The preamble to the Book of Constitutions states that “Masonry consists of three degrees and no more, viz., those of the Entered Apprentice, the Fellow Craft, and the Master Mason, including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch and adds that “At the Quarterly Communication of 10 December 2003 the United Grand Lodge of England acknowledged and pronounced the status of the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch to be ‘an extension to, but neither a superior nor a subordinate part of, the Degrees which precede it”.
The Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch takes up and completes the Masonic narrative of King Solomon’s Temple, the subject of Craft Masonry, from a time some 450 years after completion of the Temple at Jerusalem.
From biblical sources, it appears that completion was in about 967 BC, shortly after the death of the principal architect.
The Temple stood for some four centuries until about 586 BC, when it was destroyed by a Chaldean army under King Nebuchadnezzar. The surviving people of Jerusalem were forcibly deported to Babylon (the Babylonish exile), where they and their descendants remained in captivity for some 70 years.
During this time, Babylon was conquered by Cyrus who became King of Persia and, encouraged by the prophet Jeremiah, the exiled people of Jerusalem prospered. Eventually King Cyrus issued a decree permitting the exiles to return to Jerusalem where, after a further period of delay, work eventually was started upon the reconstruction of the Temple on the ground where the first Temple formerly stood.
This is the point at which the Royal Arch takes up the story and tells of how the loss suffered through the death of the principal architect of the former temple was made good by the recovery of that which the Master Mason acknowledges as lost.
This discovery does not however complete the Masonic quest which started at Initiation. The newly admitted member of the Royal Arch is introduced to an explanation of that which was lost but the explanation is completed only upon Installation into the First (the most senior) of the three Principal’s chairs of the Chapter.
The admission of a Master Mason into the Royal Arch (more correctly the Holy Royal Arch of Jerusalem) is the ceremony of Exaltation, which is in two parts. The first is a dramatic presentation of the principles of the Order and is followed by three lectures explaining the history, symbolism and principles of Royal Arch Masonry.
The Royal Arch emphasises the centrality of the Supreme Being, in Whom all Masons have professed their belief, in every aspect of a mans life without trespassing upon ground properly reserved for religion.
It leads its members (Companions) to reflect upon the nature of God and their relationship to Him, independently of their membership of any particular system of religious belief.
The spiritual aspect, first appearing in the ceremony of Raising as the contemplation of one’s inevitable destiny, is at the heart of the Holy Royal Arch and supports and reinforces the teachings of a Companion’s personal religious belief.
Through membership of the Holy Royal Arch and the occupation of the three principal Chairs of the Order, the quest for knowledge completes the unbroken spiritual journey which starts at a Brother’s Initiation, in our pilgrimage in search of the truth.