Suffolk Provincial Grand Chapter (19)
It is a fact of Masonic life that shortly after the Third Degree, and possibly when you have received your Grand Lodge Certificate, someone will sidle up to you and start talking about The Royal Arch (or Chapter, the terms are used interchangeably). 'It's a good thing to join' they say. If you are very fortunate, they will recommend a Chapter to join and possibly even give you a date. Forms are regularly pressed into hands. This article is to show you why you should join from a number of different standpoints, all slightly irreverent.
The Historical View. Since 1813, and as a result of the creation of the United Grand Lodge of England, the Holy Royal Arch is considered to be part of Free and Antient Masonry along with the Craft.
The Official View. HRH The Duke of Kent, The Grand Master, is the First Grand Principal, the equivalent in the Royal Arch; the Secretary, Director of Ceremonies and many others hold equivalent ranks in both Craft and Royal Arch.
The Visible Reason. Frankly, if you are wearing your Royal Arch Jewel, you can not receive any pressure to join.
Companionship. Individual Chapters tend to be smaller than most Craft Lodges and thus the relationship within a Chapter is much closer. It was once explained to me that whereas a Lodge would look after the construction of a building, each Chapter was rather like an individual mess with a smaller team of more tight knit and interdependent Masons. Certainly the word used for a member of Royal Arch, a Companion, has its roots and meaning as a 'sharer of bread'.
New Friendships. It is always possible to join a Chapter where you already know all the members. Some may prefer to join a Chapter, perhaps not even in the same town, where they know fewer people in order to gain new friends.
Completion of the Third Degree. This is a highly debatable point. There is a view that whereas in the Third Degree, things are lost and in Chapter they are found, the Ceremony of Exaltation completes the Third Degree. Glancing at the Book of Constitutions reinforces this view. Historically it is probably not entirely accurate as the dates for the starting of the Third Degree and Exaltation don't add up. There is also an implication that Freemasons who do not join the Royal Arch are somehow less than those who do. My belief is that Freemasonry is an entirely personal journey and that if you wish to see it as such, the Royal Arch can complete the Third Degree.
Ceremonies. When I was exalted, the main thing that caught my attention was the colour. Compared to the comparative austerity of Craft Freemasonry, Chapter is a kaleidoscope of colour and symbolism. The Ceremonies themselves are thought provoking, full of depths of meaning and worth seeing time and again. They are not easy - I found them tougher than Craft - but the sense of achievement in having successfully worked exaltation is something that I shall long remember.
Fun. The Royal Arch is less formal than Craft and in Suffolk the relationship between the Provincial Rulers and the individual Companions much closer. With a smaller group at meetings, the companionship is much greater and the sense of shared experience stronger.
As Chapters tend to meet less frequently, it is also slightly cheaper. It is also the gateway to other degrees - KT and Red Cross of Constantine for example.
I have heard it asked whether it will affect promotions. The explicit answer is No It Will Not. However, part of the promotion equation is consideration of how committed someone is to Freemasonry and a very visible indicator of that is the joining of the side degrees. As the Royal Arch is the most visible of these, it could be the differentiator if there are two candidates for one job.
In conclusion, I thoroughly enjoy my Chapter. A few people don't enjoy it but they are in the minority. If you are considering it, why not give it a go.
A final caveat. As in all things, the more you put in, the more you get out. Try it; you'd be very pleasantly surprised.
As all Masons know, visiting is a very important part of Lodge life. It is always a pleasure to welcome guests to our own lodges, to share with them our ceremonies, perhaps to show off a little at a particular unusual facet of our Lodge Ritual. There is also a strong idea, not often expressed and difficult to describe, of shared witnessing of a Brother's progress through the Degrees and this adds to the desire to visit.
This thread of visiting also runs through the Royal Arch and is arguably more important. Chapters are fewer - 29 in the Province rather than 66 Lodges, smaller in numbers, meet less often and, particularly in Suffolk, the ceremonies can be very different to that in your own Chapter. Visitors tend to be fewer in number but very much appreciated.
In short, visiting is as desirable in the Royal Arch. If you do visit another Chapter, you will probably be amongst a smaller number of closer knit Masons and the opportunity to make new contacts is probably greater. You will certainly have a greater opportunity of discharging your duty 'to make a daily advancement in Masonic knowledge.'
It is common in Craft Lodges for the new Master Mason to be presented with the small Blue Book of Ritual that the Lodge uses. It might be an Emulation Ritual but there are others such as West End.
Chapter has a similar book that is usually Red.
There are two Ceremonies in the Royal Arch that are practiced regularly: Exhaltation and Installation.
Exaltation is the Ceremony of Joining a Chapter - roughly equivalent to Initiation in the Craft - and is a powerful, colourful and thoughtful ceremony. Done well, it is an absolute delight to both be a part of and to see.
Installation is the Ceremony of replacing the Principals or Rulers of the Chapter. It is a little more complex as there are Three Principals, each with their own section of Installation. Again, it is enjoyable and thought provoking.
As in the Craft, there are a number of different versions of the Ritual, for example Chapter has Aldersgate (probably the most common) and Domatic Rituals. There are others. Each Chapter works its own version of a ritual they are broadly similar but subtly different. Suffolk First Grand Principals Chapter, to be different, deliberately chose an obscure Ritual to keep its members on their toes. It is very much worth visiting different Chapters to see and appreciate these differences.
Today’s Royal Arch Masonry effectively began with the formation of The United Grand Lodge in 1813 and the Supreme Grand Chapter in 1821.
Prior to this, there were two Grand Lodges with rather differing views of the Royal Arch and its place within Freemasonry and the negotiations to come to an agreement on this were some of the more difficult of the whole process of the Union of the two Grand Lodges.
The first of the Grand Lodges was formed in 1717 and eventually became known as the Premier Grand Lodge while the rival, formed in 1751, adopted the name of the Antient Grand Lodge. The Premier Grand Lodge, the older Grand Lodge became, pejoratively by the Antients, known as the Moderns as they appeared to be a Grand Lodge that was moving away from its history.
The Premier Grand Lodge never actively acknowledged the Royal Arch and did not consider it to be part of Craft Masonry and thus was not to be worked as a degree in Craft Lodges affiliated to the Premier Grand Lodge. However, the Moderns did set up a separate organisation in 1766, the ‘Excellent Grand and Royal Arch Chapter of Jerusalem’, with, as now, the Grand Master being the head of the Order.
The Antients took a completely contrary view – that the Holy Royal Arch was the ‘root, heart and marrow’ of Freemasonry – and permitted and even encouraged their Craft Lodges to work the Royal Arch Degree as an additional ceremony, declaring themselves a Royal Arch Chapter for the purpose.
The Union Compromise of 1813 between the two Grand Lodges remains in force today. The United Grand Lodge states (in the Articles of Union) that Pure and Antient Freemasonry consists of the Three Degrees of Craft Masonry including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch, and requires that Royal Arch Members wear their Chapter jewel in a Craft Lodge (thus keeping the Antients happy).
The Royal Arch was from that time considered an entirely separate Order, different to the Craft and not worked in Craft Lodges (keeping the Moderns happy).
Since that time, the two orders have been thoroughly linked: for example the Article of Union statement appears in the Book of Constitution that all Entered Apprentices receive (a volume that also contains the Royal Arch Regulations); the head of the Craft is also the head of Supreme Chapter as is the Secretariat.
The immediate practical difference of the 1813 Union was that all Antient Lodges were no longer permitted to work the Exaltation Degree under their Craft Warrant and Chapters were now required to combine with a Craft Lodge, from which they took their number. Those Chapters failing to do so simply ceased to exist. This is why, to this day, a Chapter is linked to a Craft Lodge by number, although the name and governance may be very different.
It is also worth noting that the age of a Chapter cannot be easily defined by looking at its number but must be done by a more lengthy look at its Date of Warrant.
If you wish to have more information, there are many research volumes, lectures and texts available on the Internet or elsewhere.