The ancient landmarks of 1813, emanating from the United Grand Lodge of England indicated "that pure Antient 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." This should serve as a demonstration of the importance and high esteem which the Royal Arch Degree has been held in Freemasonry.
In the Mark degree, the candidate steps back into the role of a Fellow Craft to learn the proper way to receive the wages of an Operative Fellow Craft Mason. Anciently, an operative Fellow Craft would select a distinctive Mark which he would cut into each stone he prepared. This Mark was made so that he might be given credit and receive wages for his work, and so that he would be accountable for the quality of work performed. A Mason's Mark is roughly equivalent to a signature in today's world. The legend of this degree teaches the candidate about a stone that was cast into the rubbish heap at the building of King Solomon's Temple, deemed to be irregular, but is later discovered to be the capstone for the entrance of the Temple.
Outside of the United States the Mark Degree is conferred in separately governed Mark Lodges operating under a Mark Grand Lodge.
In the Past Master degree, the candidate goes through essentially the same ceremonies as the installation of Worshipful Master of the Symbolic Lodge, and takes appropriate obligations in relation to governing over Masonic Lodges in general. This degree is necessary because ancient tradition requires that a Mason be a Past Master of the Symbolic Lodge before he can be exalted in the Holy Royal Arch degree.
The Most Excellent Master degree marks the completion of the Temple, its dedication, and depicts the sacred items which were placed within the Holy of Holies. With the labor of the Craft upon the Temple finally being completed, a time of rejoicing and appreciation for the splendor of the Temple is had, but not forgetting the death of Grand Master Hiram Abiff, who is still being mourned.
The Royal Arch Degree is the chronological culmination of Ancient Craft Masonry's Legend of Hiram Abiff. This degree depicts several significant scenes from Israelite history: The Babylonian invasion, the destruction of the Temple of Solomon, the Captivity of the Jews in Babylon, and their eventual return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. In this degree the Ancient Masters Word is finally restored by virtue of wise provisions which were made by our Three Ancient Grand Masters.
In the United States, where Mark Lodges are operated under authority of the Royal Arch Chapter, the officers given in the following lists correspond respectively to one another, with officers having approximately the same duties (i.e. the Master Overseer corresponds to the Master of the Third Veil.) See the Royal Arch Officers' Jewels (PDF)
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The official philanthropy of the General Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons in the USA is the Able Kids Foundation, which helps to remove barriers for people with disabilities and improve their quality of life.
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