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[ This is an excellent paper presented by the learned
author at the Regular Convocation of Dakshin Principals' Chapter (No.103), which
is the only Research Chapter in the Region. The paper was presented on 26 th
March 2006. The learned author has traced the history of the revision of
the ritual of the Royal Arch in England, more particularly those effected in
1835. He has admirably brought about the link between the Holy Royal Arch and
the Craft in his own inimitable style. Please read on . . ]
The Excellent Masters’ Degree
(Passing The Veils)- A Link Between The Craft And The Holy Royal Arch
.Comp. T. T. Kuruvilla P.Dy.R.G.D
Excellent Companions and Companions all. Let me at the outset thank M.E.
First Principal for
conferring upon me this rare privilege to present this paper at this Convocation
of the only R.A Chapter of the Southern Region, dedicated to Masonic Research. I consider it a great honour and privilege.
Companions, I would like to share with you some thoughts
about a degree in Freemasonry, which may not be familiar to most of you.
The subject of this paper is The Excellent Masters Degree that is commonly
called the Ceremony of Passing the Veils and how it forms a link between the
Craft degrees and the Royal Arch.
The Ceremony of Passing the Veils was an integral part of
Royal Arch Masonry for the first 60 years of its existence. At the time of the
Union of the two rival Grand Lodges in England in the second decade of the
nineteenth century, there was a revision of the Craft rituals to give effect to
the many compromises that were made to bring about the Union. A similar revision
of the Royal Arch Rituals took place a little later in 1835.
It was at the time of these revisions of rituals, that the Ceremony of
Passing the Veils was removed and elements of it were incorporated in the
revised rituals. Comp. F. A.
M. Taylor, Assistant Librarian for the Grand Royal Arch Chapter of England wrote
in 1932, that, “The veils were doubtless a part of early ceremony of the Arch
Degree and the working of the same discontinued, I believe, at the Union in
1817.” He goes on to state, that it appears that the, “passing of the
veils” was extensively used in the early part of the 19th century.
The revision of rituals took place only in England.
In the other old Constitutions like Ireland, Scotland and old Grand
Lodges in the United States, there were no schisms or
compromises. In these Constitutions the traditional form of the Royal
Arch, without any revisions and mutilations is still being practiced.
I was once a member of a Scottish Royal Arch Chapter.
In the Scottish Constitution, before a M.M can be exalted into the Royal
Arch he must first take the Mark Degree and then go through the Ceremony of
Passing the Veils, which is called the Excellent Masters’ Degree. These
degrees are mandatory before a M.M can be exalted and are conferred by the
Chapter itself. Although I am no
longer a member of a Scottish Chapter or a Scottish Lodge, but since I am bound
by the obligation of the Excellent Masters Degree taken by me, I can not be
specific, but refer to the secrets of the degree particularly the Signs, Tokens
and Words, only in general terms .
The Ceremony of Passing the Veils is a brief ceremony.
The arrangement is like a Craft Lodge, except that the Lodge room is
divided by three or sometimes, four curtains or veils. What is a veil.
old Royal Arch lecture, possibly as early as 1800, reads "the Veil of the
temple signifies the Son of God, Jesus Christ, hanging upon the Altar of the
Cross, as the true veil between God and us".
In this context, the word veil alludes to a promise or bond. The veil is also a symbol
of the pre enlightened state, hidden knowledge, secrecy, illusion and ignorance.
It conceals, but is often intended as a protection rather than deception. Veils
are also often used to cover a religious, or holy, object to keep it from the
profane. The significance again is less to conceal something, but rather it
signifies, that the thing it covers is special. Exodus 34, mentions that when
Moses came down Mt. Sinai, "the skin of his face shone", which he had
to cover with a veil as the people were unable to look upon his shining face.
The Hoy Koran (7:44) mentions that a veil divides the damned from the chosen.
The unbelievers tell the Prophet in Koran
(41:4) that "between us and
thee there is a veil".
The colours of the curtains are blue, purple and scarlet and when there is a
fourth veil, it is white. According
to Josephus, the famous historian, there were four veils that adorned the
Tabernacle. The white veil signified the earth, the blue veil signified the air,
the purple veil signified the sea (because the purple color comes from murex, a
shell-fish) and red signified fire. The Passing of the Veils ceremony uses three
veils, sometimes four.
I would like to in this short paper to locate and identify the places in our
present rituals wherein the elements of the erstwhile Ceremony of Passing the
Veils have been incorporated
We can easily discern, where the colours blue, purple and
scarlet are to be found in our Chapters today.
They constitute the colours of the robes of the three Principals. Not
only were the colours of the veils transferred to the robes, but also the
significance of the different veils – blue representing friendship and
benevolence; purple union and scarlet fervency and zeal; were also transferred
to the explanations of the Colour symbolism at the time of the Installation of
It is pertinent to notice, that the Ceremony of
Installation of the three Principals was formally adopted in the Royal Arch only
at the time of the revision of the rituals
in 1835. So the removal of
the Ceremony of Passing the Veils and adoption of the Installation
Ceremonies occurred at the same time and a large part of the Veils
ceremony is to be found in the Installation rituals. It is also of interest to
note that in the other Constitutions where the Ceremony of Passing the Veils
continues as a part of the Royal Arch system, the Principals usually do not wear
robes. In Ireland, the Principals
don’t have robes and in Scotland wearing of robes is not mandatory and it is
left to the discretion of the
In the Excellent Masters Degree, after the candidate is
admitted and takes his obligation, he is conducted through the three veils.
The veils are guarded by Captains of the Veils, who are usually the
Sojourners of the Chapter. At each veil, the candidate is entrusted with a Sn,
Tn and Wd of the veil and a
selected portion of the Bible is read, which explains their significance.
After going through the blue, purple and scarlet veils, the candidate is
entrusted with the P.W. leading to the Royal Arch degree.
In the Scottish Chapters the pass word is communicated to the candidate
in the Excellent Masters degree unlike our Chapters, where the P.S retires
before the exaltation to communicate the P.W. to the candidate.
Therefore, the Excellent Masters degree can be seen as a preparatory
degree, preparing the M.M for the Royal Arch experience.
‘Preparation’ of the candidate is the principal theme of the degree
and in my lecture today I would like to see how this theme is
worked out with special reference to the important symbol in Freemasonry
In both the Craft and the Royal Arch, when the Candidate is
first admitted, he is hoodwinked and is in a state of darkness.
In the Craft, when he is restored to light, it is often assumed, that he
is being restored to Masonic light. In
fact, in many Lodges, the JD takes great care to manipulate the head of the
Candidate, so that he faces the V.S.L and Sq and C, the great though emblematic
lights in Freemasonry, because the first object that he should see in the Lodge,
when he is restored to light should be the three great lights of Freemasonry.
In my opinion, this is quite unnecessary. According to our ritual the W.M tells the Candidate
immediately after the h…w is removed, “ Having been restored to the blessing
of material light, let me point out to your attention what we consider the three
great though emblematic lights in Freemasonry…”
The Candidate is first restored to material light.
The word “restored” implies that the Candidate is given back a
faculty, that he already possessed,
even before entering the Lodge and he is restored not to “masonic light”,
but to “material light”. After
being restored to material light, the Candidate’s attention is then drawn
to the three great lights of Freemasonry. What is the meaning of “material
light”? It is a faculty unique to
human beings. It is something, that all men are born with.
It is the faculty of reasoning, of excogitation, of rational analysis and
drawing valid inferences, of comprehension, of understanding.
The Candidate is then expected to apply his rational mind to the three
great lights. To analyse the
principles in these symbols and through analysis obtain an understanding of
their meaning and through understanding, it is hoped, that the Candidate will
adopt them in his day to day life. The
meaning of these symbols are well known. They
represent your religious duties, the moral and ethical values of society and to
abide by the laws of the country. Freemasonry
expects all its members to be religious, of moral character and
law abiding citizens. This
should be the foundation of the character of every Freemason
The Second degree is really the high noon of Freemasonry.
The sun is at its meridian. The
degree deals with the intellectual faculty.
It exhorts its members to study the “hidden mysteries of nature and
science” and the Candidate is introduced to the seven liberal arts and
sciences. It is this degree, that
encourages the mason to develop his intellectual faculty and to apply his
rational minds to his profession, to his business, to his career in service, so
that he becomes eminent and distinguished in life. Freemasonry envisages that its members will be,
not only religious, moral and law abiding citizens, but also learned,
eminent and distinguished in life.
But there are limits to which the rational mind can take
you. There are subjects like death,
life after death, eternal life, nature of God, the center and circumference
being the same, being present yesterday, today and tomorrow at the same time.
These are subjects that are not amenable to logical analysis. These are subjects
that the rational mind cannot understand. These are areas of darkness as far as
the reasoning mind is concerned. Since
the third degree deals with the subject of death, life after death, eternal life
and nature of God, that is the
reason the Lodge is in darkness, when the candidate is admitted. In order to
understand these subjects the Candidate requires another light quite different
from the light, he received at his Initiation.
This is indicated by the W.M in the Charge after Raising, when he tells
the Candidate, “Let me now beg of you to observe that the light of a Master
Mason is but darkness visible….. it is that mysterious veil, which the eyes of
human reason cannot penetrate, unless assisted by that light from above”.
So, there is another light which comes from above, which dispels the
darkness and makes subjects like death, life after death, eternal life and
nature of God comprehensible to the Mason. Having introduced the theme in the
third degree, it is fully explained and elucidated only in the Royal Arch.
In the Royal Arch Degree, the three Sojourners in the
course of their employment, discover the secret vault. They break into the vault and find it in total darkness.
The darkness has the same significance as the darkness of the third
degree. Though the Genuine Secrets are present in the vault, they are unable to
see it In the darkness they
discover the scroll, which on examination turns out to be the V.S.L. They study
the V.S.L, and develop faith and belief in God.
They enter the vault a second time this time with faith in their hearts.
When they go in with faith, a ray of light comes through the top
aperture, illuminates the darkness, which enables the Sojourners to discover the
Genuine Secrets. What was predicted in the third degree literally comes to pass
in the Royal Arch. A ray of light
from above dispels the darkness and enables the Sojourners to discover the
There are a few points about this experience that must be
must have faith, an implicit belief in God before one can hope to receive
enlightenment. Implicit faith is a condition precedent to enlightenment.
Source of the light does not originate from us or our intellect.
It has a different source.
process of enlightenment is different from logical analysis and
comprehension. Enlightenment is instantaneous. One moment every thing is darkness, the next moment you
Now, what is the source of this light.
This is also explained in the Royal Arch Degree.
At his Initiation and Exaltation the Candidate, who is hood winked,
kneels while taking his obligation. But
in the craft he continues to kneel when he is restored to light.
This indicates that the light of the Craft – the faculty of reasoning-
is of a subordinate or lower status to the light, that he will receive later in
the Royal Arch. In the RoyalArch
though the Candidate takes his obligation, when he is kneeling, but before he is
restored to light, the P.S raises him to a standing position by a grip and tells
him, “Brother….. now a Companion of the Order rise”.
So the Candidate is raised from a kneeling to a standing position, he is
elevated from a brother to a companion indicating ,that he now enjoys a better
status or qualification to receive the light of Royal Arch Masonry.
Companions, this is really the exaltation of the Candidate, for the
meaning of the word ‘exalt’ is to raise or elevate to a higher status. What
is of interest from the point of view of today’s paper, is the grip with which
the Candidate is raised. The grip
is an amalgam or combination of the grips of the three veils of the Excellent
Masters Degree pointing to the function of the degree in preparing the Master
Mason to receive the light of the Royal Arch.
As I mentioned earlier before one can receive light of the
Royal Arch one must have faith. Implicit
belief in God is a condition precedent to enlightenment.
To a mature and fully trained rational mind,
it is sometimes difficult accept faith blindly.
It is difficult for him to suspend his rationality and accept implicit
faith in the reality of God and life after death. The purpose of the Excellent
Masters degree is to prepare the rational minds to accept faith.
This is worked out through the signs of the veils.
The signs of the three veils refer to an incident in the Bible when Moses
went up Mount Sinai and God appeared to him in a burning bush.
God gave him many Commandments. He
told Moses to tell the Israelites to do this and do that and don’t do this and
don’t that. Then Moses had a doubt.
He said God, when I go the Israelites and tell them that I met God on top
of the hill and he told me to tell you to do this and do that and don’t do
this and don’t that, they will laugh at me and they will not believe me.
They will say what evidence is there that you met God and that these are
his Commandments. God told Moses I will give you
some signs that will make them believe.
God told Moses throw the rod in his hand to the ground and it turned to a
snake. God said catch the snake by
the tail and it became a rod again. The
second sign is that of the leprous hand. Moses’
hand suddenly became disfigured with leprosy and God said put you hand into your
bosom and take it out. The leprosy
was miraculously cured. The third
sign is that of turning water into blood. Companions
all these signs are miracles. There
is no rational explanation for these phenomena.
These are manifestations of a greater power that exists beyond the small
world of reason that we live in. This
is evidence of the existence of God.
Miracles are common technique used in many religions to convince the
unbeliever to believe; to induce faith in people. Though these signs were not
adopted in our present Royal Arch rituals, but similar signs are to be seen in
the signs of the Third Principal and Second Principal.
The former relates to the censer stopping the spread of the plague and
the latter of dividing the waters of the sea.
These are also miracles and serve the same purpose of inducing belief in
In the Royal Arch, the blindfolded candidate, who had
previously been prepared in the Excellent Masters Degree to have faith, is
standing in an upright position, when the hoodwink is removed and he is given
the light of the Royal Arch. In
Scottish Chapters, when the Candidate enters to take his obligation the main
lights in the room are extinguished and only the alter lights are left on.
The Aldersgate ritual also recommends that at this stage, which is really
the climax of the Royal Arch, the room lights should be dimmed and only the
lights in the Alter should be on. Our
ritual is silent on this point indicating that the Chapters are left to follow
their traditional practices. Many
Chapters including my Chapter Kottayam (No.90) do dim the lights at this stage.
This is a good practice because it makes it easier for the candidate to
understand the message that is being conveyed to him of receiving the light,
that makes the darkness of the third degree visible.
What he sees is a central white alter surrounded by lights in the form of interlaced triangles pushing back the darkness to the
periphery of the room. In case he
does not easily discern that the light originates from triangles, this is
emphasized by the Principles who make a triangle with their Scepters. The triangle is a universal archetype or symbol of divinity.
This indicates that the light emanates from God.
It is from God that you receive enlightenment and this is the reason why
implicit belief and faith in God is essential for enlightenment. I believe this
arrangement is an emblematic or a figurative representation of the burning bush
by which God manifested himself to Moses that has such an important part to play
in the Royal Arch story. The presence of such a powerful symbol in the room
overwhelms all other authority. No
other authority can subsist in its presence That is the reason why in Royal Arch
all Companions only salute the
pedestal with its lights rather the principals or any other officer in the room.
And every time a Companion gives the Hailing Sign, he is declaring that he has
seen the light (first part) through faith in his heart (second part).
Thank you for the patient hearing.