What is the York Rite?
The York Rite is a collection of several Masonic degrees and orders which are conferred upon those Master Masons who seek further Light in Masonry beyond that of the Master Mason degree. The York Rite takes its name from the ancient English city of York, around whose cathedral cluster many Masonic traditions. These traditions tell us that Athelstan, who was the first king of all England and reigned more than a thousand years ago, granted the first charter to the Masonic guilds at York.
In the 1700's, Masonry in England was dominated by two rival Grand Lodges, often referred to as the "Ancients" and the "Moderns." The primary reason for the schism between the two Grand Lodges was that the "Ancients" insisted that the Holy Royal Arch was an integral part of the Master Mason degree and should be conferred as such. The Grand Secretary of the "Ancients" went so far as to describe the Holy Royal Arch as "the root, heart and marrow of Masonry."
In 1813, the two rival Grand Lodges were able to settle their differences and merged to form the United Grand Lodge of England, which governs Masonry in England to this day. The Act of Union of the United Grand Lodge clearly stated that “Pure Ancient Craft Masonry consists of three degrees and no more, namely, those of the Entered Apprentice, the Fellow Craft and the Master Mason including the Holy Royal Arch.” In England today, Chapters of Royal Arch Masons are still attached to Lodges of Master Masons, often sharing the same officers.
Over the years, a number of other degrees have emerged to further illuminate and explain the lessons of the three degrees of the Symbolic (or Craft) Lodge and the Holy Royal Arch. However, these other degrees are not higher or more august than the Master Mason and Royal Arch degrees. After all, no other degrees are higher or more august in Ancient Craft Masonry than the Master Mason and Royal Arch degrees.
Among these other degrees, the Most Excellent Master, Royal Master, and Select Master degrees clarify and continue the lessons of the Master Mason and Royal Arch degrees. The Mark Master degree amplifies the lessons of the Fellowcraft degree. These other degrees, along with the three Lodge degrees and the Royal Arch degree, have coalesced to form the foundation of what is known as the York Rite.
By the mid-1700's, some lodges had begun conferring the Knight Templar degree. Today the York Rite confers three orders of Christian Knighthood, culminating in the Order of the Temple. It has been said that "no degree or order in Freemasonry is more solemn, more impressive or more soul-searching than the Order of the Temple."
The Royal Arch degree has been called "the crowning feature and glorious completion of Ancient Craft Masonry." Every Master Mason should consider completing his journey through Ancient Craft Masonry by becoming a Royal Arch Mason. The Order of the Temple has been called "the most beautiful and inspiring of all the degrees and orders of Freemasonry." Every Christian Mason should consider becoming a Knight Templar. It is the York Rite that offers the opportunity for a Master Mason to become a Royal Arch Mason and a Knight Templar and much, much more.
The Central Theme of the York Rite.
The degrees and orders of the York Rite of Freemasonry all revolve around one great central theme: The True Word.
According to the preeeminent Masonic scholar Albert G. Mackey, "To find the True Word is the object of all Masonic search and labor. For as the Lost Word is the symbol of death, the True Word is the symbol of life eternal. It indicates the change that is always occurring — truth after error, light after darkness, life after death. Of all the symbolism of Speculative Masonry, that of the True Word is the most philosophic and sublime."
Recall that in the Lodge, the Word was lost.
As the candidate progresses through the Capitular degrees, the Word is found. As a Mark Master, he will learn the value of workmanship, honesty, and charity. As a Most Excellent Master, he will assist at the completion and dedication of the Temple. As a Royal Arch Mason, he will find the Master’s Word and the place where it was concealed after the death of Hiram Abif.
As the candidate progresses through the Cryptic degrees, the Word is preserved. As a Royal Master, he will have a conversation with Hiram Abif about his mortality. As a Select Master, he will discover how and why the Master's Word was lost, how it was discovered, by whom and for what purpose.
As the candidate progresses through the Chivalric orders, the Word is made flesh. As a Companion of the Red Cross, he will assist in the rebuilding of the Second Temple and champion the almighty force of Truth. As a Knight of Malta, he will be prepared for an arduous journey. Then after a preparatory period of pilgrimage, warfare, and penance, he will be dubbed and created a Knight of the Valiant and Magnanimous Order of the Temple.
In contemplating our own search for the True Word, let us hearken to the lesson from St. John the Evangelist, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."