The History of York Rite Masonry

Today, York Rite Masonry is made up of three distinct bodies; the Royal Arch Chapter, Council and Commandery.  Below is a brief description of the degrees in the order that they are conferred within each of these bodies.

The Royal Arch Chapter

  • Mark Master

This is the first of the four degrees in the Chapter, and in it, the candidate is still symbolically laboring on an unfinished temple, he is taught the nobility of labor and that in the erection of his moral and spiritual temple he must determine and prepare the materials of which that temple is to be constructed and to have due care in so doing the work which he shall present, bearing his mark, shall be such as to designate him as one worthy of admission to "that house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens."

  • Past Master

Originally the Royal Arch Degree could not be conferred upon a brother who had not previously presided over a lodge.  Eventually it was conferred upon all candidates for the Royal Arch Degree.  The brother receiving it in that manner is a Virtual, not an Actual, Past Master.  It teaches that he who would rule others must first learn to rule himself.

  • Most Excellent Master

This Degree recites the events surrounding the completion and dedication of King Solomon's Temple.  Here the Mason sees for the first time completed the construction of the Temple on which he has symbolically labored in all previous degrees.   Symbolically it represents the building of life and character and the reward which comes to him who faithfully performs his task.

  • Royal Arch Degree

Except the Master Mason Degree, no Masonic Degree is more important in its historical and symbolic significance than this.  In some form it appears in every Rite, but only here does its history, its symbolism, its lessons show so vividly its connection with the Master Mason Degree and the fact that it is, indeed, the final chapter of that essential degree of Freemasonry.  It brings to light that for which the Mason has searched.   Its lessons are the essence of Masonic truth.  Its ceremonies for the most part are founded upon the return of the Israelites from captivity to rebuild a destroyed temple, and the discoveries there made.

The Cryptic Council

  • Royal Master

This is the first of the Council degrees.  It is conferred in a place known as the council chamber, which represents the private apartment of King Solomon's Temple, where he and his two associates met for consultation and deliberation during the construction of the Temple, and the drama portrayed in it sheds additional light on both the Master Mason and Royal Arch degrees.  It and the following degree are essential to a clear understanding of the events of one section of the Royal Arch.

  • Select Master

In the Select Master's degree which is the second of the Council, the place of meeting represents a "Secret Vault" or crypt beneath the Temple.  The historical object of the degree is to commemorate the deposits of an important secret or treasure which, after the preliminary preparations, is said to have been made by our three Grand Masters.

  • Super Excellent Master

This degree was not originally a part of the Cryptic system, and is not in all jurisdictions as yet.  It has one of the best written rituals in Masonry.  It deals with the incidents in the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar when Zedekiah, the last King of Judah, was conquered and carried captive to Babylon.  It enlarges upon the section of the Royal Arch having to do with the capture of Jerusalem by the Babylonian King, and teaches in most dramatic fashion the lesson of fidelity.

The Commandery 

of Knights Templar

  • Order of the Red Cross

As the first step in a Commandery of Knights Templar, the Illustrious Order of the Red Cross continues the story of the Royal Arch and deals with a period in Jewish history at the time of the return of the Jews from captivity and the efforts to rebuild the Temple of their God in Jerusalem.  The Illustrious Order of the Red Cross, peculiar to the United States, teaches the lessons of the triumph of Truth.

  • Order of Knight of Malta

The second Order in the Commandery is the Knight of Malta with its pass degree of Knight of St. Paul or the Mediterranean Pass.  This Order is the first Christian Order encountered by the candidate.  The ritual is based historically upon one of the old Orders of the Crusades.

  • Order of the Temple

This is the third and most impressive Order of the Commandery and is wholly Christian.   The Templar tradition derives from the Society of the same name which played so important a part in the Crusades of the Middle Ages.  Beautiful lessons of the death and ascension of our Savior are inculcated and the candidate is received into full fellowship, in the most solemn manner.

A beautiful collection of Past High Priest Jewels courtesy of Brother Burke Gray

A poster Chart of the Degrees within the York Rite Branch of Freemasonry courtesy of Wor. Bro. Mason Pratt

An Ark Masonís Song

Ye seekers of Wisdom, desirous to learn
The Ark Mason secret, you here will discern;
Give but close attention, it soon will unfold,
Ark Masons at present, are like those of old.

Theyíre Sons of fair Science, that join hand in hand,
To whom Natureís Laws, free and open doth stand
Unrevealíd to all, in this virtuous School,
Where each Brotherís perfection is proved by a Rule.

Such Rules are Social, they are such as are good,
By none but Ark Masons, rightly understood;
They are Mystic, they are glorious, and doth the Heart move
To Friendship, sweet Union, and Brotherly Love.

The tools that they work with, are the Plumb Line of Truth,
The Level of Honor, curbs Passions of Youth;
The Square and Compass, so well they employ,
That Brethren thatís needy, relief soon enjoy.

The Axe, Saw, and Borer, they use in due time,
The Chief of their Actions, they guide by a Line;
Within and without, they so place the Cement,
That the Ark is secure, and Noah content.

Within an Ark Lodge, there can nothing reside
Belonging to Malice, base Envy or Pride;
For old Father Noah, doth teach his Sonís how
To shun such Hell Fiends, as their dangírous Foe.

Then let us unite, and Unanimous join,
To establish the Order, as Masons combine;
Then true Sons of Wisdom, once blind, soon shall see,
The long wished for Zenith, of Ark Masonry.

To read a complete history click on the link below:

The History of the Knights Templar by Charles G. Addison




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