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Banners of the Masters of the Vails and the Royal Arch Captain in the Royal Arch Chapter.

 

 

 

 

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Royal Arch Mason Apron

 

 

 

 

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Some of the symbols of the Capitular Degrees

 

 

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Many Freemasons understand Royal Arch Masonry as  the completion of  the third  degree and the “Capstone of the Ancient Craft Masonry” (the top or the cap of the whole wall). This is the base of  the term  “Capitular” for  the degrees  conferred in the Chapters of Royal Arch Masons. In England and in some  other  countries  following  English Royal Arch tradition, Royal Arch is the only degree conferred within  the Royal Arch  Chapters.  Every Royal Arch  Chapter  has  to  be  attached  to  the Craft  Lodge and  take  the same number  as  the Lodge (and often the same name). Three “Principal” officers  elected  for  a  year  rule  Chapters collectively. All of the Chapters  are under  control of  a  Supreme  Grand  Chapter. 

In  the  American tradition, which is followed by the Royal Arch Masons in Serbia, four degrees conferred within the Chapters  of  Royal Arch Masons are Mark Master, Past Master, Most excellent Master and Royal Arch Mason. The presiding officer of the Chapter is called “High  Priest."  Chapters are  subordinate  to  the Grand Chapters.  Grand Chapters are coordinating their activities on the international level through the General Grand Chapter Royal Arch Masons International or through the General Conference Princ Hall Holy Royal Arch Masons for United States and Bahamas.

THE MARK MASTER DEGREE

Mark Master degree is one of the oldest additional degrees  in any of  the Masonic Rites. It is understood  as  a  continuation  of  the  Fellowcraft degree and  most likely, it  originated  out of  the ceremony  where  craftsmen  were choosing  their  “Mark”. It was an ancient custom among medieval stonemasons that each Master  builder has  a personal mark which he would carve in the stone so everyone  could  recognize  the  authorship  of  the stonework or building, very much like signature of an artist. This  degree first  appeared in  Scotland and normally it was  conferred on Fellowcrafts. In England,  this   degree  is   conferred  within  the Lodges  of  Mark Masters  that are subordinate to the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons. In most of the United States, Ireland, and Scotland, this is considered the 4th degree of the York Rite and it is conferred in the Chapters of Royal Arch Masons as the first  of  the four  degrees  following  craft  degrees.  Teachings  of  this  degree  are  inspired  by the famous  biblical  story about the “head of  the corner stone, rejected by the Builders, which has become the central  Master  piece  of  working”  or  the “key stone”. (Psalms  118:22, Mathew 21:42, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17).

THE PAST MASTER DEGREE

There  are  really  two types  of  the Past Master  degree in  Freemasonry. Before somebody is  installed as  a Master of the Lodge  he  is “invested” with  the  secrets  of  the Chair.  This is  called “Installed Master “degree. In other  words, one could  be Past Master only if he was  previously  Master  of  the  Lodge.  When  the Royal Arch degree appeared one of the conditions for somebody to receive it, was to be a Past Master.  Since  many desiring  to  receive  this  degree never  sat as  Masters, occasionally, Grand Master would grant permission to a Brothers  to formally “pass  the Chair”  in  order  to receive  Holy  Royal Arch  degree.  This   exemption  became  regular practice and with that, the degree of Past Master was  established.  This  degree is  conferred in the Chapters  and one going through  it is  called “virtual”  Past  Master.  This  title  does  not  have any merit outside the Chapters.

THE MOST EXCELLENT MASTER DEGREE

In  the American  version  of  the  York  Rite,  Most  Excellent Master  is  the 6th  degree or  the third one to be conferred  in  the  Royal  Arch  Chapters.  It  was originally part  of  the early Scottish  Rite  degrees and  there  are  degrees  with  the  similar  name worked in Scotland today.  This degree was based on the story of  the completion and dedication of  the King Solomon’s Temple. In most of the Royal Arch  systems, it  is a required  degree before receiving Holy Royal Arch.

THE ROYAL ARCH DEGREE

First references  to Royal  Arch  degree  appear  in  England  in  late 1730s.  The  Ancient  Grand  Lodge,  founded  in 1752, in England, was conferring this degree in its Craft Lodges  as  the fourth degree. It was understood as  a completion  of the third  degree. Later, when  the  United  Grand  Lodge  of  England  was founded in 1813, it was declared in the Act of Union  that  the  “pure  Antient  Masonry  consists  of three degrees and no more, viz, those of Entered Apprentice, the Fellowcraft and Master Mason, including  the  Supreme  Order  of  the  Holy  Royal Arch”.

In the story of the Holy Royal Arch, a group of Jewish  captives  returns  to Jerusalem  from  their captivity in  Babylon and, led by Zarubabel starts the rebuilding  of  the King Solomon Temple. During the progress of  rebuilding, they came across the secret vault under the Sanctum Sanctorum of the Temple, containing  sacred artifacts  from  the First  Temple. Further  investigation results  in the discovery  of  the  secret  word.  There  are  slight variations  in the story as presented in the American, Irish, and English version of the degree. In this  allegory, a candidate is  inspired to meditate upon  the  nature  of  God.  The  most  important symbol of this degree is Triple Tau within Triangle within Circle.

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Under  the  title  York  Rite  we  can  (together with the three Craft Degrees) include Mark Master Degree, Past Master, Most Excellent Master, Royal Arch  Mason, Royal  Master, Select Master, Super Excellent  Master  as  well  as  the  Orders  of  Red Cross,  Malta,  and  Temple.  Although,  these  degrees  did not originated in York, the city of York is, according  to legend, the place of origin of the First  assembly of  Masons  back in tenth century. Some of the earliest references  to Royal Arch degree in eighteen century came from the records of the Lodges  from  York.   The  phrase  “York  Rite” came  in  common  usage amongst Anglo-American, particularly  on  the  American  continent,  to define   their degree systems, which were by the beginning  of  nineteenth  century  much  different then  those  practiced  in  the  continental  Europe. There are two other terms  often used to describe same  systems:  one  being  the  “American  Rite” which  refers  to the American  version of  this degree system, and the “English Rite” which usually refers  to  a three  Craft  degrees  and Holy  Royal Arch degree.

York  Rite degrees  are practiced  within several  different  Masonic  bodies.  Craft  degrees  are conferred in the Craft lodge, which is  often called “Blue  Lodge”  and  is  under  control  of  a  Grand Lodge. In the American version of the York Rite, Mark Master Mason,  Past Master, Most Excellent Master  and the Holy Royal  arch degree, are conferred  within  the Chapter  of  Royal  Arch. In  the English System Holy Royal Arch is the only degree worked in the Chapter  of Royal Arch, while Mark Master  Mason  degree  is  conferred  within  independent  Mark  Master  Lodges.  Council  of  Royal Masters confers Royal Master, Select Master, and Super Excellent Master Degree. The Orders of the Red  Cross,  Malta,  and  Temple  are  conferred within the Commandeeries  (in the United  States)  and Priories or Preceptories (elsewhere).


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