WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FROM FREEMASONRY?
Candidates for Initiation into Freemasonry seek admission for a wide variety of reasons.
Some seek a happy and sociable retreat from the cares and concerns of business and an opportunity to spend a portion of their time with honourable, friendly and like-minded, charitable men. For them, our ceremonies are a pleasant diversion which unite us with a sense of belonging while learning ritual is little more than a chore which helps to keep the mind active. Their objective is to have fun while raising money for worthy causes.
Some seek a mystical and philosophical experience which they hope, when properly understood after much study and reflection, will reveal the great mysteries of the universe. For them Freemasonry provides the means for learning about ourselves, our purpose in this life and our relationship with our Supreme Creator. Their objective is to gain knowledge and understanding and to teach it to others.
It may at first appear that there are two fundamentally different groups within Freemasonry but in reality there is little difference between them. Most Freemasons who primarily joined for the fun and charitable activity, after a time, begin to realise and appreciate the philosophical elements of Masonry. Likewise those who joined to primarily gain a knowledge and understanding of the mysteries begin to realise that the concepts of friendship, charity and honour are essential to understanding our purpose in life and that life itself needs a balanced element of fun and enjoyment. Consequently there is always a degree of cross-over between the two groups. The sole purpose of Freemasonry is to provide information and knowledge within a harmonious environment where the members can develop themselves into better men than they otherwise might have been. At any given time the direction of that development is relatively unimportant as long as it is resulting in progress towards self-improvement. Indeed the direction of our self-development may change as we improve, or even according to our personal circumstances and needs.
It is the right and responsibility of every Freemason to determine his own path to self-improvement and his own expectation of the progress he hopes to make. It is quite natural for every Mason, at some stage, to want to explore the mystical and philosophical side of Freemasonry. This element of Masonry is mainly found in the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch.
THE SUPREME ORDER OF THE HOLY ROYAL ARCH
You chose to become a Freemason under the United Grand Lodge of England and you are consequently bound to follow the Book of Constitutions of our Grand Lodge, a copy of which was presented to you at your Initiation. The Book of Constitutions was first compiled in 1723 and has been regularly amended since then, whenever circumstances and good sense demanded it. Some of the rules may seem peculiar but I can assure you that they were compiled and refined by very intelligent, deep-thinking men and they have proved to be generally both wise and appropriate over a period of very nearly three centuries.
I draw your particular attention to ‘The Preliminary Declaration’ of the General Laws & Regulations, which reads: “By the solemn Act of Union between the two Grand Lodges of Free-Masons of England in December 1813, it was ‘declared and pronounced that pure Antient Masonry consists of three degrees and no more, viz., those of the Entered Apprentice, the Fellow Craft, and the Master Mason, INCLUDING the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch’.”
In other words, our English Masonic system of pure, Antient Masonry requires every candidate to progress through the degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, Master Mason AND the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch.
The Master Mason who has not yet become a Royal Arch Mason is NOT fully qualified and is missing critical elements of Masonic knowledge. In effect the degrees you receive in a Craft Lodge are merely the preliminary qualifications to determine your worthiness to receive the genuine mysteries of Masonry which are only revealed in the Royal Arch.
ADVANTAGES OF BEING A ROYAL ARCH MASON
Most new Freemasons consider each degree as separate and distinct from the others, because they are communicated in that way and not disclosed to those who are not yet qualified to receive them. While Masonic information is communicated or revealed in stages, it is only when the information from every stage is put together and considered as a whole that the full story emerges. I can disclose to you that the stages you require to achieve a full mystical or philosophical understanding of Freemasonry include the three Craft Degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason, plus the Ceremony of Installation as Master of a Lodge, plus the Ceremony of being Exalted into the Royal Arch, plus the Ceremonies of being Installed in the Third, Second and First Principals Chairs in a Royal Arch Chapter. Only when you have experienced, studied and understood all these ceremonies will you be able to gain a complete understanding – a revelation – of our whole Masonic system. Lawrence Dermott, Grand Secretary of the Antients’ Grand Lodge, claimed that the Royal Arch was the “root, heart and marrow of Freemasonry” and most Royal Arch Masons feel the same way. Irrespective of the fanciful numbers applied to degrees in some other Masonic Orders, the Royal Arch is truly the pinnacle of Masonry.
Naturally becoming a Royal Arch Mason will require you to pay a modest joining fee and an annual subscription plus a Dining Fee, in the same way as your Craft Lodge. It also requires you to purchase more regalia. Freemasonry is really aimed at men of intelligence and education; those generally found in superior employment or self-employed. Men who appreciate that knowledge has value. Consequently this should not be a problem.
Being a Royal Arch Mason will also require your regular attendance at meetings of your Royal Arch Chapter, usually four per year, as well as some time and effort on your part to study and learn the ritual so that you may participate in the ceremonies as well as gaining an understanding of their meaning and purpose. Freemasonry should be a pleasurable experience but it is nevertheless a course of study like any other. The further you advance, the more complex the subject becomes. Our meetings should be considered like lectures and learning the ritual should be likened to private study time. If you are unable, or unwilling, to devote the required time to the programme perhaps you need to reconsider whether you are really serious about your Freemasonry?
In addition to the information and knowledge you will gain, Royal Arch Masonry will greatly widen your circle of Masonic friends as you will meet members of Lodges other than your own. You will be seen as a “serious” Mason and one who seeks knowledge and understanding. It will identify you as fully qualified and superior to a Master Mason. It will also qualify you to join many other Orders and Degrees in Freemasonry should you wish to extend your researches in that direction.
You may wonder why you have not previously been told about the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch. A good proposer will usually tell his candidate something of it, even prior to Initiation. Others may not mention it, perhaps even after you have taken the Master Masons Degree. You should understand that Masonry is entirely voluntary. You had to ask to become a Freemason and in some Lodges you also have to ask to become a Royal Arch Mason.
As a Master Mason, when you are ready to join the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch, you should make an approach to your Lodge Secretary. He will guide you and answer any questions you may have. You should aim to become a Royal Arch Mason when you hold office in your Lodge as Inner Guard or Junior Deacon, or about a year after being Raised to the Third Degree. This will ensure that your progress through the various offices in your Craft Lodge and your Royal Arch Chapter run parallel while ensuring that you avoid the burden of holding key offices in both simultaneously.