The following is intended to furnish information of the Cryptic Rite Degrees or The Mysteries of the Secret Vault to Royal Arch Masons.
There are three Degrees, viz.: Royal Master, Select Master and Super-Excellent Master.
Degree of Royal Master
The historical setting of the Royal Master degree is just before the completion of the Temple and chronologically precedes the degree of Master Mason. The chief personages therein are our three Ancient Grand Masters and a Fellowcraft in search of and making his demand for that reward which was to elevate him to the rank of a Master Mason. The seeker for more Light, for more Masonic knowledge, will find the Royal Master the answer to the startling assertion of our Grand Master: ‘I fear the Master’s Word is forever lost.’
This degree is preparatory to and intimately connected with that of the Select Master and contains most valuable information necessary to understanding correctly all the proceeding degrees. It also presents one great Masonic idea – that of the labourer seeking his reward. That idea is most beautifully symbolized in the degree of Royal Master, and is appreciated by all candidates. It will actuate all Royal Arch to the proficiency, fervency and zeal that should characterize those who have been exalted to the august and sublime degree of Royal Arch Mason.
Degree of Select Master
The historical setting of this degree and its symbolism are intimately connected with the Royal Arch. It is the symbolic golden chain that binds the Master’s degree to the Royal Arch and without it the mystery, and unsolved riddle of the Recovery remains in darkness. It is the great. historical and symbolic bridge that spans the golden age of the Hebrew Nation and the sad days of its captivity from the completion of the first Temple to the building of the second Temple. Truth seemed lost, yet it was not lost, but only hidden, until that generation should come which, by its perfect and unselfish labors, would restore it and bring to light the ineffable secret to guide men in the paths of perfect peace into the seat of the Holy of Holies. The Select Master degree is the most interesting degree in Ancient Craft Masonry, without a knowledge of which the history of the Royal Arch degree is not complete nor is a man a Master Mason in deed and in truth until he is in possession of the Royal Master and Select Master degrees. The latter degree rationally accounts for the concealment and preservation of those essential secrets which were buried in darkness for the period of four hundred and seventy years from the Masonic eye, but brought to light at the building of the second Temple. And a knowledge of those essentials is necessary to clearly comprehend all the preceding degrees, and complete the circle of Masonic science. This degree explains why King Solomon selected twenty-four true, tried, and trusty, skilled craftsmen, together with the three Grand Masters (making twenty-seven and no more) to complete an important part of King Solomon’s Temple.
Degree of Super-Excellent Master
This degree is, without doubt, the most dramatic and impressive of all degrees of the York Rite. Historically it deals with the destruction of Jerusalem in B.C. 586, and the carrying away of the Hebrew people into Babylonian captivity. The characters represented in the drama are: The Great Chaldean monarch, Nebuchadnezzar; the treacherous and faithless Zedekiah, the last of Judah’s Kings; the melancholy but zealous Jeremiah, the Prophet; the faithful Gedeliah; Belshazzar, the profane King; Daniel, the master of the magicians, the astrologers and sooth sayers; and the unswerving Prophet Ezekiel. The interesting and absorbing lesson is Fidelity to Vows, and that the Kingdom of God is not in kings, in ostentation, or in national glory, but that His Kingdom shall he in the hearts of men.
The whole history of Masonry, both real and legendary, has centred around a single Word.
The candidate, when he receives the degree of Master Mason, learns that the ‘Word’ for which he has searched is lost, and he receives only a ‘Substitute’. In the Royal Arch Degree, the ‘Word’, long lost, is found. In the Degrees of Royal and Select Masters, the explanation is given of how the ‘Word’ was lost, how it was found, the way it was preserved, and its meaning.
The process by which the restoration of the ‘Word’ was accomplished is known only to those who have received the Degrees of Royal and Select Masters. There are many missing links in the great chain of Masonic History and symbolism which are found only in the Council. Therefore the work of both the Lodge and the Chapter is incomplete without the degrees of the Council. The whole structure generally referred to as Ancient Craft Masonry, embracing the Lodge, Chapter and Council, shows mutual dependence and inter-connected unity. From the first degree of Entered Apprentice, to the last degree of Select Master, each degree is linked to the others.
Bro. Mackey, widely known as the author of the Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, has this to say of the Cryptic Degrees: ‘Let us suppose that the science of Freemasonry, or, in more definite words, the science of Masonic symbolism, is represented by a circle. This circle will be divided into three portions or arcs. One will be occupied by the degrees of the Lodge, or Ancient Craft Masonry; another by the degrees of the Chapter, or Royal Arch Masonry; and the third by the degrees of the Council, or Cryptic Masonry. Now, if a neophyte begins at any point of the circle, and passes over one-third of its circumference, he will arrive at the Masterâ’s Degree, and will then discover that, so far, the consummation of his Masonic labour is to know only that, that for which he has been striving has been lost, and instead of the key to all Masonic science, he receives only a Substitute for truth. Dissatisfied with this, let him, in his further search, proceed through another arc, or third of the circumference of the Masonic circle, and he will arrive at the Royal Arch Degree. Here, in this second arc, that key which has been lost in the first arc is found. But the circle has not yet been completed.
It is true that the lost has been found, but the process by which the restoration was accomplished is still unknown to him, and all the events of Masonic mythical history, which form the links between the loss and the recovery, and all the sublime symbolism which is connected with these events, are withheld from him. He knows what he has obtained, but he knows not why nor how he obtained it. To acquire this knowledge he passes through the remaining arc, and, by arriving at the degree of Select Master, consummates and perfects his knowledge of – the representative symbol of Divine Truth, and thus passes the circle of perfection in Masonic Science.’
Nyles, in 1817, wrote: ‘We have no degree in Masonry that has a more needful, or more important Connection with another, than the Select Master with the Royal Arch. It fills a chasm, which every intelligent Royal Arch Mason has observed, and without it, it seems difficult, if not impossible, to comprehend clearly some of the mysteries that belong to the august degree of Royal Arch.’
‘It is strange, and it is also unfortunate, that very few have received the useful knowledge made known in the Select Master, and, indeed, such is the nature of the degree that we cannot feel free to allude to the nature of its secrets. We may, however, pronounce it the key to the Arch.’
The degrees as conferred in the Lodge, Chapter and Council are a modification of the English or Ancient York Rite, consisting of nine degrees, as now constituted, and present an exact circle of Masonic science which, from the Apprentice’s Degree to the Select Master’s Degree, begin and end in the search for the True Word.
We trust the foregoing has aroused your interest in ‘The Cryptic Rite’. Meetings at which the degrees are conferred are conducive of firmer friendships and a closer spirit of brotherly love.
The noble heritage of Masonry is yours to take-not that decorations may be proudly worn; not that you may be known as a Mason of ‘high’ rank,— but that you may the more abundantly realize in your own life the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man. We invite you to claim this heritage.