Companions, as you are aware, I usually preside at the Annual Investiture meeting of the Craft, which gives me an opportunity to address the whole of the Craft.
On this occasion however, I have chosen to preside at the Annual Investiture of Supreme Grand Chapter, and I want to take this opportunity to make some comments about the revisions to the Royal Arch ritual as proposed by the Pro First Grand Principal’s Strategic Working Party.
The amendment to the 1813 Declaration, which Grand Lodge voted to adopt last December, recognises formally that the Royal Arch is a separate Order.
However, there still seems to be some doubt in the minds of some Companions about the continuing link between the Craft and the Royal Arch, and some feeling that the enhancement in the status of this Order has broken the link.
Such, Companions, is not the case. I said in the March Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge that I wanted very strongly to endorse the phrase used by the Pro Grand Master in his speech last September, when he emphasised that the Royal Arch is to remain “indissolubly linked to the Craft”.
There is no compromise here, Companions: that bond is to remain as strong and as close as ever, and the Royal Arch should be regarded by all as the important final step in pure Antient Freemasonry.
For many years, the Royal Arch has been described as “the completion of the Third Degree”. This phrase implies that neither the Third Degree nor the ceremony of Exaltation is complete, which is surely untrue.
Some have suggested that recognising this as fact has taken away a strong argument for persuading Brethren to join the Royal Arch, but I believe that we must adopt a different approach, and stress that a man only becomes a complete Mason when he takes this very important additional step into this Order.
The requirement of having to be an Installed Master before progressing through the Principals’ offices in the Royal Arch is regarded by many Companions as frustrating and restrictive. It appears to have dissuaded many from maintaining their membership of the Royal Arch, and caused them to join other Orders beyond the Craft as the next step in their Masonic career in preference to the Royal Arch.
It is proposed to remove this barrier to permit those who have served as Principal Sojourner, but not been through the chair in their Lodge, to make progress in their Chapters – provided they have earned it by their keenness and ability.
The proposed changes to the Lectures are designed to enhance their clarity and impact. As a consequence, delivering these lectures to newly exalted Companions will become easier, and will enable more Companions to take part in the ritual at an earlier stage of their Royal Arch career than has been the case hitherto.
Most of the changes proposed by the Strategic Working Party, especially those relating to the Lectures, will be permissive. This will enable Chapters to introduce these changes gradually over a period of time, if they so wish.
There are no plans to make the revised workings mandatory, and Chapters will continue to be able to work the traditional version of the Lectures if they prefer.
Companions, I know that there has already been a very considerable response in this current phase of consultation, which will continue for several more months, and it is encouraging that so many have wanted to make their views known.
Inevitably, opinions differ on how much change should be introduced, but this sort of review is healthy and can only lead to a better result. A number of suggestions made by members of the Order have already been approved by the Strategic Working Party, and no doubt there will be more before this matter comes before Grand Chapter in November.
I am hopeful that a final decision can be reached then, but it is a large undertaking, and we need to be as sure as possible that the changes that are recommended are the right ones.
If these recommendations are approved by Supreme Grand Chapter and made to work by your enthusiasm and support, they will have a positive impact on the future of the Royal Arch and help to make this beautiful and important Order more enjoyable.
Before closing, I wish to thank the Grand Scribe E and his staff for everything they do to enable us to enjoy our Royal Arch Masonry and to the Grand Director of Ceremonies and his Deputies for ensuring that our ceremonies run so smoothly.