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Royal Arch Chapter Room

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This evening I have the pleasure to attempt to explain the Holy Royal Arch, The reason for its being and the arrangement of the Chapter Room. I will try to do this to the best of my ability.

First, let me explain that the Supreme Degree of the Holy Royal Arch is the completion of the M.M°. In the M.M°., they inform us that something is lost. Surely then, to the thinking man he must wonder, what is that which is lost. In the Royal Arch that which is lost is found. When the candidate has taken the obligation, a brief history of the R.A., degree, follows which sets the stage for the remainder of the ceremony. Briefly the history is as follows: 400 years after the completion of the Temple by King Solomon, King Hiram of Tyre and Hiram Abiff; the Army of the King of Babylon  destroyed this Temple. They took the Jews, except the menial class, into captivity to Babylon. There they were to remain for 70 years.

At the end of this period, a Prince of the House of Judah, by the name of Zerrubable, convinced Cyrus, then King of Persia to release the captives. Let them return to Jerusalem, there to rebuild the Temple. King Cyrus, with the Lords help, agrees. The candidates represent men who arrive late, seeking a chance to help rebuild the Temple. They tested them, obligated them and then allowed them to enter the Chapter Room. Here they meet four obstacles. Four veils represent these obstacles, which are coloured, blue, purple, scarlet and white. Each veil has its own Scripture Lesson. The candidates having proven themselves worthy are admitted, and make known their request to help rebuild the Temple.

They tell them that due to their lateness, the only job available is clearing away the rubble, for the foundations. They agree and in carrying out their task, they find a cave  in which they make an important discovery. This discovery is found later in the ceremony to be that which is lost in the M.M°.

The form of the Chapter Room is as you see it here this evening. The Three Principals sit in the EAST. They represent the Copestone of an Arch, i.e., that stone that holds the whole building together. It is to them that the Companions look for light and instruction. You will note six lights, the larger lights placed as an equilateral triangle, the three smaller bisecting the lines of the larger. Thus forming four smaller, but equal, equilateral triangles. These triangles represent the four divisions of Masonry, viz. E.A., F.C., M.M., and Holy Royal Arch.

The Twelve banners seen in the Chapter Room, represent the bearings of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, each with their own lessons. The four large banners in the East represent the four divisions of the army of Israel. They consist of a Man, a Lion, and Ox and an Eagle. Christianity adopted these four to represent the four evangelists: The Man shows the humanity of St. Matthew’s Gospel; The Lion the strength and power of St. Mark; the Ox represents the docility and the gentleness of St. Luke; while St. John, whose gospel reaches to greater heights than the others, is aptly represented by the highest flyer of all birds, the Eagle.

The V.O.T.S.L., square and compass remind the Companions of their Craft lodge affiliation and the Truth and Justice of God. The sword and trowel remind us of the trials and tribulations suffered by those who rebuilt the Temple. Their enemies were everywhere and they must be prepared to defend themselves always. These tools also remind us to pay due obedience to lawful authority and to resist lawless violence.

The sojourners used the pick, shovel and crowbar to  clear away the rubble to make a place for the foundations of the Temple. This means to us to clear away the accumulation of ignorance and vice in our own selves. That we may build our own bodily Temple of Morality and Truth. Our ancient brethren considered the triangle on the V.S.L., as a most sacred emblem, it is also the emblem of the Deity.

The whole purpose of the Holy Royal Arch is to make its members wiser, happier, and to encourage them to practice the virtues of, Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. Based on the principals brought to us in the V.O.T.S.L..

If they ask the question, “Why did the Royal Arch Appear?”, the answer is that a further ceremony, or a separate “Fourth Grade,” was inevitable, and our knowledge of the evolution can best explain this of the three Craft Degrees. If we go back as far as we dare in English Masonic History, to the point where they were evolving the separate grades or degrees. It is almost certain, that the first Masonic ceremony was designed for the Fellow or Fellow-craft, i.e., the fully trained Craftsman.

The system of apprenticeship in England makes its first appearance in the 1200s and it is safe to assume that the next degree  evolved  an admission ceremony for Apprentices. At this stage, and up to the late 1600s, it is certain that the Craft had no more than two admission ceremonies. One Degree for the Apprentice, or Entered Apprentice and the other for the “Fellow Craft, or Master.” Eventually it was inevitable that there would be a demand for a separate ceremony to distinguish the Master from the Fellow Craft. Both were equal in their technical capacity. Nevertheless, the Fellow craft was an employee, and those who were fortunate enough to set up as Masters, would quite naturally have wanted a separate degree to themselves.

At this stage all three working grades had separate ceremonies, only one grade remained unrepresented. However, there was still no ceremony for the men who had presided in the lodge. That is for the Masters of the lodges; this ceremony appeared around 1740. This is, of course, an over simplification of the whole story and it represents my own opinions. It is based on historical foundations and the dates mentioned are supported by documentary evidence1.

The origins of the R.A. ceremony.

If we exclude the minor details, the main body of the Royal Arch Ceremony is based upon two separate stories.
  1. The true Biblical story describing the return from Babylon and the building of the Second Temple.
  2. The ancient legend describing the discovery of a Vault, the Altar and the Sacred Word.
Place of Origin

It is impossible to say, with certainty, that the R.A. took its rise in any particular country. It seems possible that the ceremony came to England from Ireland. Several of the earliest references to the R.A. are undoubtedly Irish. When they constituted the first Grand and Royal Chapter of the Royal Arch of Jerusalem (‘Moderns’) in July 1767, The ‘Antients’, who had always counted the ceremony as the ‘root, heart and marrow of Masonry’, had not realized the need for a separate controlling body. Their Grand Chapter minutes begin in 1782, after a series of resolutions in their Grand Lodge in December 1771.