Grand Chapter and the ritual

One area which had not been looked at in 1817 was the ritual. In the 1820s a number of Chapters in the Provinces had written in requesting guidance, which had not been forthcoming. Complaints were raised and in 1834 the Duke of Sussex set up a special Committee to decide what the Royal Arch ceremonies were and to demonstrate them to the Grand Chapter so that they could be approved and adopted by all Chapters. The Committee duly deliberated and their work was approved by Grand Chapter.

The aim of producing a standard ritual, however, was not achieved, as Grand Chapter would not allow the revised rituals for the exaltation and installation ceremonies to be printed. A Chapter of Promulgation was chartered to give demonstrations in London, to which Chapters were invited to send representatives. The new system being passed on by word of mouth inevitably led to local differences of detail developing. Grand Chapter having settled the ritual in 1834 adopted the position that its still maintains: that matters of principle in the ritual are the concern of Grand Chapter but matters of detail are the concern of individual Chapters and the governing bodies which developed in the later 19th century to superintend the various workings that developed.

That attitude was clearly shown in the 1970s and 1980s when ritual again became a subject of discussion. In the 1970s it was a question of the sharing of the work between many Companions rather than overloading the Principals and Principal Sojourner. Grand Chapter suggested how the ceremony and Lectures might be split up but left the detail to Chapters to decide. In the 1980s it was the physical penalty in the obligation, the Royal Arch word and the misinterpretation of Hebrew that came under discussion. Again, the major principle was decided by Grand Chapter, but the detail of how those elements were removed was left up to Chapters and the ritual working groups.

The ritual was returned to again in 2004. The definition of "pure ancient Masonry" in 1813 and the revision of the ritual in 1834 had led to the Royal Arch being stated to be the completion of the Master Mason degree. Over the years this had led to argument as to how this could be. The Master Mason degree was obviously complete in itself, as was the exaltation ceremony. Were those Master Masons who did not enter the Royal Arch in some way incomplete or inferior? - a patently absurd notion. In December 2003 the nettle was grasped in the United Grand Lodge when it was resolved to add the following statement to the definition of pure ancient Masonry, which had been the preamble to the rules in the Book of Constitutions since 1853:

"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'."

At the same time a Ritual Committee had been set up to look at the effect of the addition to the definition on the Royal Arch ritual and to consider the Principal's Lectures. The Committee recommended the dropping of 27 words from the exaltation ceremony, the dropping of the Installed Master's qualification for the Third Principal's Chair and recommended revise texts of the Principal's Lectures. These were demonstrated to Grand Chapter in November 2004 and adopted. The dropping of the 27 words and the Installed Master's qualification became mandatory but the new Lectures were optional, each Chapter having the right to choose either to stay with the old texts, adopt the new or use a mixture of both.