Passing Of The Veils Ceremony, R. A. M

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Bernard E, Jones in his book, “Freemasons Book of the Royal Arch “writes;

“The ceremony of passing the veils, which formed part of the Royal Arch ceremony in the late 18th Century, probably had a Christian origin, and was customary only during the period when the RA. itself was largely a Christian degree. With the de-Christianization of the degree following, firstly, the union of the Grand Chapters in 1817 and, secondly, the drastic revision in 1835, the ceremony of the veils rapidly disappeared from English Royal Arch Masonry.”

The passing of the veils signifies the enlightenment that comes with Masonic progression. Also, the veils are sometimes thought to be a symbol of the suffering of the Jews in returning from exile.

The veils in early ceremonies were three in number. Earlier a fourth was added in some localities,  American Chapters today largely works a four-veil ceremony, as we do in our Jurisdiction. We assume that the ceremony of passing the veils goes back,  possibly the earliest period of the Royal Arch. Jones feels that records do not support this assumption, unless he says, it was the ceremony of Excellent Master, or High Excellent Master’s degree. George S. Draffin says, that the Scottish Excellent Master’s degree is frequently known as passing of the veils. In Scotland the passing of the veils is the Excellent Master’s degree, the official title of the ceremony.

The ceremonial as worked in the 1820 period was much as follows, subject to variations in  details. The Candidate was prepared with a blindfold, his knees bared, his feet slipshod, with a cable tow around his waist. Three sojourners acted as guardians of the veils. The Junior Scribe conducted the candidate, and gave four knocks at the door of the first veil. The candidate is admitted by giving the PM’s. word and sign. The Scripture reading was from Exodus iii, 1-6, referring to the burning bush, following the thirteenth and fourteenth verses of the same Chapter were read, including the words “I Am what I Am”

At the second veil the candidate gave the password already received and met the emblems of the Serpent and Aaron’s Rod, and the relevant Scripture Exodus V was read. Suitably entrusted, the candidate can now pass the guard at the third veil; here the Scripture reading from Exodus V, told of the miracles of the leprous hand and the water poured on the dry land and turning into blood.

He now hears the words ‘Holiness to the Lord’ and was shown the ‘Ark of the Covenant’, containing the tablets of stone, the pot of manna, the table of shew bread, the burning incense, the candlestick with the seven branches, and can now enter as a sojourner and candidate for Exaltation. The ceremony while retaining its main features, varied considerably in its details from district to district and even from Chapter to Chapter.

The Royal Arch ceremony  worked in Bristol at a very early date by both the ‘Antients’ and the ‘Moderns’, the latter in a Craft lodge meeting at the Crown Inn, Christmas Street, Bristol, provides the earliest minute relating to the Royal Arch degree in England. On a Sunday evening August 13, 1758, two brethren were raised to the Degree of Royal Arch Masons.

Bristol Chapters are the only ones in Great Britain now using the veil’s ceremonies in the RA. Degree. This, however, has not always been the practice. In the latter part of the 19th century Beaufort Chapter worked the verbal part of the ceremony, but did not use the veils themselves. Their re introduction early in the 20th century was due to Sir Ernest Cook and other enthusiasts. Sir Ernest and a friend visited Ireland and, although they could not find a chapter using them, they could get some information regarding the ceremony. As a result they had three veils made and hung in the Ante room of Beaufort Chapter. Their example being copied by other Bristol Chapters. In 1929 they became convinced that there should be a fourth veil and this they added. In Bristol the veils’ ceremony, is worked outside the Chapter room, always before, and separate from, the actual exaltation. The passing of the veils is not really part of the Exaltation.

In the Irish ceremony, it is customary for the Chapter room to be divided by curtains or veils, beyond which the companions sit together in the East. There are four veils the same colours as ours in this jurisdiction with the same symbolic meaning. With particular Scripture readings at each.

In Scotland the veils’ ceremony has the official title, “The Excellent Masters” degree. This degree and the exaltation may be conferred on the same evening, but the candidate must be a ‘Mark’ Mason. The Scottish Grand Chapter recognizes three degrees, ‘Mark Master’, ‘Excellent Master’ and ‘Royal Arch’, the second of which is the veils’ ceremony.

In the United States the R, A. ceremony includes a highly elaborate passing of the veils, as in the Irish system. However, towards the end of the ceremony the candidate may be given the signet of ‘Truth’, a finger ring, bearing a circle enclosing a triangle. The officers guarding the veils may wear a robe and cap the colour of their veil, and may be armed with a sword.

In some Chapters in Victoria, Australia the veil’s ceremony is a desirable preliminary to the RA. ceremony, but is of a permissive character. Apparently the ceremony  worked, is not  a part of the exaltation ceremony, but for exemplifying the symbolic lesson, which grew up around the veils in the early days. Where accommodation permits the veils are suspended in the ante room.