diligent industry and a firm reliance upon God. The dominant symbol of this degree is the Temple itself, symbolic of the spiritual building which we are constantly laboring upon each day of our lives, and which will be completed only upon our death and dedicated when we present the record of our lives and actions unto the "Supreme Architect of The Universe."
This degree completes the Chapter. It also consists of two sections. The first section presents a narrative, usually accompanied by slides, telling of Moses' experience at the Burning Bush and progressing in time to the edict of Darius freeing the captive Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. The candidate represents a sojourner returning from Babylon to the Holy City. After travelling over difficult and dangerous ways for many days he reaches his goal. In the second section, he gains admission into the presence of the Grand Council comprised of Jeshua (High Priest), Zerubabbel (King) and Haggai (Prophet, or Scribe). Upon expressing his desire to aid in the labor of reconstruction, he toils among the ruins of the Temple and makes several valuable and significant discoveries, which include a replica of the Ark of the Covenant, the Lost Word, and the Royal Arch Word. Two important symbols of this degree are the Burning Bush in the First Section, symbolic of the power of God to intervene directly in our life and change its direction as suits His Divine will; and the Underground Vault in the Second Section, which symbolizes those latent moral and spiritual qualities lying deep within us which are discovered and brought to the surface by means of the working tools (degrees of Freemasonry): crowbar (EA Degree), pickax (Fellowcraft Degree), and spade (Master Mason Degree).
The Royal Arch Chapter has 13 officers: Most Excellent High Priest, Excellent King, Excellent Scribe, Captain of the Host, Secretary, Treasurer, Chaplain, Principal Sojourner, Royal Arch Captain, Master of 3rd Veil, Master of 2nd Veil, Master of 1st Veil, and Sentinel. Some jurisdictions also have a Marshal. Members are referred to by each other as "Companions." At least 9 Companions must be present to open a Chapter. Chapters usually meet monthly. The state governing body is the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons. The national body, to which Grand Chapters voluntarily belong, is the General Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons, International.
The Council of Royal And Select Master
The Council degrees are mostlyy an elaboration and explanation of the Royal Arch Degree and, to a lesser extent, the Master Mason Degree. The first Council Degree, the Royal Master, develops more fully the story of the recovery of the lost word and the Holy of Holies of the Temple of King Solomon. The next degree, Select Master, concerns itself with the construction and adornment of the under ground vault introduced in the Royal Arch Degree of the Chapter. The last degree is that of Superexcellent Master, and tells the story of the Babylonian Captivity, and of Zedekiah and his unfaithfullness. Council Masonry is also referred to as "Cryptic Masonry", in allusion to the continuance of the vault, or crypt. We will now examine these degrees one at a time and in more detail.
This degree consists of three sections: (1) An optional opening, in which the tie-in of the events of this degree to that of the degrees which have preceded it are made obvious to the candidate; (2) a scene in the unfinished Sanctum Sanctorium (SS), which consists of a monolog by Grand Master Hiram Abiff (GMHA) concerning death; (3) a third section in which the candidate is obligated, given the words and signs, and made acquainted with the furnishings of the SS, and especially the details of the Ark of the Covenant. Taking a look at (2) and (3) in more detail, we note: In the second scene, as the candidate (representing the Temple craftsman, Adoniram) enters the unfinished inner Temple area, and observes GMHA deep in thought while working on some sacred vessels, and presents a piece of work for inspection. GMHA expresses his approval of the work, and retires to the SS to render up his noontime prayer and then draw his designs on the trestleboard. Accosted by the candidate upon finishing these exercises, Adoniram demands to know when he can expect to receive the Master's Word. After considering this inquiry, GMHA conducts the candidate around the altar in the SS, commenting during each circuit on the nature of death and in his firm belief in a resurrection. At the end of each circuit, he stops, taps his cane on the floor, and informs the candidate that, should he die the Word will be found there. This soliloquy on death is one of the most impressive and stark expositions of Masonic philosophy on that subject. It touches the reality of physical decay and death, but culminates in an unswerving and firm conviction in the certainty of a resurrection to eternal bliss. GMHA foreshadows his own demise, but tempers its horror and sadness by his expression of immovable faith in God. As Adoniram is evidently highly thought of by GMHA, he is made privy not only to Hiram's most private feelings, but also given a broad hint as to where the Master's Word will be located if Hiram should die before the Temple is completed. In the Third Part, during the dialog and the brief concluding lecture, the candidate receives a postulation on the adornment of the SS and particularly the construction of the Ark of the Covenant, which is the particular symbol of this degree. The grand sign and words of this degree further allude to the death of GMHA and of the reluctance of the two remaining Grand Masters to communicate the Word, even among themselves. The degree is readily seen as a memorial to GMHA and a suitable lead-in to the one that follows it.
This degree explains how the under ground Vault introduced in the Royal Arch Degree of the Chapter came to be. A particular friend of King Solomon's, named Zabud, misunderstands a remark by the king and unwittingly gains entrance into a special construction project one night. Being detected as an intruder, he is almost killed by the guards but is spared upon intervention by King Solomon, influenced by the mild counsel of GMHA. Zabud is permitted to take the place of a guard found wanting in zeal and trustworthiness, and, upon being duly obligated and instructed, Zabud gains admission to that point beneath the Temple chosen by the Grand Masters to conceal the treasures of the Craft and the Word. The candidate then witnesses the reenactment of the deposition of those treasures, which will not be recovered until the rebuilding of the second Temple as related in the Royal Arch Degree. This degree teaches attentiveness to duty, to keeping a watch over one's words and actions, and to illustrate that zealous attachment to duty and to the principles of Masonry will result in advancement in its ranks as well as in life. This degree is the culmination of what has been called Ancient Craft Masonry, or Masonry related to the building of the Solomonic Temple.
SUPER EXCELLENT MASTER:
This optional degree consists of four sections. In the first section, the candidate assumes the obligation and is instructed in the signs, grips, and words, as well as in the symbolism of the special symbols of this degree: square, circle, and equilateral triangle. In the second section, the candidate witnesses the desolation and sorrow of some Jewish captives in a grove in Babylon, who are subsequently given words of comfort by the prophet Ezekiel. In the third section, the scene shifts to the court of the licentious and treacherous Jewish king Zedekiah who, influenced by two evil councilors, refuses to pay heed to the voice of the prophet Jeremiah urging him to repent and return to God. Zedekiah, to his later grief, learns the answer to a riddle he proposes to Jeremiah, and immediately afterwards the king and his court are forced to flee before the besieging armies of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. In the final section, the captured Zedekiah is brought before Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah, and receives a severe judgement for his past infidelities, misdeeds, and insensitivity. This degree is one of the most dramatic in Freemasonry. It strikingly and forcefully teaches the great lesson of loyalty to friends and fidelity to promises and vows. Dry instruction is constrained to teaching through observation of dynamic acting and dialogue. Few who see this degree done correctly and in full costume ever forget it.
A Royal & Select Master Council has 10 officers: Thrice Illustrious Master, Right Illustrious Deputy Master, Illustrious Principal Conductor, Recorder, Treasurer, Chaplain, Captain of the Guards, Conductor of the Council, Steward, and Sentinel. Some jurisdictions also have a Marshal. Members are again refer to each other as "Companions". At least 9 Companions must be present to open a Council. Councils usually meet monthly. The state governing body is the Grand Council. The national body, to which Grand Councils voluntarily belong, is the General Grand Council of Cryptic Masons, International.
The Commandery of Knights Templar Orders
The Commandery confers Orders, not Degrees. The orders represent a new line of Masonic thought and experience, in that they no longer refer to Ancient Craft Masonry, but to ideals and practices of ancient chivalry and Christianity. The first Commandery order, The Order of The Red Cross, presents the story of the Jewish Prince, Zerubbabel, and his efforts to secure permission of the Persian King Darius to rebuild King Soloman's Temple. The next order, Knight of Malta, is a departure from Masonry based on the Old Testament and is the first Christian Order. Here, the candidate represents a knightly warrior of the Crusades and is preparing for a trip to the Holy Land. The last order is that of Order of The Temple or Knight Templar, the crowning glory of York Rite Masonry. Again, in this totally Christian Order, the candidate represents a knightly warrior who desires to unite with a Commandery of Knights Templar during the era of the Crusades. After several trials to test his faith, courage, and humility, he is rewarded by achieving his desire. Let us look at these orders in more detail.
ORDER OF THE RED CROSS:
This order consists of two sections: (1) Zerubbabel's (the candidate) admission to the Jewish Council at Jerusalem, in which he is granted permission and authority to travel to Babylon to obtain leave from King Darius to stop the enemies of the Jews from hindering their progress in building the Temple, as well as to recover the Holy Vessels of the Temple which were taken as booty to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar when he destroyed the First Temple. Zerubbabel is also given a sword to defend himself; a sash to remind him of his cause; and a password to get him by Jewish sentinels on his journey. Unfortunately, he is captured and made prisoner upon reaching the domains of King Darius. (2) At the court of Darius, Zerubbabel renews his earlier friendship with the King, and is granted a position in the royal household. He then participates in a friendly contest with other nobles regarding the question: " Which is greater? The strength of wine? The power of the King? Or the influence of woman?" Zerubbabel chooses the latter, and adds an additional element: The force of truth. After rendering his rhetorical declamation on women and concluding in favor of truth above all, Zerubbabel is declared the winner of the contest and is granted his desires by the King. To perpetuate the event, Darius creates a new Order, the Order of The Red Cross, and after an obligation, makes Zerubbabel its first member. Next, Zerubbabel receives the signs, grips, and words, as well as a historical lecture. The body is called a Council. The cornerstone of this Order is the all-important attribute of truth, and the importance of keeping one's word. It foreshadows the words of Jesus: "I am the way, the truth, and the life."
ORDER OF MALTA:
This Order consists of: The Order of St. Paul, or the Mediterranean Pass, which is somewhat preparatory to the order, and the Order of Malta itself. The Order of Malta must be conferred in either full or short form. The full form is quite intricate and very beautiful but is not conferred by all Commanderies. The short form is but a summary of the lessons taught in the full form, and this is what is described here. The Order of St. Paul is based on the story of Paul's shipwreck on the island of Melita (Malta). The candidate represents a knight who is about to depart for the Crusades in the Holy Land. He receives sustenance, both spiritual and physical, to prepare him for his burdensome journey. The Order of Malta is a suitable preparation for the Order of the Temple, in that it provides the candidate with New Testament instruction, particularly in the eight Beatitudes. The symbol of the Order is the Maltese Cross, symbolic of the Beatitudes and the eight languages which once were spoken by its members. The candidate is made a Knight of Malta and is instructed in the words and signs specific to the Order. The body is called a Priory.
ORDER OF THE TEMPLE:
This Order begins with the candidate, a Knight of Malta, who, after much soul-searching reflection finds answers to certain questions and seeks to unite with a Commandery of Knights Templar. To test his faith, he is directed to perform a number of years of pilgrimage. Being full of zeal and hoping to accomplish more useful deeds, he requests and is granted remission. He assumes a most solemn obligation, and then is obligated to a certain number of years of knightly warfare, as a test of his courage and constancy. Having satisfactorily performed these, he is admitted to the Asylum of the Knights Templar, where he is a participant in certain memorial exercises. Accompanying these exercises is a reading of New Testament scripture and an inspirational slide presentation. He is then required to perform a time of penance in token of his humility. Following this, he seals his membership in the Order in the most solemn, impressive and binding manner, and is duly dubbed a member of the Valiant and Magnanimous Order of the Temple. Again, he receives certain signs, grips, and words, as well as an explanation of the important accoutrements of Templary, the Grand Standard, Baldric, Beauceant, Sword, and Spur. The body is called a Commandery. The relevance of this sublime Order to the Christian Mason can scarcely be overstressed. It provides a vivid connection between the Craft and Christianity. Especially relevant and meaningful is the address given by the Prelate during the course of the ceremonies.
A Knight Templar Commandery has 12 officers: Commander, Generalissimo, Captain General, Recorder, Treasurer, Prelate, Sr. Warden, Jr. Warden, Standard Bearer, Sword Bearer, Warder, and Sentinel. Some jurisdictions also have a Marshal. Members are referred to by each other as "Sir Knight". At least 9 Knights must be present to open a Commandery. Commanderies usually meet monthly. The state governing body is the Grand Commandery. The national body, to which Grand Commanderies must belong, is the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar of the United States of America.