Bringing the Royal Arch into the 21st century
There is to be a major shake-up in the Royal Arch, as outlined by the Pro First Grand Principal, the Marquess of Northampton, at the November meeting of Supreme Grand Chapter (see pages 26 and 27).
Any final decision on the suggested changes will not be debated until this coming November, and the necessary recommendations will be tabled as a Notice of Motion at the April meeting of Supreme Grand Chapter.
Grand Superintendents have already seen the report of Lord Northampton's Strategic Working Party (SNP), so plenty of time for consideration of the changes is being allowed.
The Royal Arch is at a crossroads as regards membership. As Lord Northampton pointed out, two out of three Masons are not in the Royal Arch, and while other Degrees (including those in which Royal Arch membership is essential) are flourishing, the Royal Arch is not.
This unacceptable situation has to be reversed, and this calls for action now rather than letting the problem drag on.
The importance of the Royal Arch is underlined by a Motion, passed last month by Grand Lodge, altering the Preliminary Declaration which stands at the head of the Book of Constitutions.
This underlines the separate and independent status of the Royal Arch. It is to be hoped that, in future, there will be no more misleading references to the Royal Arch being "the completion of the Third Degree."
The Third Degree, like the two that precede it, is complete in itself. As the Pro First Grand Principal told Supreme Grand Chapter: "What we need to concentrate on is the completion of our journey in pure Antient Masonry, and not weaken it with a misunderstanding."
Both the symbolical and the Mystical Lectures have been very substantially rewritten, and are considerably shorter and much clearer. But Lord Northampton made clear that such changes are discretionary, not compulsory Chapters that wish to retain those Lectures in their traditional form may do so. Chapters are being offered a choice.
Unfortunately the Lectures often go completely over the head of the candidate, who can be left in a completely bewildered state of mind after sitting through them - particularly if they are badly delivered.
Indeed, many Chapters are using the catechetical form for these Lectures, giving more Companions something to do at meetings, and lessening the burden of one Companion having to learn large chunks of ritual. It is also much more interesting for the candidate.
One excellent innovation from the SWP is the proposal that every candidate is to receive a new booklet following his Exaltation, prepared and funded centrally, to include the traditional Lectures in full, including a guide to their meaning and content.
The most controversial proposal is that someone who has not been through a Craft Chair can progress to the Third Principal's Chair. But if keen young Masons in particular are to be encouraged, then this arcane barrier to progression should be removed.
But nothing would be worse than to unduly push new Companions into the Joshua Chair before they are ready. While the suggestion is sensible, it must be exercised with caution.
However, nothing is yet written in tablets of stone. All Royal Arch Companions will have the opportunity to consider the changes and submit comments through their Metropolitan, Provincial and District Grand Scribes Ezra.
There is much food for thought in the SWP's proposals. This is a time for boldness and to grasp the nettle of change enthusiastically.
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