The Degrees of Royal Arch Masonry are directly tied to the unfinished story portrayed in the Master Mason Degree.
At one time the Royal Arch Degree was a part of the Master Mason Degree but was available only to Past Masters. All of the degrees conferred in the Chapter are a continuation of what is taught in the Symbolic Lodge. In fact, in these Degrees the candidate finally discovers that which was lost.
The Degrees of the Chapter are as follows:
Mark Master Mason
The Mark Master Degree is believed to have originated as a ceremony of registering a craftsman's mark in those years distinguished by operative craft masons and their temple building. It was later developed into a full-fledged degree by the Masonic fraternity as we know it today, Some scholars say it was the earliest degree and may predate all others by many years. It is highly regarded by students in all Masonry, teaching lessons that have proven of value in all walks of life. Some Grand Lodges place so high an eminence on the Mark Master Degree, that they confine it to the jurisdiction of a separate grand body, the Grand Lodge of Mark Masters.
In the Mark Master Mason degree he enters as a fellow craft, a worker, and is thereby taught what he must now do for himself; and furthermore, how he must do it. The truth that life is energy, and that a man is what his performance is, proves to be the leading lessons of the Mark Master degree.
The Mark Degree forms one of the closest links connecting the old operative Masonry with the present speculative system. In the old operative Guilds each newly admitted craftsman was required to select and record a mark amid impressive ceremonies.
The Past Master Degree came into being because originally the degree of Royal Arch was conferred by the Symbolic (Blue) Lodge only on actual Past Masters. This degree was instituted to make it possible for all worthy Brethren to receive the Royal Arch degree. The first record of its conferral is found in 1768 in England.
The secrets imparted in this degree are called the "secrets of the chair," and these secrets, for the most part, constitute the Past Master Degree. In many Grand Lodges it is still required that a Master-elect, if he has not already done so, shall receive this degree before he can assume the chair as Master of his lodge. The possession of this degree was also a necessary prerequisite for receiving the Royal Arch Degree. The requirement of being a Past Master so limited the number of candidates for the Royal Arch Degree that Chapter Masonry lost much of its strength from the want of numbers duly interested and qualified to confer it.
Eventually the Royal Arch Chapters, sitting as lodges of Past Masters, conferred the degree. However, Past Masters so made did not acquire the honors of that grade in symbolic lodges. Thus arose the terms Actual Past Master (one who has actually been elected and installed to preside over a symbolic lodge) and Virtual Past Master (one who has received the degree in a chapter).
Most Excellent Master
The Most Excellent Master Degree is a product of American innovation. It was conferred in a Royal Arch Chapter as early as 1783 in Middletown, Conn. It is by far the most spectacular degree in all Freemasonry. It is the only degree that brings forcibly to our attention the completion and dedication of King Solomon's Temple. The very idea upon which all Masonic symbolism has been based.
King Solomon's Temple, for more than a thousand years, stood upon the same site as the center, the living heart of the religious and national life of the Jews. From periods of desertion, desecration and ruin it was restored from time to time. It continued to serve its hallowed purposes as long as the national life of that people survived. And when at last, in the year of 70 A.D., at the terrible siege of Titus, a lighted torch hurled by a Roman besieger through the open window of one of its chambers set it on fire, and its massive timbers went up in flames, and its stately walls fell crashing to rise no more, it was the lamentable "sign and token" that the political existence of that devoted race was near an end.
The Temple was no more, but its spirit lived on. The sublime idea for which it stood, that of worship and service, survived and expanded into the religious consciousness of the Christian world. It was reproduced in their temples and their worship. Much of its terminology became the watchwords of those medieval guilds of cathedral builders (the operative Masons of those days).
While the Temple stood it was preeminently the place of worship and communion with God. Daily the morning and evening sacrifice was offered; daily the oblation of prayer and praise ascended; daily the fragrance of incense filled its hallowed courts. It was, moreover, the place chosen by Jehovah for the revelation of His oracles and the special manifestation of His glory. It was therefore a place unutterably holy and consecrate, the meeting place of the Divine and human, of God and man.
This degree reminds us of what is at once the highest, the noblest and the most blessed exercise of the powers and faculties of the human soul, namely, worship.
It tells us in ceremonies most solemn, most beautiful, most instructive and impressive the true purpose of man's life and therefore what that life should be.
It tells us that none but the meritorious and praiseworthy, none but those who through diligence and industry have advanced far toward perfection, none but those who have been seated in the Oriental Chair by the unanimous suffrages of their Brethren, can be admitted to this degree of Masonry.
In the original establishment, when the Temple of Jerusalem was finished, and the fraternity celebrated the cap-stone with great joy, it was demonstrable that none but those who had proved themselves to be complete masters of their profession were admitted to this honor, and indeed the duties incumbent on every Mason who is accepted and acknowledged as a Most Excellent Master, are such as render it indispensable that he should have a correct knowledge of all the preceding degrees.
The Royal Arch Degree is the climax of Ancient Craft Masonry and Masonic Symbolism. It is described as "the root and marrow of Freemasonry." It is the complete story of Jewish History during some of its darkest hours. Jerusalem and the Holy temple are destroyed, The people are being held captive as slaves in Babylon. Here you will join with some slaves as they are set free to return home and engage in the noble and glorious work of rebuilding the city and the Temple of God. It is during this rebuilding that they make a discovery that brings to light the greatest treasure of a Mason --the long lost Master's Word.
Many historians have traced the earliest origins of the Royal Arch Degree to Ireland, late in the 17th century and in England in 1738, In 1752, ambulatory or military warrants for Lodges were introduced. This was instrumental in placing the Royal Arch Degree on a par with the Master Mason Degree.
Military lodges were greatly responsible for planting Freemasonry in the Colonies and also gave birth to the use of the Marl and Royal Arch degrees in the "New World." Lodge records show that the Royal Arch Degree was conferred at Fredericksburg No. 4 on December 12, 1753.
Like the term Archbishop, "Arch Mason" seems to have first applied to the Installed Masters, to distinguish them from the Master Masons when the "Master's Part" became a separate and recognized degree. From this circumstance grew the rule, which we still observe, that a candidate for the degrees must have "regularly passed the chair." Viewed in this light the name seems not only simple but very appropriate. This reaffirms the thought that the Royal Arch Degree is the summit of ancient Craft Masonry.
If, at any time during the construction of the Temple, the place of the deceased Architect was effectively filled and work successfully finished, the instructions relative to the filling of that place are as much Masonry as the instructions relative to the causing of the vacancy by the death of the Architect; all must admit that it was his death that caused the loss, and through his death the Key Stone was left in the quarry.
If we trace its history back, we find its germ in the Third Degree, in the discovery of the Lost Word, originally imparted as the last and greatest secret of Symbolic Masonry. This, again became the germinal principle of a separate degree called Royal Arch. It sets up no artificial standard of right or wrong, but only that which is found in the Book of the Law. While it teaches us that life is earnest and real, it also teaches that the grave is not its goal but that those who humbly, prudently, faithfully, and sincerely live the life of service here below await unexpected discoveries, unsought honors at its close, even a name and a place in the City and Temple of God, that house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.