Royal Arch


Introduction

The Royal Arch ritual tries to convey to us a picture of the importance of our life today as preparation for the life hereafter. Beyond today’s physical life, the certitude of life hereafter’s existence is ingrained in us from tradition, from education and upbringing, as well as from an inner sense supplementing the common sense reasoning that life on earth, with all its tribulations, would be pointless if there were no form of life or existence hereafter.

However, to picture the life beyond is very difficult indeed. No one has been beyond death, or been able to tell us what it is like: who could convey an accurate impression of the scent of a rose to anyone who had never smelt one or even seen a flower? So we have to rely on the utterances of visionary mystics; and the proof that these utterances have some foundation of reality, even if incomprehensible to us. This foundation lies in the striking similarity of many statements: that life beyond is a very close‑knit integration­ or communion ‑ with the Supreme Being, whatever he may be called: יהוה, Brahmah, Allah, Іησοΰ, Christ. Every single mystic has borne witness to this re­integration with the Source of all creation, the מלכות, of the Kabbalah, and some of them have even been fortunate enough to see this in a vision.

Without   disclosing any secrets of the Royal Arch, this is what this degree illustrates by its symbolism. Its ritual attempts to re­integrate us with the True and Living God Most High, in the same way as the Craft rituals try to create for each of us the spiritual Birth, Life and Death respectively. This re‑integration with the Supreme Source and Essence can only be achieved by a mystical union.

 Today a Chapter of Royal Arch Masons confers four degrees

Ritual

For those readers who are but Master Masons, a brief explanation of the Royal Arch ritual, without improper disclosure, is called for. However, it must be pointed out straightaway that a full understanding will not be attained until the reader has not only been exalted in the Royal Arch, but also passed through the three Principals’ Chairs: even the candidate is ritualistically informed that the full secrets of the Royal Arch are not communicated and a full understanding of the degree is not attained until he has passed those Chairs.

As in the Craft degrees, there is a preparation before the ceremony, although it is more verbal than vestmentary. The Craft degrees’ pattern is closely followed with the entrusting and calling for a password leading to the degree, after which the ceremony proper culminates in the exaltation of the candidate, in which the actual degree is conferred with the communication of the Ineffable Word which was lost at the traditional time in which the Third degree was originally enacted, and subsequently rediscovered, again according to Masonic tradition, at the time when the Royal Arch ceremony first took place.

Then follow three lectures given to the candidate, one by each of the three Principals, and corresponding roughly to the Charge after Initiation, the Second Tracing Board and the Traditional History, which are given respectively in the First, Second and Third degree of the Craft.

The first lecture is the Historical Lecture, which retraces the history of early masonry and of the first masons, some of whom are mentioned in Craft masonry, e.g. King Solomon.

The second lecture is the Symbolical Lecture and, in a way, can be compared to the giving of the working tools in the three Craft degrees, all rolled into one ‑ except that the tools and ornaments described are different. The Symbolical Lecture is in fact a transposition in the life hereafter of the lectures on the working tools of this life as given in the Craft degrees. It therefore has a symbolism all of its own and aims, to raise the candidate’s feelings to his Higher Feeling, his emotions to his Higher Emotion.

The third lecture is actually called the Mystical Lecture and it is the apotheosis of the degree. It was the point at which the First Principal hoped to raise the whole of the assembly of companions, the Sanhedrim, into a mystical vision and union with the True and Living God Most High. Thereby lies the supreme impor­tance of the Mystical Lecture; and it is very unfortunate that, nowadays, too many First Principals give this lecture merely as a perfunctory recitation and only worry about getting it word perfect, even though they might render the sense of those words meaningless by wrong punctuation and lack of emphasis at the crucial lines.

The same applies, even if to a lesser extent, to the other two lectures which are virtually the sole performance of the other two Principals during the ceremony proper.

Notwithstanding the small verbal part given to the Second and Third Principals, the Royal Arch chapter is a true triumvirate; in the same way as the Craft lodges are autocracies: the Worshipful Master rules alone in a lodge, in the sense that he has full say and is not required to consult his wardens; the three Principals rule together in consultation, three in one, as a trinity. This is again symbolical of the triune essence of the Deity, as expounded in the mystical writings of all religions, including the very strictly monotheistic Hebrew and Muslim faiths (vide the Zohar, a Kabbalistic work, and various Sufi writings). In fact, it was not so long ago that the whole ritual of the Royal Arch was entirely done in “threes”: at the beginning of the 20th century, only the three Principals and as many past First Principals as could form whole groups of three could attend the opening of the chapter; no exaltation could take place unless there were three candidates. Nowadays, the “guide” of the candidate and his assistant (equivalent to the deacons in Craft Masonry) act as the other two candidates, the former having the second most important role in the performance of the ritual. If there are two candidates at the same time, the “assistant guide” stands down, thereby preserving the threesome. The importance attached to the symbolism of the triune essence shows that the Royal Arch deals with our relation to God, in the same way as Craft Masonry deals with our relation to Man – ­this is actually stated in the ritual ‑ and we hope that the symbolism of the Word, which is at last found in this degree, will succeed in bringing us as close to the Ultimate TRUTH ‑ God is Truth ‑ as we can hope to achieve while yet in this earthly life.

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