Royal Arch Masonry (also known as "Capitular Masonry") is the first part of the York Rite system of Masonic degrees. Royal Arch Masons meet as a Chapter, and the Royal Arch Chapter confers four degrees: Mark Master Mason, Past Master, Most Excellent Master, and Royal Arch Mason.
Within the York Rite, a Royal Arch Chapter works the following degrees:
The Mark Master Mason degree is in some respects an extension of the Fellow Crafts' second degree. In some jurisdictions the degree is conferred in a Fellow Craft Lodge, that is, the second degree of the Blue Lodge.
The Past Master (Virtual) degree is conferred because of the traditional requirement that only Past Masters of a Blue Lodge could be admitted to Royal Arch Masonry. Because there are so many applicants for this degree, Virtual Past Master is required to qualify them for it. Much of the work is the same given to install the Worshipful Master of a Blue Lodge. There is no such requirement or procedure outside the USA.
In the Most Excellent Master degree the building of King Solomon's Temple, which figures so prominently in Blue Lodge, has been completed. In England the degree is conferred by Cryptic Councils, along with three other degrees below.
The Royal Arch Mason degree is said by many to be the most beautiful degree in all of Freemasonry. Freemasons who reach this degree may continue to Cryptic Masonry or go straight to Knights Templar (where permitted—requirements vary in different jurisdictions).
A Royal Arch Chapter is in many ways the same as a Lodge; it has officers and a ritual degree system, which in this case consists of four degrees: Mark Master Mason, Past Master (in some jurisdictions the degree is named Virtual Past Master, to distinguish those who have taken this degree in a Royal Arch Chapter from those who were installed as a Worshipful Master in a lodge), Most Excellent Master, and Royal Arch Mason. However, unlike Lodges, the titles of the Officers change depending on the degree being conferred:
Every US State has its own Grand Chapter, which performs the same administrative functions for its subordinate Chapters as a Grand Lodge does for its subordinate Lodges. In other countries there are either national or state Grand Chapters. The Chapter also has its own equivalents of Grand Lodge Officers, modified from the titles of the officers of a Royal Arch Chapter:
Grand High Priest
Deputy Grand High Priest
Grand Captain of the Host
Grand Principal Sojourner
Grand Royal Arch Captain
Grand Master of the Third Veil
Grand Master of the Second Veil
Grand Master of the First Veil
In jurisdictions that have them, there are also District Deputy Grand High Priests appointed by the Grand High Priest to oversee the districts of the jurisdiction as the representative of the Grand High Priest. Grand Representatives are appointed to keep in contact with their counterparts in other jurisdictions.
Grand Chapters also contribute to specific charities which differ from state to state.
General Grand Chapter
Many of the Grand Chapters around the world (notable exceptions include: Massachusetts, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia) are members of an umbrella group called the General Grand Chapter, founded October 24, 1797. It publishes a quarterly magazine called Royal Arch Mason and supports the ABLEKids Foundation.
History of the Chapter degrees
The exact origins of the four Chapter degrees in its current form as part of the York Rite are unknown.
Royal Arch Mason
Origins and early development
As for the degree of Royal Arch Mason, Turnbull and Denslow contend that "It is the most widely known and talked about degree in the Masonic system" because it had been part of the third degree until the formation of the United Grand Lodge of England. Although glimpses of Royal Arch Masonry vocabulary appear in Masonic literature from the 1720s, the first verifiable appearance of Royal Arch Masonry is in Ireland in the 1740s during a Dublin procession. According to Lodge No. 21’s records, the “Royal Arch” was carried in a procession by “two excellent Masons” through Youghal, Ireland, on December 27, 1743. The degree is also mentioned disapprovingly in Dassigny's "A serious and impartial enquiry into the cause of the present decay of Free-masonry in the Kingdom of Ireland" published in Dublin in 1744. Separate notes in this work indicate that the rite was practised in Dublin, London and York, and described it as an "organis'd body of men who have passed the chair" (i.e. served as the Master of a Craft lodge).
In 1749, the Grand Lodge of Ireland issued warrants to Lodges 190 and 198 to establish “Royal Arch Lodges”.
From Ireland, the Royal Arch spread to England, where it fuelled the rivalry between the two Craft grand lodges in existence at that time. In 1717 the original Premier Grand Lodge of England had been formed in London to govern Craft Freemasonry in England. From 1751, its claim to represent the whole of English Craft Freemasonry was contested by the Antient Grand Lodge of England. In the ensuing debate, the newer grand lodge became known as the "Antients", while the older was referred to as the "Moderns". In 1746, Laurence Dermott, later the Grand Secretary of the "Antients", had been accepted into a Royal Arch Chapter in Dublin, which at that time was open only to those who had previously served as master of a Craft lodge. He regarded the Royal Arch as the fourth degree of Craft Masonry. Under his influence, the "Antients" championed the Royal Arch degree in England, while it was met with hostility in the "Moderns". The Chapter of Friendship 257 meeting at the Phoenix Room in Southsea, Portsmouth, Hampshire is thought to be one of the oldest Royal Arch Chapters in England. At the beginning of the 19th century, when the "Antients" and the "Moderns" moved from rivalry towards union, the role and purpose of the Royal Arch became a sticking point. The "Antients" viewed the Royal Arch as a fourth degree of Craft Freemasonry and worked it as part of the Craft ceremonies, while the "Moderns" held that Craft Freemasonry consisted of three degrees only and that the Royal Arch was at the most an extension of the third (Master Mason's) degree which was to be administered separately. When the "Antients" and "Moderns" merged in 1813 to form the United Grand Lodge of England, this was possible only after reaching a compromise on the role and purpose of Royal Arch Masonry. After the union, the "Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch" would be fully recognised by the United Grand Lodge, but become a separate order with all Craft Lodges permitted to work the ceremony. In its Book of Constitutions, the United Grand Lodge of England declared that "...pure Antient Masonry consists of three degrees and no more, viz. those of the Entered Apprentice, the Fellow Craft, and the Master Mason including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch." In 1823, the United Grand Lodge of England allowed Master Masons to join Holy Royal Arch Chapters without having previously passed through the chair of a Craft lodge. In Scotland, a candidate for the Royal Arch must also be a Mark Master Mason, a degree which can be conferred within a Royal Arch Chapter if required.
History in the United States
In Northern America, freemasons until the end of the 18th century performed Royal Arch ceremonies as well as some others that are now more familiarly part of Knights Templar and the Red Cross of Constantine.
Fredericksburg Lodge in Virginia lists a conferral of the Royal Arch degree on December 22, 1753. There is also a Royal Arch Chapter noted in 1769 in Massachusetts (St. Andrew's Royal Arch Chapter in Boston, then known as Royall Arch Lodge), where the first Knights Templar degree was also conferred. Through a report compiled by the Committee on History and Research appointed by the Grand Chapter of Massachusetts in 1953 and 1954, it was found that St. Andrew's Royal Arch Chapter was the oldest constituted Chapter in the Western Hemisphere, having been officially constituted April 9, 1769, though the records implied that the Chapter had been working prior to that date, and perhaps as early as 1762. The report also states that it is unknown whether the Fredericksburg Lodge in Virginia conferred only the Royal Arch degree or the entire series of degrees.
After the independence of the American Colonies in 1776, Freemasonry in the United States remained relatively little influenced by the rivalry between the "Antients" and "Moderns" in England. In 1797, a group of Royal Arch masons met in Hartford to try to establish some sort of governing body for degrees that were largely conferred in the New England states, which became the Grand Chapter of the Northern States, and later was broken down into the state-by-state Grand Chapter system. This body later became the General Grand Chapter, Royal Arch Masons International.
On 10 November 2004, the Grand Chapter of the Holy Royal Arch in England declared the Royal Arch to be a separate degree in its own right, albeit the natural progression from the third degree, and the completion of "pure, antient Masonry", which consists of the three Craft degrees and the Royal Arch. Following this decision by the Grand Chapter in 2004, there are currently significant ritual differences between Royal Arch Masonry as worked in England and Royal Arch Masonry worked as part of the York Rite in the USA