Let’s be honest for a moment, the order in which the Capitular degrees are conferred do not relate to each other. In fact, they’re a mismatch of four degrees that have nothing in common. Yes, I know that’s shocking... well, unless of course you’ve seen all four degrees.
In the original formation of the Royal Arch, the degree was closely tied to the Master Mason degree. Currently, in the United States and many other Chapters in the world, the Royal Arch is conferred as the last of seven degrees, three related (the first three Craft degrees) and three unrelated degrees (the Mark Master, Past Master, and Most Excellent Master) making for a very strange story told to the candidate.
I propose something that should be done in the interest of saving the Royal Arch from the slow death that it’s crawling towards; I propose that we have Royal Arch Chapters confer only one degree, the degree for which Chapters were initially created. Dropping the so-called preparatory degrees of the Chapter, which are, in actuality, not preparatory in anyway to the Royal Arch, will allow Chapters to focus on what's important.
The Mark Master and Royal Arch degrees are separate and distinct. They should be separate and distinct because of the lessons they teach. The Royal Arch is the completion, the degree that gives us that which was lost. As Master Masons, we strive for that goal. The Mark Master is a side degree, a beautiful and interesting degree, but it remains a side degree. (To all my Scottish readers, I apologize as I realize that the Mark Man and Mark Master degrees are a part of your Fellow Craft degree)
The Royal Arch is a degree built and designed in many different parts. It’s complex. The staging requires many players who guide the candidate into the realm of further light. And, in my life, it holds a very special place in my heart. In my opinion, more education can be taken from the Royal Arch degree than in almost any other degree.
The reason I started thinking about this is that I see Chapter suffering. Chapter is not built in the same way as a Lodge, a Council, a Commandery, or a Valley. Lodge, Council, and Commandery degrees all have a story to tell that flows. Valleys have 29 degrees that can be conferred and can confer many if not all of them because they draw from a large population.
Chapters have some major disadvantages. Chapters meet in lodge buildings. Chapters have smaller populations, like lodges, but with more required degrees. Chapter degrees are a hodge-podge and it’s hard to completely grasp the connection. It needs help to survive.
I have three solutions to this problem (and yes, I believe the Chapter structure is a problem).
1.) Drop the PM degree, transfer the Mark Degrees to a separate organization that remains under the control of the Grand Chapter and make the Most Excellent Degree an optional degree like the Super Excellent.
This is how I would envision this structure: the Chapter would confer one degree, the Royal Arch. The chapter would confer it in grand style because the focus would be on making that one degree great. Anyone who has seen the Royal Arch realizes its importance in the Craft structure. It needs to remain close to the degree it is built to follow, the Master Mason degree. It is an important sequel, like The Godfather: Part II not Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties, and we should deliver it in that way.
Furthermore, the Chapter would be given the option of conferring the Most Excellent should it choose to do so. This change would be similar to how the Super Excellent Master is conferred in a Cryptic Council. The Most Excellent Master needs at least 20 people to make it an effective degree and by making it an optional degree, the hope would be that it would be conferred in grand style. The Most Excellent Master degree deserves better care and attention than that which most Chapters can properly provide. It's a shame that such a beautiful degree is often conferred without costumes, music, and any sense of reverential awe. It deserves more and the only way to do that is to make it an optional degree.
The Mark Master degree would be assigned to a Grand Lodge of Marks, still under the auspices of the Grand Chapter, but with its own Craft structure. In that way, there would be one Mark Lodge in each of the districts or areas of a Grand Chapter’s jurisdiction. The Grand Lodge of Marks would serve the Chapters in the jurisdiction and would confer the Mark degree at set times each year. What's more, this would give more potential Grand Chapter officers a chance to show how well they can run a Grand Masonic Body. We complain about the lack of interest and the lack of jobs; this would allow us to create more of both. The Mark Master degree is a special degree with a very different history from the Royal Arch degree. We should give this degree its due.
This is my preferred structure.
(Side note: I've been accused of hating on the PM degree. I accept that accusation as true. It is an unnecessary degree. It serves as the appendix of old, non-existent requirements for attaining the Royal Arch and has already been dropped by many Grand Chapters throughout the world. What once was necessary is not now necessary. Let’s just move on and focus on that which is important.)
2.) Reverse the order of the degrees and drop the PM degree.
By reversing the order, the Royal Arch degree is placed precisely where it belongs in the story, right next the Master Mason degree. The Most Excellent degree be conferred next and the Mark would be placed last. The importance of the Royal Arch degree would be given proper credence would truly serve as a transition from the Blue Lodge to the Red Chapter.
If you know anything about the Veils, you will see the importance in placing the Royal Arch next to the Master Mason degree. This method, while not ideal, does serve to give the Royal Arch Mason all the degrees he would need to travel to other Chapters in the country and maintain the close relationship between the Master Mason and the Royal Arch. Again, this is not an ideal solution but could be the easiest to implement.
3.) Transfer the power to confer the Royal Arch and Mark degrees to the Craft lodges.
This has only been done on a local basis and only in one state, Lodge Copernicus in the state of South Australia. This would require a lot of coordination and a lot of Masons having to give up power. I don’t see it happening but I do think that this method would not just encourage but guarantee that all Masons would become Royal Arch Masons. Of course, instead of transferring, one other related approach, which is what Lodge Copernicus has in actuality done, is to receive a charter from the three degree-controlling bodies to establish a lodge that confers all the degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry. This is a doable approach only if a Grand Lodge and Grand Chapter agreed and if the rules of each allowed something like this.
This change could be made more difficult by the existence of the General Grand Chapter but I think they are necessary changes. My intention is to not make the work of the Chapter easy but make it right to encourage the Master Mason to continue his journey. Instead of festivals and high turnover, we need to make the Chapter an important step in a Mason’s life. The Royal Arch degree is just too damn important to let it slip through our fingers.
What do you think? Does Royal Arch Masonry need a change? Leave a comment.