Royal Arch Degree Information
By completing the Degrees of Mark Master Mason and the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch, you will be assisted in your journey towards heightened understanding and consciousness.
At USGC, we work eleven Degrees and seven Installed Degrees, some of which are amalgamated into one evening of work, depending on the length of each Degree. Royal Arch Freemasonry’s background begins with the story of the Ark, in 2500 BCE and concludes with the triumphant return of Zerubbabel to Jerusalem in 518 BCE, a historical span of some 1982 years.
Mark Master Mason Degree
The Mark Master Mason Degree follows on and expands upon the Fellow Craft Degree.
During the building of King Solomon’s Temple, a workforce of some 113,500 is employed, and a system of promotion based on industry and skill is established. A qualifed Fellow Craft is permitted to select a personal mark by which his work is recognised. Such marks have since been found in the ruins of ancient buildings and they can be found on many Churches, the Tower of London, Heidelberg Castle and many others too numerous to name.
The Mark Master Degree is believed to have originated as a ceremony of registering a Craftsman’s Mark in those years in Freemasonry distinguished by operative Craft Masons. It was later developed into a Degree by the Masonic fraternity as we know it today.
As mentioned, during the building of King Solomon’s Temple, a system of promotion based on industry and skill was established.
The Mark Degree chronologically follows the Fellow Craft Degree and is one of the oldest degrees of Freemasonry. The Degree has grown out of an ancient ceremony in which each Craftsman selected a private Mark which would designate his work. In the era of operative stonemasons, each “Fellow of the Craft” would place his unique mark on the stones he cut, in order to identify his work and receive the wages due him for his labours. These Marks would be used also as the Mason’s signature on documents. Following the ceremony for this Degree, each new Mark Master Mason is obliged to choose a distinctive mark and to draw it in his Chapter’s Register of Marks. It is also recorded by United Supreme Grand Chapter against his name and included on his Certifcate.
The story of the Degree is based on the preparations for the building of King Solomon’s Temple and follows the fate of an ambitious Craftsman (the Candidate) seeking promotion in his trade by demonstrating his skill and ability by fashioning a particular stone. In the early part of the ceremony, his talents go unrecognised and his hopes are dashed but eventually he triumphs over adversity and is justly rewarded for his work and made a Mark Master.
The symbolism of the Mark Master Mason Degree is that it teaches us that we should work with perseverance and commitment with a purpose to procure the inculcation of order, regularity, and discipline in life. It teaches us that we should be always good and true workmen in our life – not unfnished and imperfect.
A Brief History of the Origins of the Mark Degree
By RtEx Comp William (Bill) RICHARDS OAM PDGZ
Within this jurisdiction, it would appear that most Freemasons are aware of the Royal Arch Degree but many do not know the signifcance or even in many cases that the Mark Degree existed at the formation of the Grand Lodge of England in 1813. In recent times this situation has been addressed.
As a consequence of an education program initiated by United Supreme Grand Chapter and supported strongly by the current Grand Master, Most Worshipful Brother Derek Robson AM, more and more Freemasonsareaskingquestionsabout“Pure Ancient Freemasonry” and the Degrees that comprise it. A frequently asked question is why does The United Grand Lodge of NSW & ACT only recognise the three Craft Degrees administered by Grand Lodge and the Mark Degree and the Holy Royal Arch under the jurisdiction of the United Supreme Grand Chapter of Mark and Royal Arch Masons of NSW & ACT in its Constitution and not the any of the other Associated Orders of Freemasonry?
The “special place” within Freemasonry occupied by the Royal Arch came about at the time of the formation of the Grand Lodge of England in 1813 when with the Union of the two opposing Grand Lodges, the Antients and the Moderns was achieved with the signing of the Articles of Union on 27th December, 1813. On that occasion and after much debate and argument, 21 Articles were drawn up and agreed upon by the Duke of Sussex and the Duke of Kent. Article No 2 provided:-
“Pure Ancient Masonry consists of 3 degrees and no more; viz:- Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, Master Mason, including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch. But this article is not intended to prevent any lodge or chapter from holding a meeting in any of the degrees of the Orders of Chivalry according to the Constitutions of the said Orders.”
It was the wording “3 degrees and no more” which proved disastrous for the Mark Degree in England as many Lodges at the time were happily working the Mark Degree on a regular basis under their existing warrants. The end result was those Freemasons who wanted to retain the Mark Degree were subjected to a sequestration which ultimately led to the formation of a Grand Mark Lodge of England of which Lord Leigh, who was a Grand Lodge Offcer at the time of Union, became the first Grand Master of Mark Master Masons.
By the time The Grand Lodge of NSW was formed the Mark Degree had regained its prominence and was accordingly given an equal status with the Holy Royal Arch Degree within our jurisdiction which it has retained until this day.
Excellent Master Degree
This Degree is unique in the astonishingly wide feld it covers. In it we have many characters and events of signifcance.
Namely King Solomon and the Temple; Nebuchadnezzar who destroyed it; Cyrus the King of Persia; Moses and the Burning Bush at Mt. Horeb, together with the miraculous signs given to him there; the Tabernacle in the wilderness; Bezaleel and Aholiab who constructed the Tabernacle and its Veils; Zerubbabel, the Prince of the Royal Line of Judah; Haggai the Prophet; Jeshua the High Priest; and the return of the Jews to their homeland from captivity in Babylon with Zerubbabel, Haggai and Jeshua.
This Degree relates to around 534 when upon hearing of a Decree of Cyrus allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem to re-build the Temple, three men present themselves before the Jewish authorities remaining in Babylon requesting permission to return and sojourn in Jerusalem to assist in the project. They were instructed how to apply to the august Sanhedrin, then governing in Jerusalem.
The Degree is remarkable and unique as the Degree of Excellent Master is the only one in which the scene is an actual Grand Lodge set in of all places, Babylon in approximately 540BC.
The moral of the Degree is said to remind us that often in life we are compelled to choose a defnite course, the result of which may remain with us during the rest of our lives. We will be required in life to make decisions affecting not only our own future, but perhaps also that of many others. It poses the question as to how many of us are capable of choosing wisely and carefully, being unprejudiced by self-interest and other influences.
The Holy Royal Arch Degree
In 534, the three sojourners whose story is told in the Excellent Master Degree, arrive in Jerusalem and are set to work preparing the ground for the rebuilding of the Temple.
They discover the long forgotten underground vault, and the secret treasures and artefacts deposited by the three Grand Masters are restored. The lost secrets are recovered and the sojourners are suitably rewarded for their discovery.
So now, as a Royal Arch Freemason, the Master Mason is complete. His patience and enquiring mind have borne fruit and the genuine secrets have replaced the substituted ones he has lived with for so long.
The Royal Arch Degrees was considered so important in the early years of Freemasonry that at the formation of the United Grand Lodge of England in 1813, when the then two Grand Lodges in England, the Antients and the Moderns, united to form a single Grand Lodge, a frm and solemn landmark was adopted and placed in the Articles of Union to guide Masons throughout the world forever on this matter. This Ancient Landmark is described by the United Grand Lodge of England at its formation as being:-
“Pure Antient Freemasonry consists of but three degrees, viz., that of Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason, including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch.”
The landmark has never been changed and to this day no other degree in England has been offcially recognized in this way. This Ancient Landmark, with the addition of the Honourable Degree of Mark Master Mason, is also to be found in the Constitution of the United Grand Lodge of NSW and the ACT in Chapter 1.1.
The Royal Arch Degree deals with a lengthy period following the end of Solomon’s reign. At the destruction of King Solomon’s Temple by Nebuchadnezzar, the Jews were carried into captivity in Babylon where they remained for seventy years. Eventually Babylon fell to Cyrus the Great of Persia and became part of the Persian Empire. It was Cyrus who set the Jewish captives free and invited them to return to Jerusalem to commence rebuilding the Temple.
During the rebuilding of the Temple a great discovery was made in a secret vault in which they discovered a treasure of great beneft and value to the Craft and that which was lost in the 3rd Degree is restored.
The Royal Arch Degree complements the Master Mason’s Degree and completes the story and moral lessons commenced in the Craft.
The Cryptic Series of Degrees
This series of Degrees include those of Select Master, Royal Master, Most Excellent Master and Super Excellent Master and cover a vast period in the Masonic story.
Commencing with the events surrounding the Third Degree through to the final destruction of the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar.
The name for these Degrees is derived from the Greek word for a vault or subterranean passage, referring to the ascertained fact that secret vaults were constructed underneath the great Temple of King Solomon.
Each of the four Degrees involves an interesting ceremony. In undertaking these Degrees you will experience:-
The building of the Temple is well in hand and nearing completion. The three Grand Masters, knowing that the prophets had foretold that the Holy City would be destroyed and that the inhabitants would be carried into captivity, secretly began to hollow out a crypt underneath the Temple in which to deposit the sacred treasures and secrets.
In the year of the slaying of Hiram Abiff in 968 the Temple is almost complete. One of the most senior of the Craftsmen approached Hiram Abiff, asking him when he would receive that which would make him a Master. Hiram Abiff gave him his view on mortality and explained that if he (Hiram Abiff) unexpectedly suffers death then that which the Craftsman sought would eventually be discovered and restored.
Most Excellent Master
The Temple is now complete and dedicated and King Solomon, wishing to reward many of his skilled and devoted craftsmen, instituted this Degree as a token of merit and reward.
Super Excellent Master
The story of this Degree is set 381 years after the dedication of the Temple, Zedekiah is King. Jerusalem is under siege by Nebuzaraddin, Captain of the Guard of Nebuchadnezzar. The City falls, the Temple is pillaged, its treasures plundered and the King and many of the population are carried off into captivity in Babylon. (2 Kings, Jeremiah, Daniel)
The symbolism of each of these Degrees is:-
Select Master’s Degree is that of loving care for the preservation of the old landmarks. The candidate is said to be “chosen” for his fdelity and zeal.
The colours of black and red are given as appropriate to the Cryptic Series of Degrees. Black, because the Craft was symbolically in mourning for the loss of one if it’s Masters. Red to mark the blood which was shed as a proof of Masonic integrity and also to symbolise fervency and zeal.
Royal Ark Mariner
In light of modern scientifc research, there is intense theological controversy over the first ten chapters of Genesis.
For the purpose of our story, the Bible implies that the flood occurs about 2500 BCE (1500 AL), at which time a decadent world is destroyed by the wrath of God.
In the study of Royal Ark Mariner Degree, a devout Noah, his sons and their wives, are despatched to repopulate the earth and re-establish moral values.
Archaeological evidence leaves little doubt that about 4,000 B.C. there was a flood of immense proportions, stretching up the Euphrates and Tigris rivers almost to their source.
In the early records of Freemasonry, frequent mention is made of Noah and the Flood, and all the ancient Masonic Constitutions contain allusions to the story of Noah. However, the emphasis was on the transference of knowledge, Noah being credited with finding the two great pillars made by Enoch, one of brass and the other of brick, on which was inscribed a full record of the Arts and Sciences as known at that time.
Against this background, a new Degree centering around the story of Noah and the Flood, and first known as the ‘Ark and Dove’, was apparently created in England during the second half of the eighteenth century. It gained signifcant support because the Degree’s non-denominational theme and lesson of worship of the one universal God holding a special appeal to Freemasons in a century following the strife-torn era of religious reformation, division and persecution.
The Degree probably attained its present form at the end of the eighteenth century, after which its strength rose and fell as it was worked in Craft Lodges with varying and moderate success. It achieved a firm place when in the middle of the nineteenth century it was brought under the control of the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Scotland and the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons of England.
The Degree teaches us that to those who worship the one universal God, then unto them He has promised His everlasting peace and mercy. This promise is expressed in two covenants recorded respectively in the Book of Genesis, Chapter 9, Verses 8 to 17, and the Book of Isaiah, Chapter 54, Verses 9 and 10. As a token of the first of these two covenants, God has set the rainbow upon the heavens.
Accordingly, the symbol of the Royal Ark Mariner Degree is the rainbow, and the colours of the Degree are the colours of the rainbow.
The Red Cross Knight Of Babylon
This series of Degrees consists of the degrees of Knight of the Sword, Knight of the East and lastly Knight of the East and West.
The Degrees depict certain historical incidents which occurred during the period of twenty years that begins with the release of the Jews from their captivity in Babylon and ends with the completion of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. This degree is intimately associated with the Holy Royal Arch.
In the first year of his reign, Cyrus, King of Persia, released the Jews from their captivity in Babylon, restored to them the Holy Vessels belonging to King Solomon’s Temple and permitted the Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple.
Zerubbabel, Prince of Judah, was appointed the King’s Commissioner over the province of Judea, which was occupied by the returning Jews and which had Jerusalem as its centre.
Having returned to Jerusalem, Zerubbabel and his Companions made preparations for the rebuilding of the Temple.
The Samaritans then wrote to Cambyses, who had succeeded Cyrus as King of Persia and Babylon, claiming that Jerusalem had once been a powerful city levying tribute on the surrounding tribes and that it might become so again if the people were permitted to rebuild their Temple. Cambyses, accordingly ordered the building to cease.
Upon the death of Cambyses and in the second year of the reign of Darius, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah succeeded in arousing the Jews to renewed efforts so that the work on the Temple began again.
Zerubbabel travelled to Babylon from Jerusalem, for there was an old friendship between him and Darius through which he hoped to enlist the King’s support. Zerubbabel was appointed one of the King’s personal bodyguards and was successful in answering a riddle posed by the King. Darius was so pleased with Zerubbabel’s answer that he in response Zerubbabel’s request to be sent back to Jerusalem granted the same and ordered that those relics of King Solomon’s Temple which still remained in Babylon should go with him.
The symbolism of the Degree is that of perseverance and zeal in one’s duties and obligations. Especially important is the symbolism of the sword in this Degree, which being a weapon of offence is unexpected in the hands of a Mason. The Degree teaches it is to be used only in God’s service, in the cause of Justice or in self-defence according to the tradition first laid down in the Volume of the Sacred Law, Nehemiah, Chapter 4.
The colours of the Degree are green and crimson; green in allusion to the colour of the Ribbon of the Knights of the Sword of King Cyrus, and crimson in allusion to the colour of the Cross in the banners of the Knights of the East of King Darius.