The Capitular Degrees
The Degree of Royal Arch Mason is founded upon the destruction of the first and the building of the second Temple. The ceremonies of this Degree have an interesting and graphic historical setting and a profound reverential moral significance. The Royal Arch Degree is the complement of the Master Mason Degree, the unfolding into a second volume of the history of that which was lost to its final recovery. Without the Royal Arch, the Master’s Degree is like a song half sung, a tale partly told, or a promise unfulfilled.
The preparatory Degrees conferred in the Chapter are those of Mark Master Mason, Past Master and Most Excellent Master. All are beautiful, all are interesting, all teach valuable lessons, but the Most Sublime Degree of Royal Arch Mason is more august, sublime and important than all that precedes it. It brings to light many essentials of the Craft contained ONLY in this Most Sublime Degree and explains many cryptic passages of the first three Degrees incomprehensible to the Master Mason. Without a knowledge of these the Masonic character cannot be complete.
The Capitular Degrees are a set of four degrees controlled by the Royal Arch Chapter. They center on the construction phases of Solomon’s Temple, with the exception of the degree of Past Master, hence the title of Capitular. The degree of Past Master is the vestigial remnant of the former custom that the degree of the Royal Arch could only be conferred on a Past Master of a Symbolic Blue Lodge. In the United States, these degrees are considered as proprietary to the Royal Arch, while in England there is no Past Master degree as found here, and the Mark Master degree is controlled by its own Grand Lodge. The Most Excellent Master degree is also part of the Cryptic Degree in England. As stated in the forward, the Royal Arch overseas is controlled by Chapters attached to English Blue Lodges. The Royal Arch Chapters have occasionally been referred to as the “Red lodge” in older Masonic publications, though they should more accurately be described as the “Red degrees.” In the United States, all Chapter business is conducted in a Royal Arch Chapter, the other bodies being only opened for the conferral of degrees. Some jurisdictions open Mark Master Lodges as “table lodges,” which act as a social focus for the local York Rite bodies.
A Degree that emphasizes the lessons of regularity, discipline, and integrity. It is a most impressive Degree centered on the story of the Fellowcraft of the quarry and their role in the building of the Temple. Its importance in English Craft Masonry can be judged by the fact that it operates as a separate Grand Lodge, and is highly sought by members of the Craft in that jurisdiction.
A Degree that emphasizes the lesson of harmony. This Degree is conferred because ancient custom required that a Mason must be a Past Master in order to be exalted to the Royal Arch. In some Grand Jurisdictions this Degree is conferred upon all sitting Masters of the Blue Lodge. The Degree confers no actual rank upon the recipient, but is exemplified to maintain the ancient custom.
A Degree that emphasizes the lesson of reverence. This Degree is centered on the dedication of the Temple after its completion, particularly the consecration of the Sanctum Sanctorum and the descent of the Host into the Temple. It is complimentary to the Mark Master Degree and completes the symbolic lessons.
The completion of the Master Mason Degree and the summit of the original Degrees of the Blue Lodge as practiced in the Ancients Lodges of England before 1820. The Degree explains the origins of the Substitute Word found in the Master Mason Degree, the recovery of the Ineffable Word, and its concealment within the Royal Arch Word. This Degree, together with the Master Mason Degree, may have once been exemplified as one large or “super” Degree, with the Master Mason Degree explaining the loss of the Master’s Word and the Royal Arch explaining the recovery of the Master’s Word. The presiding body is a Chapter, and the presiding officer is a High Priest (titled Excellent).