Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Royal Arch and its Place in our Craft

I’m now serving my second term as High Priest of Corinthian Chapter No. 33 R.A.M. Because I've been serving long enough to understand the intricacies of the Capitular system, I feel I can start to make critiques and present potential improvements to the Royal Arch. The American system, and to some extent the Canadian system, follow the so-called Webb order of conferral. (Webb had nothing to do with it but many RAMs describe the capitular system this way.)

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.

10 comments:

A Seafaring Man said...

I've read this and many of your other posts, and I have an observation that you will likely dismiss as one from a crank.

You seem to spend a good deal of mental energy fighting against the established system of Freemasonry and York Rite. For lack of a better word, and with all due respect, you are a bit of a Masonic iconoclast, who seems to be picking a doctrinal fight with every aspect of our institution.

"Change" is your constant mantra; I suppose this can be expected given the stereotypes of your generation. I recall my first few weeks of high school--I hated it. The teachers taught too slow or too fast, the book was too easy/too hard, why are we learning geometry before algebra?, my friends in private schools/another school district/home school have a much better system, etc etc etc. After a few months, however, I realized I was learning and developing. It may not have been in what I thought was the ideal educational model, but I was developing.

You seem to have a "grass is always greener somewhere else" mentality. I suspect if you were in Great Britain and a member of a Mark Lodge, you would be arguing that splintered degrees are inefficient, and why can't we combine them in a Rite, like our American Brothers?

I respectfully suggest that you reconsider how much time and thought you put into raging against the machine, and whether the inner Light in your S.S. would shine a bit brighter if you redirected your energies to personal development.
Concentrate not on the form of our Mysteries, but on the substance.

Gord said...

I agree 100% that we cannot lose this degree. It IS the completion of the journey. Personally, the order should be: EA, FC, MMM, MM, RAM, with MEM as a side degree. It should all be under 1 GL, as there is not enough critical mass to manage GL and GC.

Nick Johnson said...

@Seafaring

You make an excellent point but as I'm sure you know, I disagree.

Although I wouldn't consider myself an iconoclast, (most iconoclasts don't self-identify themselves that way ;)) I do believe that Einstein is right, that insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Our old ways aren't working and to keep doing them hoping that our chapters will be filled with interested men is truly insane. And since we aren't finding interested men, we will continue to lose valuable members, as we watch the number of companions that can do the work also dwindle. We can't survive in this model for very much longer.

For me, the Royal Arch degree is too important to be buried under the weight of the unessential. It's not so much me wishing we acted like our Home Lodge brothers as more respecting the origin of the degrees. The Royal Arch is tied to the Master Mason degree. It bears no relation to the Mark (a completely separate and distinct degree historically), the PM (a pointless and unnecessary administrative step)and the Most Excellent Master (originally, an optional degree conferred by Chapters). Perhaps I would complain about the inefficiency but I doubt it. It's about doing what's right.

I think that it is important to look at structure even if I'm viewed as "raging against the machine." Structure matters in conveying knowledge. Conferring degrees without a sense of history or subject matter is not proper and we as Masons should do what is proper.

Nick

A Seafaring Man said...

@ Nick:

"Conferring degrees without a sense of history or subject matter is not proper." Good point, but perhaps you should investigate a bit further back in history. You decry the link between the MM and RA Degree is split, but a bit of research will show you that the MM itself is a relatively recent innovation, unless, that is, you are one of those who believe that the history of our Craft begins in 1717. One could argue that the MM Degree has no place in Masonry. Just 200 years ago, some were arguing that point. You seem to be cherry picking your preferred parts of Masonry- RA, Emulation Degrees -and piecing them together in what you believe to be the proper order. You ignore some traditions (e.g., current state of York Rite) while fantasizing over implementing others (Emulation degrees).

"Old ways are not working"--perhaps in your neck of the woods they are not. Any many areas across the country, they are. Should we rearrange degrees and ignore tradition and history to drive up your membership?

And regarding what is proper--who can voice for what is "proper"?

Perhaps the inability of your Chapter to bring in interested men is more a function of your community or your Chapter than it is the structure of the degrees themselves. When in doubt, blame the system?

Nick Johnson said...

@seafaring

Let us begin at the beginning. The order of conferral is not the same as the creation of the Master Mason degree. There is a connection between the MM and the RA, at least under the Antients system, which most of us in America follow. Again, just because we do something now in a certain manner doesn't mean it's correct or more importantly, working.

Not sure where the Emulation degrees are coming in, perhaps I missed something.

The numbers don't lie. I would suggest reading Bro. Brent Morris, Radical in the East, to get a perspective on the slow death that the YR is experiencing. It will not survive long unless changes are made.

Final note, my Chapter will have brought in 9 new companions from last spring to this coming June. We are a success story but I see that many other chapters are dying. They are dying because the companions that once knew the work are no longer there. The degrees themselves require a lot of memorization, more than in other bodies except the SR and Valleys often draw from urban areas. Again, Chapter will not survive unless something is done. Our Chapters should do one thing and do that one thing well instead of spreading out, or should I say stretching thin, the work to "cover" the so called preparatory degrees for the sake of tradition while ignoring history.

Nick

Dr. Faro said...

Nick,

Thanks for your kind words about "A Radical in the East." But be careful - when that essay was first published in the "Royal Arch Mason" some 30+ years ago, I was promptly removed from the GL Committee on Education. You may not want to let anyone know you've read it! ;-)

Rather than the order of degrees in the Chapter, I see a more fundamental problem with the York Rite: No one is in charge! Since 1930 when J. Ray Shute invented the KYCH, the York Rite has become overgrown with a dozen or more extraneous groups, like a giant tree strangled by kudzu. Since no one is in charge, there was no way to tamp down the enthusiasm for these "fringe" activities.

For 99% in the Scottish Rite, you're either active in your Valley or you're not active. In contrast in the York Rite, there's a subtle pressure to preside over the basic four bodies and get your KYCH (like a deranged butterfly collector who wants one of every species). If you do a good job at the local level, district, state, regional, and national service call upon your time.

The more active you are in the YR, the more likely you are to be pulled away from your local bodies, where your energies should be focused. Beckoning the young and curious YR members are the Knight Masons, York Rite College, Knight Templar Priests, Knight Preceptors, St. Thomas of Acon, Allied Masonic Degrees, and on and on and on.

No one of these groups is "bad"; they just suck the most energetic YR Masons away. Is it any wonder we don't have enough companions run things at home? I'd clear out some of the kudzu before I worried about pruning the tree.

S. Brent Morris

KSigMason said...

In reference to your 3 solutions here are my thoughts:

I'd say drop the PM degree in only as much as make it truly a Past Masters degree to be conferred upon a Past Master of the Blue Lodge similar to the other Chair degrees in the York Rite.

You could make the Mark Master Lodge a separate entity like England does, if my memory serves me right, but I'm not sure where I'd want to place it since it is so closely tied to the Fellowcraft degree. Personally I'd put the Most Excellent Master degree between the 3rd and RAM degree for the reasons given in the MEM.

To hear that it is done out of costume is strange to me as my Chapter always puts on costumes for it, particularly the 2nd section.

I'd leave the power with the Royal Arch Chapters as not everyone in the Craft Lodges may go to the RAM and there could be a conflict of power between Grand Lodge and Grand Chapter. I'm not saying its impossible, just unlikely with some jurisdictions.

I think we need more education and do proficiency with the Royal Arch degree before advancing them onto Cryptic degrees and the Chivalric Orders, if they so wish.

Idaho we do a 2-day festival, but I think by the end of the 1st day (Capitular and Cryptic degrees) they are so burned out that they forget a lot. I'm slowly transitioning us to do a day for each body (Chapter, Council, and Commandery). This way its easier for the cast to deliver a great performance and candidates to absorb information. I'm also implementing mentors to assist each new member in learning the signs and words for opening each body. In turn, the new members will eventually become mentors for the next class.

I think to make Freemasonry better we need to fall back a few decades to what it was in the early 20th century when men flocked to it on their own accord and meetings were not just about paying the bills and petty legislation.

H. Rider said...

Seems odd to drop the MEM Degree or relegate it to the sidelines. We are all familiar with the symbolism of the building of the Temple. Why omit the only Degree that celebrates the completion of the Temple? How is this event any less relevant or important than the tale of building the Temple or searching the ruins of the Temple?

MP said...

Oh, Dr. Faro, when I see so much posted about the side bodies which have representation out the wazoo at Masonic Week in DC, and the YR focus of them ... yet see so many of the names in the leadership as also well known movers and shakers in the AASR, I laugh at the old accusations which came out in the late 1800s about "people selling degrees for profit" and being "degree mills".

It seems only certain degree mills are acceptable in the US.

And, for the record, I do agree with you the the YR add-ons pull energetic YR Masons in so many directions that the local Craft bodies can suffer.

As for the KYCH, it's closed to a good number of Masons, based on the restrictions of the KT.

Fr. V.et F. said...

Word of the Master - Winter Solstice MMIX

“We stand among the children of God, as we have done since the Dark Times, acting as seekers, builders, and agents of change in a world that has lost Something Precious.

We stand as Seekers - Our efforts to find that which was lost will never cease. We are all called to a higher purpose - a Journey to find the Light of the Lost Word.

We stand as Builders - The children of God will always need shelter to protect them from the wicked - we are the Builders of Sanctuary. Men and Women separated by the rivers of Ignorance, Hatred, and Fear can never be whole - we are Builders of Bridges.

We stand as the Agents of Change - The children of God must want and seek change if we are ever to find that which was lost. Change is an alchemical process that begins within each and everyone of us. As we transmute ourselves we share our Light with the world and that Light begets more change amongst the children of God.

My question to you, here with me tonight, is: Are you willing to continue to stand as Knights of the Lost Word? Are you willing to seek out our Brothers and Sisters, lost among the children of God, who have forgotten their purpose? Are you willing to fight, and give and love and let your light shine before the children of God so that they might See and rejoice?

I know it is all too easy to allow the insidious afflictions of apathy and cynicism to take hold of your spirit but we must not let our guards down. The winds of change are blowing. While war in the middle lands still wage I sense a change coming. The true People of the Prophet grow weary of war and hatred. They want freedom and love. The United People are growing weary of greed and war as well and what they want more than anything is True Freedom and Love.

Are you willing to stand and protect True Freedom while at the same time offer the Hand of Brotherly Love? I thank those, from the bottom of my heart, who are.”