WHY JOIN THE ROYAL ARCH?
As a Master Mason, you have completed the three degrees of Craft Masonry – or have you? When you were Initiated into Freemasonry you were given a copy of the Book of Constitutions, which contains the rules by which the Craft is governed but you will have noticed that there is another section to the book, a section which contains the ‘GENERAL REGULATIONS ESTABLISHED BY THE SUPREME GRAND CHAPTER FOR THE GOVERNMENT OF THE ORDER OF ROYAL ARCH MASONS OF ENGLAND’; and if you look again at the beginning of the Craft Constitutions you will find there a ‘Preliminary Declaration’ which reads as follows:
By the solemn Act of Union between the two Grand Lodges of Freemasons of England in December 1813, it was ‘declared and pronounced that pure Ancient Masonry consists of three degrees and no more, viz., those of the Entered Apprentice, the Fellow Craft, and Master Mason, including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch.’
You may fairly ask what is this ‘Order’ which is part of the Master Mason’s Degree. Nothing is said about it in the ritual of that degree though if you have read Peterborough Booklet No.3 (‘After the Third Degree: Notes for a Master Mason’) you will know already that it is considered to complete the Third Degree because it supplies something which is missing from Craft Masonry. A brief explanation was given in that booklet but you will rightly wish to know more before involving yourself in any extension of your Masonic commitments.
‘THE ROOT, HEART, AND MARROW OF FREEMASONRY’
For historical reasons which do not concern us here (though they form a fascinating study for those with an interest in Masonic history) the Royal Arch is organized as a separate Order distinct from the Craft degrees to which it belongs and the teaching of which it completes. It follows that in deciding to join it, Brethren have to make a conscious decision to take up new responsibilities; they may fairly ask why they should do so. The reason traditionally given was that this was how they could learn the true secrets which were lost at Hiram’s death. In a more sophisticated age this answer cannot be regarded as satisfactory; nor does it explain why Lawrence Dermott, the second Grand Secretary of the Antients’ Grand Lodge, called the degree ‘the root, heart, and marrow of Freemasonry’; you will remember from what was said in an earlier booklet in this series that the Antients’ Grand Lodge was the second Grand Lodge founded in London in the eighteenth century and was united with the other (‘Premier’) Grand Lodge in 1813.
COMPLETING THE THIRD DEGREE
In seeking an answer to the question ‘Why should a Freemason join the Royal Arch?’ we have to ask two other questions: ‘Why should we say that the Craft Third Degree is not complete?’ and ‘Does the Royal Arch in fact supply what is missing?’ To answer the first, we must establish what Freemasonry is. You will remember that this was explained in the questions you had to answer before you could be passed to the Second Degree; there you learned that Freemasonry is “a peculiar system of morality…”. So far so good; but on what is that system based? The next item in that same catechism in fact called on you to name the grand principles on which the Order is founded, to which you responded “Brotherly love, relief, and truth”. So now we have to consider whether it covers those three to our complete satisfaction. The easiest way to decide that is to look at each of them in turn.
Brotherly love we can explain as the duty to love your neighbour, whether or not he is a Freemason. This is certainly something that Freemasonry supports and teaches; no one who has stood as a candidate in the northeast corner of the Lodge can doubt that. In what is probably the best-known illustration of what it means to love one’s neighbour, the Christian story of the Good Samaritan, help was given to a man in distress, not by those who shared his faith and his customs, but by one who opposed his beliefs and would be regarded by him as a heretic and an outcast. So too we are taught that a Freemason’s charity should know no bounds save those of prudence.
‘Relief’ is usually paraphrased as charity; but to us as Freemasons, it means much more than the giving of alms, important though that aspect is. It involves, in the words of the Charge after Initiation, “rendering (to our neighbour) every kind office which justice or mercy may require, by relieving his necessities and comforting his afflictions, and by doing to him as in similar cases you would wish he would do to you”. Like brotherly love, it also involves tolerance towards another’s beliefs even where those differ from one’s own.
Brotherly love and relief are easy to define and we can claim without hesitation that the teaching of the Craft with regard to them is clear and satisfying. But when we come to think about Truth we have an immediate problem of definition. There are probably as many different answers to the question ‘What is Truth’ as there are inhabitants of the planet. Furthermore, the word is used of two quite different concepts; it can mean simply the reverse of falsehood or it can refer to the eternal verities, the very riddle of the universe and of our being. How does the teaching of the Craft deal with these concepts? Many of us feel that though it deals with the first adequately it fails altogether to tackle the second. In other words, it provides guidelines for our conduct towards our fellow human beings but only in respect of our mortal existence; it fails to guide our thoughts and actions into the perspective of eternity; and after all it is with eternity that we should really be concerned. The nearest it gets to helping us in this, is in the Third Degree, the objects of which, according to the ritual, are to teach us how to die and ‘to feel that to the just and virtuous man, death has no terrors equal to the stain of falsehood and dishonour’; but does it go further?
WHAT DOES THE THIRD DEGREE TEACH US?
It has been suggested that we should consider the legend of Third Degree as a resurrection drama, but to interpret it in such a way would be to trespass on the preserve of religion which by definition we do not do. It is, in fact, a story of treachery and dishonour meeting their just reward and of the vindication of the honourable man who kept his oath, who was murdered because he would not break it, and whose body was recovered from an unmarked grave to be reinterred in a manner which acknowledged his worth. It is true that after the re-enactment of the murder and the raising of the candidate, there is an unexplained reference to a ‘Bright Morning Star, whose rising brings peace and salvation to the faithful and obedient of the human race’ but otherwise there is no reference that can be considered as in any way spiritual. Yet that very phrase suggests that there must be something more. It is as if the ritual itself is now proclaiming its own inadequacy. Where are the links with eternity and with the teachings of faith which surely we would expect in so serious and solemn a deliberation? They are not to be found, and so we must say in answer to our first question about the adequacy of the Craft in covering the three grand principles on which it is stated to be founded, ‘No; the Craft degrees do not fully cover them.’
THE PURPOSE OF THE ROYAL ARCH
So, we come to the second question: does the Royal Arch supply what is missing? Obviously, you can only answer that completely if you become a member of the Order, but what can be said is that very many Freemasons have found that it does and have discovered in the companionship of their Chapter a happy and deep relationship with their fellows.
That is important evidence, but it does not of itself explain why Lawrence Dermott stated, as we have already noticed, that the Royal Arch is the ‘root, heart and marrow of Freemasonry’, clearly implying his belief that without the teaching of the Royal Arch that of the Craft was incomplete. But in his day (the third quarter of the eighteenth century) even the knowledgeable knew much less about the world and the mysteries of the universe than many school children do today; has this changed the situation and made the message of the Royal Arch irrelevant for the modern Freemason?
It is true that values have changed; but every Freemason knows that there are higher standards of human conduct than those based on today’s materialism; these standards have altered very little over the centuries and the Craft has always upheld them. ‘Brotherly love, relief and truth’ are still valid guides for our conduct and probably more necessary now than ever before. However, there is still a need to extend the teaching of the Craft to complete our ‘system of morality’ so that it covers the deeper meaning of Truth and provides what many feel is missing, a more intimate link with religious belief. In setting the principles of the Craft in the frame of eternity, in insisting that only in that frame can there be a real understanding of Truth, and in stressing the ties of support and cooperation involved in the companionship of the Chapter, we can fairly claim that the Royal Arch does complete our ‘system of morality’ and that Dermott’s words are as true today as when he wrote them.
A WORD OF CAUTION
A word of caution is needed here; a Brother should never ask to be received into the Chapter unless and until he is ready for its teaching. The time between being raised and applying to be exalted into the Royal Arch is a matter for each individual and will normally not be until you have been a Master Mason for a year, but you should not delay it unduly because even when you do become a Royal Arch companion it is likely to be some time before you will fully understand its teaching; the best way in which to make that period as short as possible is to seek to take part in the work.
By doing so you will be ready to become one of the three Principals who together rule the Chapter. In fact, as soon as you feel at home in the Chapter you should indicate your willingness to take an occasional part in the ceremonies.
When you join those who combine a serious interest in their Freemasonry with a real enjoyment of the Royal Arch, you will find that there is a noticeable difference between being a Brother and becoming a Companion. Members of the Royal Arch are by definition already Master Masons, and the teaching and companionship is on a different plane compared to that of the Craft. To please each other and to unite in the grand design of being happy and communicating happiness is still an objective, but it is one which in the Chapter we can view in a more rewarding and satisfying light than in the Lodge. Your enjoyment of the Royal Arch will be in proportion to your contribution to the happiness of your Companions. Make up your mind to enjoy your Royal Arch Masonry as you do that of the Craft and you will come to understand what Lawrence Dermott meant.
To join the Royal Arch of New Zealand, you can contact the District secretary for details.