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Article # 219
The Excellent Masters degree(passing the Veils)-A link between Royal Arch and Craft.

Author: E.Comp.T.T.Kuruvilla    Posted on: Saturday, July 15, 2006
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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

  E .Comp. T. T. Kuruvilla   P.Dy.R.G.D of C

Excellent  Principals, 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.  An 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 the Principals.

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 Chapters.

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 namely  “light”.

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 Genuine Secrets. 

There are a few points about this experience that must be noted:

  1. One must have faith, an implicit belief in God before one can hope to receive enlightenment. Implicit faith is a condition precedent to enlightenment.
  2. The Source of the light does not originate from us or our intellect.  It has a different source.
  3. The process of enlightenment is different from logical analysis and comprehension. Enlightenment is instantaneous.  One moment every thing is darkness, the next moment you comprehend everything.

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 nonbelievers

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.








E.Comp.T.T.Kuruvilla P.Dy.R.G.D of C is a P.Z of Chapter Kottayam (No.90) and a prominent member of the only Research Royal Arch Chapter Dakshin Principals Chapter (No.103) besides being a great Erudite Masonic Scholar in India. He has delivered several lectures and presented numerous papers on Freemasonry and is held in great esteem and veneration. His lectures are always well received and are distinguished by great research, learning and erudition. He has made a through analytical study of the rituals. The author was kind enough to permit us to post the same in this website. We are very thankful to him. We hope more of his articles will follow for the benefit of the Fraternity..

Click Here To Post Your Comment

Sai wrote on Sunday, July 16, 2006:

Subject: Passing the Veils

This is an instructive article by an eminent Masonic Scholar and writer, whom I admire.Please let us have more of such well researched articles. E.Comp.Seshaasai

frostbyte wrote on Friday, May 18, 2007:

Subject: Added depth and meaning.

Thank you E.Comp. T.T. Kuruvilla for an informative article. I was recently exalted through the Scottish system (Mark, Excellent Master and then RA Companion) in South Africa. Your article has added a great deal of depth and meaning to my experience and appreciation of the whole process. Warren Frost

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