WHAT IS ROYAL ARCH MASONRY?
Put simply, it is a continuation of Craft Freemasonry. Its members, called Companions, meet in a Chapter under a Grand Chapter. Chapters are ruled over by three Principals, who rule conjointly, and the Grand Chapter is ruled over by three Grand Principals, with a Pro First Grand Principal when the First Grand Principal is a Royal Prince, as at present.
Chapters in England and Wales are grouped as a Metropolitan area or in Provinces (based on the old Counties) and Chapters overseas are grouped in Districts. Metropolitan, Provincial and District Grand Chapters are ruled over by a Grand Superintendent who is appointed by the First Grand Principal as his personal representative for that particular area.
As with Craft Freemasonry, there is debate as to the origins of the Royal Arch, which is not helped by the paucity of surviving evidence. From that evidence we learn that the Royal Arch was known in London, York and Dublin by the late 1730s. From Lodge Minute Books of the 1750s we know that the Royal Arch was being worked within Craft Lodges under both the premier and the Ancients Grand Lodges in England, and also in Lodges in Ireland and Scotland. In the Grand Chapter archives there is a Minute Book of an independent Chapter meeting in Soho, London on 11th June in 1766 at which the Grand Master of the premier Grand Lodge was exalted. The Grand Lodge now regarded the Royal Arch as an innovation, additional to the Craft, and began to object to its being worked in Craft Lodges. The next month, the same Chapter, by way of a Charter of Compact, converted itself into The Excellent Grand and Royal Chapter of the Royal Arch of Jerusalem, the first Grand Chapter in the world.
Charters for the first seven new Chapters were issued in 1769 and by 1813 one hundred and twenty Chapters were chartered to meet in England, Wales and territories overseas. To stimulate the growth of the Royal Arch the office of Grand Superintendent in and over a Province was introduced in 1778. Thomas Dunckerley was among the first to be appointed, not just to one Province but to eighteen Provinces, from Durham in the North to Cornwall in the South West.
However, the Ancients Grand Lodge regarded the Royal Arch as an integral part of their system and continued working it in their Lodges as a fourth degree. Indeed, their Grand Secretary, Laurence Dermott, described the Royal Arch as “the root, heart and marrow of Masonry”.
In 1817, four years after the Union of the two Grand Lodges, Royal Arch members of both of the former Grand Lodges were summoned to a meeting at Freemasons’ Hall. The Excellent Grand and Royal Chapter was opened in one room, and the Royal Arch members of the former Antients Grand Lodge opened a Chapter in a second room. Both groups then processed into the Grand Hall where the Grand Master, the Duke of Sussex, formed them into the “United Grand Chapter”, a title which was later changed to Supreme Grand Chapter. A set of regulations was presented and agreed, and this marked the new relationship between the Craft and the Royal Arch and the interdependency of the two.
Supreme Grand Chapter has approx. 110,000 members in 3,500 Chapters across the 47 Provinces of England, Wales and the Channel Islands, and 32 Districts overseas. Supreme Grand Chapter meets at Freemasons’ Hall, Great Queen Street, as does United Grand Lodge. The head of Supreme Grand Chapter is the First Grand Principal, HRH the Duke of Kent, who is also the Grand Master of the Craft. His deputy is E. Comp. Peter Lowndes, Pro First Grand Principal, and he is also Pro Grand Master in the Craft.
WHAT HAPPENS IN THE ROYAL ARCH?
In England the Royal Arch has four ceremonies: the exaltation ceremony to bring in new members and an installation ceremony for each of the three Principals. The exaltation ceremony is in two parts: a rather dramatic presentation of the principles of the Order followed by three lectures in which the history, symbolism and principles of the Royal Arch are further explained. Like Craft Freemasonry, the Royal Arch is open to men of all faiths.
The allegory of the exaltation ceremony is based on the Old Testament telling of the return to Jerusalem from the Babylonish captivity to rebuild the city and temple. In clearing the ground of the original temple for the foundations of the second temple, the candidate makes a number of discoveries which emphasise the centrality of God to man’s life and existence and, without transgressing the bounds of religion, lead the candidate to a consideration of the nature of God and his personal relationship with Him, whatever his religion might be.
In England, the Royal Arch is considered to be the culmination of “pure, ancient Masonry”. In the Craft, the candidate is presented with a series of eminently practical principles and tenets. If he practises these principles and tenets, he may hope to live a life pleasing to his God, however he worships him, and of service to his fellow man. But man is not simply a practical being. He has an essential spiritual aspect to his nature.
That spiritual aspect is introduced in the Third Degree, in which the candidate is led to a contemplation of man’s inevitable destiny, and it becomes the central message of the Royal Arch.
In that sense, “pure, ancient Masonry” can be seen as a fascinating journey of self-knowledge and discovery which begins with the Entered Apprentice Degree and culminates in Installation into the 1st Principal’s Chair of the Royal Arch, with the Royal Arch completing the practical lessons of the Craft by a contemplation of man’s spiritual nature, not replacing but reinforcing and supporting what he has learned from his religion.
In December 2003 the Quarterly Communication of UGLE pronounced the status of the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch to be: “an extension to, but neither a superior nor a subordinate part of, the Degrees which precede it”. (This seems to imply a natural continuation….).
One of the issues for Master Masons in the past has been the restriction of progression in the Royal Arch until a Companion has passed the Chair of his Craft Lodge. This ‘Installed Master’s qualification’ for the Third Principal’s Chair was dropped in 2004, thus opening up full progression in the Royal Arch.
ROYAL ARCH REGALIA
During the exaltation ceremony, the Companion is invested with the apron, jewel and sash of a Royal Arch Mason. The ribbons and the background to the Royal Arch logo are in white. As he progresses to the Third Principal’s Chair, they change to dark red and in due course, if appointed to Provincial rank (usually three years after vacating the First Principal’s Chair), they change again to dark blue, with the addition of a collarette with the appropriate jewel attached. Those who are appointed to Grand rank will have a larger apron with a full diamond border and a wider banded collarette and appropriate jewel.
It is worthy of note that the Royal Arch jewel is the only non-Craft item of regalia which may be worn in a Craft Lodge.
IN CONCLUSION, THEN, BRETHREN:
The Holy Royal Arch is (now) a separate Order from, but inextricably linked to the Craft, and it is regarded as the next natural step for a Mason to take after being Raised to the Third Degree, before branching out into the many other avenues of Freemasonry open to him.