The Indissoluble Link
posted on 03 October 2017
In preparing this talk I would like to thank E.Comp. Peter Mason, Deputy Grand Superintendent for Cumberland and Westmorland who’s talk entitled “Why Should I join the Royal Arch” has been richly plagiarised by me, and also the soon to be published Members Pathway, has shaped my view, of which Most Excellent Grand Superintendent for Shropshire Peter Taylor has been a strong member of that working group.
Companions, I have just been installed into the MEZ’s Chair of this illustrious Chapter and duly presented with the Book of Constitutions. Since this Book contains the regulations for Craft Freemasonry and also the Supreme Grand Chapter, it gives us a clear indication of the link between the two. Craft and Royal Arch have the same Grand Master and First Grand Principal, and so on throughout the other Officers. They are both administered from Great Queen Street. Whilst other Orders have different Rulers, Books of Constitution and administrative bases. The Royal Arch is the only other Order that you may acknowledge at the Craft Festive Board for this very reason.
Let me embark upon an explanation for when a Craft Brother asks why should I join the Royal Arch. The answer is quite simple; to complete your education and knowledge of Craft Masonry. You might reply; 'but I’ve already passed through the Three Degrees of Craft Masonry, are you saying that I have missed something?' The answer of course is; 'yes you certainly have! You will recall that the 3rd Degree ceremony apparently ends in despair and tribulation. The building of King Solomon’s Temple was completely at a standstill caused by the absence of suitable working plans caused by the tragic and untimely death of the Master Architect Hiram Abiff.
We are then informed in the ritual that, with the death of Hiram, the secrets of a Master Mason were lost and certain substituted secrets were hastily approved by King Solomon and sanctioned by him to “designate all Master Masons throughout the universe until time and circumstances should restore the genuine”.
Why make the deliberate comment “should restore the genuine” if it is not an indication that there is every possibility, with time and circumstances that the lost secrets might well be re-discovered? If so, what we learn in the 3rd Degree is not the end of the story! At your initiation you promised to make a daily advancement in Masonic knowledge. Have you then ever considered what exactly the dialogue at the opening and closing of the 3rd Degree is trying to tell us? Or have you just accepted it as ‘just words’ and part of the ritual?
Consider the rather unusual dialogue between the Master and Wardens at the opening of the 3rd Degree, which starts with the WM asking the JW “whence come you?”
- JW:- The East
- WM:- Bro. SW, whither directing your course?
- SW:- The West.
What inducement have we to travel from East to West when the normal course to the Masters chair would appear to be West to East? However, the Junior Warden tells us that we go to seek for that which was lost, which, by our own industry, we hope to find.
- WM:- What is that which was lost?
- SW:- The genuine secrets of a Master Mason.
- WM to JW:- How came they lost ?
- JW:- By the untimely death of our Master Hiram Abif.
Why would we travel from ‘East to West’? Although Solomon’s Temple was aligned East/West, according to Ezekiel and contrary to the layout of modern Freemasons Lodges, it had its main entrance on the East side which would place the Holy of Holies, the Sanctum Sanctorum, in the West. This surely would make sense as the sun rising in the East at the dawn of every new day would shine through the porchway or entrance to illuminate the entrance to the Most Holy place, the Sanctum Sanctorum beyond. Therefore anyone entering the building would be moving from East to West. Thus the Wardens had been searching in the West for the genuine secrets.
- WM to SW:- Where do you hope to find them?
- SW:- With the centre.
- WM:- What is a Centre?
- JW:- A point within a circle from which part of the circumference is equidistant.
- WM to SW:- Why with the Centre?
- SW:- That being a point from which a Master Mason cannot err.
But where is the Centre? The First Degree Tracing Board tells us that in every well-formed constituted Lodge there is a point within a circle round which the Brethren cannot err. If you look at the 1st Degree TB you will see that the VSL is supported on the upper part of a circle. Therefore the Centre must be located as close to the Holy Word as it can be. And as our Master was ordered to be re-interred as near to the Sanctum Sanctorum as the Israelitish law would permit, his sepulcher was right in front of the Sanctum Sanctorum. So, as stated earlier, it is here where we hope that the genuine secrets are to be re-discovered.
At the closing of the 3rd Degree, the WM, after having received the substituted secrets from the SW, makes a rather bold but definite statement; “I as Master of this Lodge and thereby the representative of King Solomon, sanction and confirm with my approbation and declare that they (the substituted secrets) shall designate you and all Master Masons throughout the Universe, until time and circumstances shall restore the genuine.” Surely the statement “until time and circumstances shall restore the genuine”, is yet another clear indication that the story does not end with the 3rd Degree - there is more to learn. “Shall restore the genuine” is a positive statement and, as we are told at the opening, “we hope to find them with the centre.”
There is obviously another step a Master Mason should take to assist him to re-discover those long lost secrets and thus complete the story. In the early days before the Union, membership of the Royal Arch was confined to those who had occupied the Masters chair, therefore the reason why the Wardens search in the West did not ‘bear fruit’, they having returned with certain substituted secrets, is that they were not sufficiently qualified to discover genuine secrets until they had, through time and circumstances, progressed through the Masters chair as the password to gain admission into the Royal Arch in the days when the current ritual was compiled, was the ‘Masters word’.
The Preliminary Declaration in the Book of Constitutions also points the way when it states that: “pure Antient Masonry consists of three degrees and no more, viz., those of Entered Apprentice, the Fellow Craft, and the Master Mason, including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch”. This is yet another clue indicating that there is more to learn after the 3rd Degree, which can only be found by joining the Royal Arch.
Why then does the Declaration read as if the Royal Arch has been added as an afterthought? To understand this we have to look at the organization before the Union. The two main Grand Lodges at the time; The Original or Premier Grand Lodge of 1717, later and confusingly nicknamed ‘The Moderns’ and the Grand Lodge of the Antient’s of 1752 had one great fundamental difference. The Antient’s regarded their Lodge Warrants as sufficient authority not only to work the 3 Craft Degree’s but also the Royal Arch and other Degrees in their Craft Lodges, whilst the Moderns were adamant that pure and ancient Freemasonry consisted of 3 Degrees only and no more.
However, it must be said that whilst Head Office, officially, did not accept the Royal Arch, many Moderns Lodges were practicing this popular Order in their Lodges, so something had to be done. It was generally recognized that for the good of Freemasonry and future progress, it would be the best solution for all if the two Grand Lodges could settle their differences and unite as one.
It took many years of negotiation and compromise before an acceptable agreement was reached but eventually it was and the two Grand Lodges became one with the title The United Grand Lodge of England in December 1813 and the Royal Arch was included, although not as a separate Degree, with the 3 Craft Degree’s as part of Pure and Antient Freemasonry.
Only by taking the fourth and ultimate step in Craft Masonry by joining the Royal Arch can a Freemason become complete. For a Freemason to take only the three Craft degrees and not join the Royal Arch means his Masonry might be compared with the experience of the man who goes to watch the play Agatha Christie's Mousetrap but leaves ten minutes before the end. In the latter instance he can say he has been to the Mousetrap but he doesn't know what it was all about. In the former he can say he is a Freemason but he is missing that piece of the jigsaw that would render him complete.
What of the moral issues? At our Initiation we were taught the importance of our relationships with our fellow men and the principles of universal beneficence and charity. The Second Degree encourages us to concentrate on the intellectual faculty, the secrets of nature and the principles of intellectual truth. In the Third Degree we are made aware of the frailty of life, the importance of the knowledge of ourselves and thus it prepares us for our inevitable destiny. In the Royal Arch we are figuratively resurrected from darkness and despair into light and are thereby we should be better equipped to consider our relationships with God.
Perhaps now you can appreciate the importance of continuing your Craft education beyond the 3rd Degree. By becoming a member of the Royal Arch you will learn that ‘that which was lost’, was indeed, not the end of the story. The word of a Master Mason was found, albeit several hundred years later and by its rediscovery, the Craft story and its moral teachings are fully completed.
For many years the Royal Arch was described as the completion of the Third Degree, which, as the Grand Master said in April 2004, “implies that neither the Third Degree nor the ceremony of Exaltation is complete, which is surely untrue. Today the Royal Arch is seen as the completion of the journey in pure Antient Freemasonry and all reference to it being the completion or an extension of the Third Degree has been removed from the ritual and other documents.
During the presentation of a Grand Lodge Certificate it can be explained that, if Pure Antient Freemasonry were considered to be a four act play, Craft Freemasonry, as practiced in the Lodge covers the first three acts while Royal Arch Masonry as practiced in the Chapter covers the fourth act and completes the journey of self-knowledge and self-discovery. Following this metaphor, other Orders can be considered to be additional story lines that examine different aspects of this journey and which can be joined according to interest and inclination.
V.WBro. John Hammill gives four reasons why a Brother should join the Royal Arch. Firstly because of the indissoluble link between the Craft and Riyal Arch as the two component parts of Antient Freemasonry. Secondly to complete the journey of a man from the practical principles taught in the Craft to the spiritual aspect of our nature, as explored in the Royal Arch. The third reason is the ceremony of exaltation itself, which is one of the most beautiful, colourful and thought provoking in Freemasonry and in which the genuine secrets, which were lost and substituted during the Master Masons degree are revealed. His final reason is the companionship and enjoyment that comes from meeting a wider circle and from the increase in Masonic experience and knowledge. Above all he believes that joining the Royal Arch should increase ones enjoyment of Freemasonry.
Companions the Royal Arch is a wonderful, colourful, inspiring, enlightening and most enjoyable Order, which is an essential requirement in understanding the full meaning of Craft Masonry. You are all its ambassadors. Please ensure that you let all Master Masons know that they are missing something very special, as you pass them the red registration Form P!
David Macey, MEZ First Principals Chapter, September 2017.