Harris tracing board
showing the layout of
a Royal Arch Chapter
In line with the fashion of the day, I should
perhaps begin with a declaration of interest.
At the age of 23, and only three months after
becoming a Master Mason, I was exalted
into the Royal Arch. That is something
I have never regretted.
On joining the Grand Lodge Library staff
in August 1971 like all keen young historians
I looked for a subject on which little work
had been done. Knowing the seniority of
the Royal Arch and its indissoluble link
with the Craft I was amazed to find that
little was available on its origins, history
and development and I spent a fair amount
of my 28 years in the Library and Museum
trying to repair that loss.
In the best sense of the word, I am an
enthusiast for the Royal Arch and find it
difficult to understand why more brethren
do not seek membership in it.
Why should anyone join the Royal Arch
rather than any of the other Masonic degrees
and Orders available to us? My first reason
would be that indissoluble link, which is
peculiar to English Freemasonry.
For historical reasons, when the two
Grand Lodges came together in 1813 to
form the United Grand Lodge of England
they adopted a definition of “pure ancient
Masonry” which stated that it consisted
“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.”
As a result the two became indissolubly
linked administratively and thematically.
Unfortunately that definition was open
to misinterpretation and until relatively
recently the general view was that the
Royal Arch was the completion of the
Master Mason degree. Indeed, so widely
held was that view, that in the ritual the
candidate was informed that he must not
think that he had taken a fourth degree
but that he had completed his third.
I always had a problem with that
statement. It was both illogical and rather
insulting to those who remained solely
in the Craft. Illogical, because the Third
Degree is complete in itself, and insulting
in that it implied that those who did not
go into the Royal Arch were somehow
incomplete or second class Master Masons.
Completion in a different form would be
my second reason for joining. Our progress
through Freemasonry is a journey of selfdiscovery
and self-knowledge. In the Craft
we are presented with eminently practical
principles and rules which, if we follow
them in our lives, we would hope to live a
life of service to our fellow man and pleasing
to God, however we worship Him.
But we are not simply practical beings.
We have a vital spiritual aspect to our
natures which is addressed in the Royal
Arch. In essence the Royal Arch, without
transgressing the bounds of religion, invites
the candidate to consider the nature of
God and his relationship with Him.
In that way the Royal Arch completes
the man by leading him from the practical
to the spiritual, and the Craft and Royal
Arch form “pure ancient masonry”.
My third reason would be the ceremony
and the ritual itself. Done well, the exaltation
ceremony is one of the most beautiful and
thought-provoking in Freemasonry.
More dramatic than the Craft, the climax
of the ceremony forms a vivid memory for
all who go through it. Done “by the book”
the ritual lays a heavy burden on the
principal officers. Sadly, that has been
used in the past to deter candidates from
coming forward, suggesting that they should
concentrate on getting through office in
the Craft before joining the Royal Arch.
That should no longer be the case, as for
more than 20 years Supreme Grand Chapter
has been encouraging Chapters to share the
work. This has three advantages: it lessens
the burden on the principal officers, it
enables more Companions to take part
in the ceremony rather than sitting as
spectators, and it allows newer members
to learn the ritual at their own pace and to
fit in with what they are doing in the Craft.
My fourth reason would be
companionship and enjoyment. It is rare
for a Chapter to draw its membership from
only one Lodge. By joining a Chapter you
will increase your Masonic acquaintance
beyond the membership of your own
Lodge, which, in turn, can lead to an
increase in your Masonic experience
But, above all, joining the Royal
Arch should increase your enjoyment
of Freemasonry. It brings with it new
experiences, new insights and new
Companions, all of which add to
our pleasure and our enjoyment of