Notes on Royal Arch Masonry in Virginia


 
       NOTES ON ROYAL ARCH MASONRY IN VIRGINIA 
 
                 -by- E. Robinson Lee 
 
   Throughout  the  vast and complex  system  we  call  
Masonry  are  found  many  beautiful  and  educational  
degrees, and although many similarities exist  between  
some  of  them,  on the whole  innumerable  moral  and  
religious lessons are taught. The following  comments,  
remarks and opinions should in no way be construed  to  
reflect a preference of any Masonic Body over another,  
but rather to examine some of the fascinating  aspects  
of  that part of Freemasonry known to us as  the  Holy  
Royal Arch. 

   The present day Royal Arch Chapter is to me one  of  
the   most  enjoyable  of  all  the   Masonic   Degree  
Conferring  Bodies.  The  companionship  between   the  
members seems to be more intense and sincere  than  in  
most  organizations, and the friendships that  develop  
to be more enduring. The business meetings, or  stated  
convocations,  are  much less formal and  stodgy  than  
those  of  many bodies, and humor  and  levity  within  
bounds of decorum and good taste is commonplace.  When  
an  officer  in a Craft lodge makes a mistake  in  his  
ritual he is frequently mortified, whereas in a  Royal  
Arch  Chapter he will laugh it off and plow on.  Humor  
has  a recognized and deserved place in  nearly  every  
situation,  Masonry being not the least of  them,  and  
our Chapters seem to have accepted and encouraged this  
human need albeit perhaps unwittingly. Degree work  is  
by  necessity more formal, but certainly never  stuffy  
of  pompous.  Rather than frightening  our  candidates  
with  mysterious dark secrets of their fate, they  are  
made  to  feel a part of the  proceedings,  especially  
when  the degrees are explained to them that they  can  
better  absorb  the  beauties  and  meanings  of   the  
workings. 

   How  many times have we all heard it said,  in  one  
way  or  another, "All The Masonry that there  is,  is  
contained in the Symbolic, Craft of 'Blue' Lodge?" How  
sad  to  be  so  short-sighted!  Royal  Arch   Masonry  
actually is part of Ancient Craft Masonry, and without  
the  degrees of the Chapter and including the  Council  
 
                         -3- 
 
Degrees, the Master Mason is incomplete indeed. All of  
my references to the Royal ARch Chapter are made  with  
the  understanding that it be Virginia  style  whereby  
the  Council  degrees  are an  integral  part  of  the  
Chapter. 

   Symbolic  Masonry treats of the loss of  the  Word,  
leaving  the Master Mason dangling with an  incomplete  
story.  Royal Arch Masonry teaches the  discovery  and  
preservation  of  that Word,  thereby  completing  the  
story and truly fulfilling the Master Mason degree. 

   The  Royal Arch was at one time part of the  Master  
Masons   Lodge,  but  was  considered  of   too   much  
importance  to  be conferred on any  but  actual  Past  
Masters.  The English Grand Lodge of 1751, best  known  
to us as the "Antients" Grand Lodge, claimed to adhere  
to  the  "Old Constitutions" of Masonry.  A  quotation  
from  the Ahiman Rezon, or Book of the  Constitutions,  
best  explains  their views of the importance  of  the  
Royal Arch: 

      Ancient  Masonry consists of  four  degrees,  
      the first three of which are that of the Ap- 
      prentice,  the Fellowcraft, and the  Sublime  
      Degree  of Master, and a brother being  well  
      versed  in  these degrees, and  having  dis- 
      charged  the offices of the Lodge,  particu- 
      larly that of the Master, and fulfilled  the  
      duties  thereof with the approbation of  the  
      brethren of his Lodge, is eligible, if found  
      worthy, to be admitted to the fourth degree,  
      the Holy Royal Arch. 

   When  the  two Grand Lodges, the Antients  and  the  
Moderns, merged in 1813 to form the United Grand Lodge  
of England, the following proclamation was issued: 

      That pure Ancient Masonry consists of  three  
      degrees,  and  no more: viz.  those  of  the  
      Entered Apprentice, the Fellowcraft, and the  
      Master Mason, including the Supreme Order of  
      the Royal Arch. 

   The  point here being that the Royal Arch  is  part  
and  parcel of the Master Mason Degree, and cannot  be  
separated therefrom. It is not clear just how or  when  
seaport Chapters were formed, but is believed  that  
the  formation of seaport bodies for the conferral  of  
 
                         -4- 
 
the  Capitular  and cryptic degrees was of  no  recent  
date, and done for convenience.  

   It  is  interesting  that the  Royal  Arch  Degree,  
which as we learned earlier was conferred only on Past  
Masters,  was considered of such importance  that  the  
concession  was  made that it could  be  conferred  on  
those  brethren  who first received the  Past  Masters  
Degree, thereby making them "Virtual" Past Masters, as  
opposed to actual Past Masters. 

   The  present Virginia system of Royal Arch  Degrees  
includes the Mark Master, Past Master, Select  Master,  
Royal  Master,  Most Excellent Master and  Royal  Arch  
Mason.  The  Select  and  Royal  Master  degrees   are  
conferred in a separate body called "the Council,"  as  
is  a more recent but very beautiful and well  written  
degree  called  "The Super  Excellent  Master,"  which  
sorrowfully in not a part of Virginia ritual. 

   The  Mark Master degree extends the lessons of  the  
Fellowcraft,    teaching   order,    regularity    and  
discipline. Our thoughts and work should be  honorable  
and good, so that the Great Overseer will approve  our  
labors. 

   The  degree  of  Past Master is  honorary,  but  is  
required of a brother before he can serve his lodge as  
a   Warden.  This  degree  deals  with  the   peculiar  
circumstances in presiding over a Symbolic Lodge,  and  
teaches humility and service. This is the only  degree  
in  the  possession of both the Grand  Lodge  and  the  
Grand  Chapter, and can be conferred by a  Provisional  
Lodge  of Past Masters, which is a specially  convened  
lodge  of Actual and Virtual Past Masters,  under  the  
authority of the Grand Lodge of Virginia. 

   The Select Master Degree deals with a secret  vault  
beneath  the  Temple,  and  the  deposit  of  treasure  
therein  by Hiram Abif. The companion degree of  Royal  
Master  is  based on that period of the  Temple  after  
Hiram Abif's [mythical] death. 

   The  Most Excellent Master is a more recent  degree  
dealing  with  the dedication of the  Temple  by  King  
Solomon, and the formation of a select group of masons  
to maintain the magnificent structure. This degree  is  
purely  American and is found nowhere outside of  this  
country. 
 
                         -5- 
 
   The  Sublime Degree of Royal Arch Mason  imparts  a  
number  of  lessons, but most  important  teaches  the  
rediscovery   of  the  lost  word,   symbolizing   the  
discovery  and meaning of life, obtained through  much  
effort and trials. 

   From the Freemason's Monitor of 1864 we read: 

      This  degree is indescribably  more  august,  
      sublime and important than all which precede  
      it,  and  is the summit  and  perfection  of  
      ancient Masonry. It impresses on our minds a  
      belief  of the being and existence of a  Su- 
      preme  Deity, without beginning of  days  or  
      end  of years, and reminds us of the  rever- 
      ence due to His Holy Name. It also brings to  
      light  many essentials of the  Craft,  which  
      were,  for  the space of  four  hundred  and  
      seventy years, buried in darkness, and with- 
      out a knowledge of which the Masonic charac- 
      ter cannot be complete. 

   The degree of Super Excellent Master, I repeat,  is  
honorary  and  is  not part  of  Virginia  Royal  Arch  
Masonry.  It is, where conferred, an  optional  degree  
under the jurisdiction of Cryptic Councils. It  treats  
and  expounds  on  the capture of  Jerusalem  by  King  
Nebuchadnezzar,  and  the Babylonian  imprisonment  of  
Sedekiah,   the   last  King  of   Judah,   and   most  
impressively  teaches fidelity. I  strongly  recommend  
that  all  Royal Arch Masons  receive  this  unusually  
beautiful degree by taking advantage of the few  times  
it  is conferred in Virginia by another  jurisdiction,  
or by going to a near-by state such as North  Carolina  
when it is worked. 
    
   After being elected and installed High Priest of  a  
Royal  Arch Chapter, the Excellent Companion  is  then  
eligible  to  receive  the  Degree  of  Anointed  High  
Priest, and indeed isn't officially considered a  Past  
High  Priest  until  he has  received  this  important  
degree  which  deals with the duties of  that  office.  
This degree is conferred only once a year, during  the  
Annual Convocation of the Grand Royal Arch Chapter  of  
Virginia,  by  the  Grand  Council  of  Anointed  High  
Priests of the Commonwealth of Virginia. 
    
                         -6- 
 
   After  a  High  Priest has  faithfully  served  his  
Chapter for a year, and has been Anointed, Consecrated  
and Set Apart to the Holy Order of High Priesthood, he  
is  then  eligible to receive the  Thrice  Illustrious  
Masters  Degree, conferred immediately  following  the  
Anointed High Priests Degree each year. Eligibility is  
based on his having presided over the Cryptic  Council  
simultaneously  with the Royal Arch Chapter,  and  the  
degree  is under the authority of the Grand Council of  
Thrice Illustrious Masters of Virginia. This degree is  
unusually beautiful and moving, especially due to  the  
performance of Most Excellent C. Frank Goodrich,  Jr.,  
who portrays the chief character. 
 
   The  exact history of the Royal Arch is, like  most  
of Masonry, uncertain, but it is felt that it  existed  
as  an elevated degree at the time the  Masters  grade  
appeared  during  the early Sixteenth  [sic]  Century.  
During   this  period  Special  Masters  Lodges   were  
developed  for Masters and Past Masters only, and  the  
Hiramic  legend was introduced into the  Master  Mason  
Degree  ritual. Since there is no  connection  between  
the Royal Arch and the Hiramic legend, the Royal  Arch  
must  have assumed that which was displaced  from  the  
old  rituals  of  the  Master  Masons  Lodge  by   the  
introduction of the Hiramic legend. Just what was  
replaced by the Royal Arch is lost to us, but we  know  
that symbols shown on ancient floor cloths and tracing  
boards disappeared from the regalia and  paraphernalia  
of  the Craft Lodge, only to reappear  in  conjunction  
with the Royal Arch degree. It would appear then  that  
the  Royal Arch received the lost word from the  Craft  
lodge  which was displaced by the Hiramic legend.  The  
Royal  Arch  ritual  was probably never  part  of  the  
Master  Masons  degree, but was most likely  a  higher  
degree  reserved  for  Masters  and  deserving  Master  
Masons. 

   The  importance  of the Royal Arch  was  made  very  
clear  by  the  Articles  of  Union  produced  by  the  
formation of the Mother Grand Lodge of England from the  
"Moderns" and "Antients" from which I have  previously  
quoted. From this definition of Masonry every lodge in  
the  world  holden  under the Mother  Grand  Lodge  of  
 
                         -7- 
 
England  promptly  claimed  the  Royal  Arch.  English  
Masons,  and  to a slightly  lesser  extent,  American  
Masons,  are  even  today required to  be  Royal  Arch  
Masons  as  a  prerequisite  to  many  other  degrees,  
orders,  and  bodies.  Even  the  Scottish  Rite   has  
required the completion of the Royal Arch prior to its  
degrees in England.  

   The first recorded mention of the Royal Arch  dates  
from 1743 in Ireland, telling of a Masonic  procession  
where  the  Master  was preceded  by  the  Royal  Arch  
carried by two Excellent Masters.  

   The  earliest record of the Royal Arch  in  America  
thus  far  known  is  in  the  minutes  of  the   Time  
Immemorial  Lodge at Fredericksburg,  Virginia,  dated  
December 22, 1753.  

   Many   Royal  Arch  Chapters  were  formed   either  
independently  or  under  the authority  of  the  many  
provincial Grand Lodges operating at that time.  Three  
Virginia Chapters formed the Grand Royal Arch  Chapter  
of Virginia in 1808, but as might be expected, it  was  
some years before all Chapters in Virginia joined  the  
Grand Chapter. 

   Of passing interest but not a point of  elaboration  
at this time is the interesting fact that Virginia has  
never  belonged to the General Grand Chapter, and  was  
until  recently  one of only two Grand  Chapters  that  
were sovereign. 

   Symbolism  of  the Royal Arch is  so  complex  that  
entire  research papers have been devoted to only  one  
item.  An outstanding one comes to mind on the  emblem  
of  the  Royal  Arch Degree, The  Triple  Tau,  by  J.  
Linwood  Holloway, Sr., a Past Master of  this  Lodge.  
Another  was by another member of this  Lodge,  Birley  
Schoen,  on the Shekinah, or divine luminous cloud  as  
explained in the Royal Masters Degree. 

   The Keystone is the emblem of the Mark Master,  one  
of  the  oldest degree conferred and one of  the  most  
interpreted  emblems. The Keystone and the Triple  Tau  
especially  have caused much speculation on the  Royal  
Arch  connection  to astrology, occult  symbology  and  
cryptography. 

   There  are  so  many varied facets  of  Royal  Arch  
Masonry to be studied that a life-time could be  spent  
 
                         -8- 
 
without exhausting its potential, but for my money the  
Chapter  is  just about the most fascinating  part  of  
Masonry in which to be involved - never boring, always  
stimulating. Far from being repetitious there seems to  
be  a  new  lesson  to be  learned,  a  new  angle,  a  
different  perception, a fresh conception each time  a  
degree is conferred. 

   The  Chapter  proclaims a search and study  of  the  
lost word, which represents truth. Truth is the purest  
form  of religion, and represents the meaning of  life  
which we all strive to understand. Masonry teaches  us  
to prepare for our other life, and Royal Arch  Masonry  
comes  closer to logically demonstrating the truth  of  
life. 

   According  to  our beloved  friend  Most  Excellent  
Joseph  B.  Barnes,  when a director  of  one  of  the  
largest observatories passed away some years ago,  his  
wife wrote a short poem to his memory. This man's many  
years  of  astrological  studies  had  developed   his  
profound belief in a life hereafter. This is what  she  
wrote: 
 
      Don't call me back when I have gone, 
           to cross that unknown sea. 
      My work on earth at last is done, 
           and I am now set free. 
 
      Don't call me back, and do not cry, 
           I am so glad to go. 
      I oft have longed to soar the sky, 
           and other worlds to know. 
 
      Don't call me back, a little while, 
          and I am far from earth. 
      And I am leaving with a smile, 
          to face another birth. 
 
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