“ … Pure ancient Masonry consists of three degrees and no more. viz., those of the Entered Apprentice. the Fellowcraft and the Master Mason (including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch)"
United Grand Lodge of England
THE STRUCTURE OF FREEMASONRY
The Symbolic or "Blue Lodge" constitutes the foundation and framework of Freemasonry. The degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason contain the basis and essentials of the Masonic teaching. They are the equivalent of the three "Rs" without which there could be no further education.
As many people find it desirable to obtain further education beyond the fundamentals, many of your Brothers have availed themselves of the additional light found in the degrees of the Royal Arch Chapter, the Council of Royal and Select Masters, the Commandery of Knights Templar and the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite.
Do not be misled by the term "higher degrees". Those who use it in referring to these degrees are misinformed. There are no "higher" degrees than those of the Symbolic or "Blue" Lodge.
These additional degrees do, however supplement and amplify the Symbolic degrees. They fill in the gaps and afford the historical background needed to complete the whole picture of Freemasonry. They add to the moral and spiritual lessons taught in the Lodge as well as open up whole new vistas of Masonry. Of all these additional degrees, the most closely related and most logical successor to the Master Mason degree is that of the Royal Arch.
IN THE BEGINNING
In the beginning, our ancient operative brethren had only a single degree. It probably consisted of an obligation to observe the ancient charges and regulations, and possibly a recitation of the various legends of the Craft. Our Brother became an apprentice, fellowcraft or master as his skill and experience warranted.
In more modern times, our Craft became speculative in nature. Men other than operative masons began to be admitted to membership, and the Freemasonry we know today gradually evolved. In 1717, four old Lodges met in London to devise means of promoting the fortunes of the Craft. At that historic meeting, the first Grand Lodge of Speculative Masonry was formed. In the years immediately following the establishment of this Mother Grand Lodge of ours, the ritual and symbolism developed into that which characterizes our philosophical Freemasonry today.
The basic element in all degrees was the loss and recovery of the "Master's Word", as related in the legend of Hiram. Over the years, the ritual of Craft Masonry underwent a number of changes. In 1751, a group of Irish Masons residing in England became dissatisfied with the practices being followed by the "Mother Grand Lodge", charging, among other things, neglect of what we now term the Royal Arch degree. These dissidents together with some others, formed a rival body which became known as the "Ancient Grand Lodge". During its existence, this body was very active, chartering many Lodges in England and overseas.
The two groups eventually reconciled their differences, and in 1813 they merged, forming the United Grand Lodge of England, which continues to the present day. In the Articles of Agreement consummating the union is the statement that “ . pure ancient Masonry consists of three degrees and no more. viz., those of the Entered Apprentice. the Fellowcraft and the Master Mason (including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch)"
The Royal Arch is the completion of the Master Mason degree. For various reasons the Royal Arch degree is not now conferred in the Symbolic Lodge, although it was for a considerable period of time. Over the years it evolved into a separate body which, with the addition of three other degrees, is now known as the Capitular series. The legend of the lost Word is portrayed in the Master Mason degree, but only a substitute is given the candidate. The Royal Arch, however, recovers that which was lost, and the allegory and symbolism of Ancient Craft Masonry is thus brought to completion.
The Royal Arch degree is conferred in a Chapter of Royal Arch Masons as the summit or climax of a series of four degrees. In this series are the degrees of Mark Master Mason, Past Master and Most Excellent Master, which precede the Royal Arch in that order. Each has its own story to tell, its lesson to teach and moral truth to illustrate. All are colorful and rich in historical interest.