What is York Rite Freemasonry?

What is York Rite Freemasonry
What is York Rite Freemasonry

What is York Rite Freemasonry?

What is York Rite Freemasonry?… Good news I have the answer for you! The York Rite (or the American Rite) is one of two popular Freemason Rites in the USA. the other being the Scottish Rite. The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite claims to hold the power of conferring the first three degrees of Masonry in addition to those under its jurisdiction but the York Rite does not.   York Rite is flavored with more of a Christian message, but is open to all denominations.  Freemasonry in the York Rite is based on the early remnants of Craft Masonry that were practiced in the early 1700’s. All brothers in the York Rite are Master Masons. No York Rite Mason can be a Fellowcraft or Entered Apprentice – they all must be 3rd Degree Freemasons.

Why is that important?  The first Grand Lodge of England in 1717 specified that the lodges were to confer only the degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason or the first three degrees of Freemasonry. The thinking was that all other degrees being considered spurious. However, many lodges had been conferring other degrees that they considered an integral part of Masonry. In 1751, the Masons of these ‘spurious’ degrees formed their own Grand Lodge for the purpose of conferring the Royal Arch Degree. These Masons called themselves the “Antients” and the other Grand Lodge founded in 1717 were called the “Moderns.” York Rite Masonry, which takes its name from the old English city of York in the United Kingdom has been described as the oldest and purest of the Rites.

Within York Rite Masonry, the Royal Arch Degree is described as the Master Mason’s Degree completed. This is due to the fact that up until 1767, the Master Mason Degree of the Blue Lodge contained the secrets of the Royal Arch. Nowadays, these same secrets form a part of the teachings of the Royal Arch.  In England, the Royal Arch Mason degree is automatically included in the Master Mason’s Degree.

Freemasonry Report - Square and Compass
Freemasonry Report – Square and Compass

It took close to 75 years before the two Grand Lodge decided to merge.  In 1813, it was official that merger of the two Grand Lodges would become the United (known by some as: Mother vs. United) Grand Lodge of England.  This new Grand Lodge had all the particular lodges agree that only the three accepted degrees of Masonry would be used.  Further, the degree of the Royal Arch would be attached to Chapters allied directly to these lodges. Thus, the Chapter and Lodge would have and use the same number even it was a separate body. Also in 1813, the United Grand Lodge of England stated it in no uncertain terms: “Ancient Craft Masonry consists of three degrees and no more, namely, those of the Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason including the Holy Royal Arch.” It is a natural progression of the Freemasonry’s primary theme. Therefore, brothers who are in the York Rite have rightfully acknowledged the fact that they are considered appendant body to those of Ancient Craft Masonry. It is still the practice in English Masonry that a Masonic member is not considered to be in possession of all the degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry until he has been exalted to the Royal Arch.

Did you know that in England. no other degree has been officially recognized by the United Grand Lodge? Why because to that Grand Lodge it is a landmark remains to this day. No additional Rites and Degrees can be bestowed upon a Master Mason until he has received the Royal Arch Degree. It is logical actually because a man is not a Master Mason until he receives the Master’s Word. This is something a Mason can only receive in the Royal Arch. Within Capitular Masonry are contained the essentials of symbolism, allegory, and philosophy that a Master Mason requires in order to understand those teachings which have only been partially given to him in the Blue Lodge.

Why is it called the American Rite by some Masons if it was founded in England?

Why do some Freemasons call the York Rite the American Rite? Well, in the early days of the American Colonies and the founding our the nation which would become the USA. Some American Lodges operated in a similar manner until the establishment of the General Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons. The Sublime Degree of Master Mason is often thought of as the ultimate degree of Freemasonry. However, many Masonic scholars agree that there is more to story as illustrated in the three degrees and that the first three degrees are not the whole story. The Degrees of York Rite Masonry complete the story and provide answers to many questions that the newly-raised Master Mason may have. Therefore, in the USA, an individual Chapter is not directly connected to an individual lodge but more of a territory of multiple lodges which have simply indirect ties.

For a period in US history, the Cryptic degrees were controlled by various state Grand Chapter jurisdictions, until the establishment of the General Grand Council. The Chivalric Orders have been controlled by the Grand Encampment since the early 19th century in the United States. All three bodies are technically autonomous Masonic entities, only the requirement of membership in the Royal Arch connecting the Cryptic degrees and Chivalric Orders together. Many are found in other jurisdictions outside of the United States, but several are uniquely American in their origin.

Is York Rite Freemasonry a religion?

What is York Rite Freemasonry
What is York Rite Freemasonry

Like other forms of Masonry, the York Rite is not a religion. Nevertheless, it does develop Biblical themes in addition to themes based on the Medieval Crusades. In the York Rite, any Master Mason may become a member of three bodies — actually a group of separate Rites joined in order. These include: a Chapter of Royal Arch Masons; a Council of Royal and Select Masters; a Commandery of Knights Templar. Appendant to the York Rite Bodies are several additional Masonic bodies, most of which are invitational in nature. Membership in many of them is predicated on membership in the Royal Arch, though some have memberships predicated on other bodies of the York Rite, or membership in all of the York Rite bodies.

Knight Templars in the York Rite are not a religion either.  The Knights Templar is a Christian-oriented fraternal organization that is based on the history and myths surrounding the 11th century Order. Originally, the Knights Templar were laymen who protected and defended Christians traveling to Jerusalem. These men took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and were renowned for their fierceness and courage in battle.  Today, the Knights Templar display their courage and goodwill in other ways. They organize fund-raising activities such as breakfasts, dinners, dances, and flea markets. They support Masonic-related youth groups and they raise millions of dollars for medical research and educational assistance. Currently, Templar membership consists of members from all walks of life, including doctors, lawyers, clergy, businessmen and entertainment personalities, all of whom profess a belief in the Christian Religion. The Knights Templar operates on a local, state and national level. But their religious activities extend across international borders as well. Nationally, there is The Grand Encampment of Knights Templar. This unit defines the rituals and laws governing state and local level organizations.

What are the degrees of York Rite Freemasonry?

The York Rite provides additional Masonic teachings and confers additional relevant degrees. It is organized as follows: Royal Arch Freemasonry, The Holy Royal Arch, Chapter of Royal Arch Masons, Mark Master, Virtual Past Master,  Most Excellent Master, and Royal Arch Mason – R :. A :. M :;  Cryptic Masonry, Council of the Royal and Select Masters, Royal Master, Select Master, and Super-Excellent Master; Commandery of Knights Templar, Order of the Red Cross, Order of the Knights of Malta, and Order of the Knights Templar.

But please be aware that the degrees included within the framework of Royal Arch Freemasonry of York Rite Freemasonry  are: The Mark Master Mason degree, which is sometimes said to be expansion of the Fellow Crafts’ second degree. The Past Master degree is bestowed because of the old requirement that only Past Masters of a Symbolic Lodge may join the Royal Arch. Now in the present day , it is a virtual degree created to conform with tradition, and it confers no rights as a Past Master in a Blue Lodge. The Most Excellent Master degree, wherein the building of King Solomon’s Temple has been completed. The Royal Arch Mason degree, said by many to be the most beautiful degree in all of Freemasonry. By joining the York Rite, a Master Mason may proceed to supplement and expand upon the degrees of the Blue Lodge.

York Rite Freemasonry begins with the Royal Arch Chapters. Councils of Cryptic Masons form the center body of the York Rite of Freemasonry. A Master Mason may join a Chapter of Royal Arch Masons and receive the four degrees of that organization. After which he may seek further knowledge in Freemasonry and join a Council of Cryptic Masons. The Commandery of Knight Templar is the final set of degrees and all members need to have received the Chapter and Council degrees prior to joining a commandery.

The symbolism of the Royal Arch picks up where the Symbolic Lodge leaves off. The symbolism of the Blue Lodge degrees emphasizes the building of King Solomon’s. Royal Arch Masonry (known as Capitular Masonry) continues in this vein by emphasizing symbols and allegories of the Second Temple, the Ark of the Covenant, further symbolism of Solomon’s temple completed, and the Lost Word (also called the Master’s Word) — which is given to the Royal Arch Mason. This is one reason why the Royal Arch Degrees are first for every Master Mason to experience in the York Rite.

The Capitular Degrees of York Rite Freemasonry

The Capitular Degrees are a set of four degrees controlled by the Royal Arch Chapter. They center on the construction phases of Solomon’s Temple, with the exception of the degree of Past Master, hence the title of Capitular. The degree of Past Master is the vestigial remnant of the former custom that the degree of the Royal Arch could only be conferred on a Past Master of a Symbolic Blue Lodge. In the United States, these degrees are considered as proprietary to the Royal Arch, while in England there is no Past Master degree as found here, and the Mark Master degree is controlled by its own Grand Lodge. The Most Excellent Master degree is also part of the Cryptic Degree in England. As stated in the forward, the Royal Arch overseas is controlled by Chapters attached to English Blue Lodges. The Royal Arch Chapters have occasionally been referred to as the “Red lodge” in older Masonic publications, though they should more accurately be described as the “Red degrees.” In the United States, all Chapter business is conducted in a Royal Arch Chapter, the other bodies being only opened for the conferral of degrees. Some jurisdictions open Mark Master Lodges as “table lodges,” which act as a social focus for the local York Rite bodies

  • Mark Master – A Degree that emphasizes the lessons of regularity, discipline, and integrity. It is a most impressive Degree centered on the story of the Fellowcraft of the quarry and their role in the building of the Temple. Its importance in English Craft Masonry can be judged by the fact that it operates as a separate Grand Lodge, and is highly sought by members of the Craft in that jurisdiction.
  • Past Master (Virtual) A Degree that emphasizes the lesson of harmony. This Degree is conferred because ancient custom required that a Mason must be a Past Master in order to be exalted to the Royal Arch. In some Grand Jurisdictions this Degree is conferred upon all sitting Masters of the Blue Lodge. The Degree confers no actual rank upon the recipient, but is exemplified to maintain the ancient custom.
  • Most Excellent Master – A Degree that emphasizes the lesson of reverence. This Degree is centered on the dedication of the Temple after its completion, particularly the consecration of the Sanctum Sanctorum and the descent of the Host into the Temple. It is complimentary to the Mark Master Degree and completes the symbolic lessons introduced in that Degree.
  • The Royal Arch – The completion of the Master Mason Degree and the summit of the original Degrees of the Blue Lodge as practiced in the Antients Lodges of England before 1820. The Degree explains the origins of the Substitute Word found in the Master Mason Degree, the recovery of the Ineffable Word, and its concealment within the Royal Arch Word. This Degree, together with the Master Mason Degree, may have once been exemplified as one large or “super” Degree, with the Master Mason Degree explaining the loss of the Master’s Word and the Royal Arch explaining the recovery of the Master’s Word. The presiding body is a Chapter, and the presiding officer is a High Priest (titled Excellent).

In architectural symbolism, the capstone is the crowing stone of an entire structure or wall. It is for this reason that Royal Arch Masonry is called “the Capstone of Ancient Craft Masonry” or the Capitular Rite.

After the degrees of Royal Arch Masonry, the second set of degrees within York Rite Masonry encompasses the degrees of the Council of Royal and Select Masters. These degrees expound upon the Royal Arch degree and, to a lesser extent, the Master Mason degree. They are often said to be among Masonry’s most beautiful and impressive ceremonies, complete one’s education in Ancient Craft Masonry. The degrees of the Council comprise what is called Cryptic Masonry or the Cryptic Rite because a crypt or underground room figures prominently in the degrees. The symbolic foundation of these rites is the subterranean Vault constructed by King Solomon as a stockpile for certain secret knowledge which was guarded by a select priesthood.

The degrees of the Council include:

  1. The Royal Master degree examines in more detail the story of recovery of the “lost” word and the Holy of Holies of the Temple of King Solomon.
  2. The Select Master degree is concerned with the construction and embellishment of the subterranean vault introduced in the Royal Arch degree of the Chapter.
  3. The Super Excellent Master degree concerns the story of the Babylonian Captivity, and of Zedekiah and his betrayal.
  4. Through these ceremonies, a Mason learns more details concerning the building of the first temple. He discovers why the word was lost, and the secret of its preservation and recovery.

One of the most vivid occurs during the Super Excellent Master degree contains an impressive dramatizations of truth and fidelity. The degrees of the Cryptic Rite emphasize teachings that are instructive for a positive and gratifying life: “Let uprightness and integrity attend your steps; let justice and mercy mark their conduct, let fervency and zeal stimulate you in the discharge of the various duties incumbent on you.”

The Cryptic Degrees of York Rite Freemasonry

The Cryptic Degrees are a set of three degrees controlled by the Select Masters Council. The degrees get their name from the reference to a hidden or secret vault in the degrees, hence the term Cryptic. Only the first two degrees are regularly worked, the third degree, that of Super Excellent Master, is worked as an honorary degree, not being required as a requisite for membership in the Council. It is also somewhat peculiar in its association with the Cryptic degrees, as it is more closely allied in theme and character with the Royal Arch and the Illustrious Order of the Red Cross.

The history of the body as a whole is also shrouded in uncertainty and controversy. Though there is early evidence of Councils of Royal and Select Masters being worked in the United States, the degrees were worked variously by their own Councils, Royal Arch Chapters, and even Lodges of Perfection of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. Though the Scottish Rite has long relinquished any claim to these degrees, several Grand Jurisdictions (Virginia & West Virginia) still confer them as a part of Capitular Masonry. In England, the degree of Most Excellent Master is grouped with this body. In the United States, all business is conducted in the Select Masters Council, the other two bodies only being opened for the conferral of degrees. Some jurisdictions hold “table councils” in similar manner to “table lodges” as a social focal point of their local York Rite bodies.

  • Royal Master –  A Degree emphasizing the lessons of patience and fortitude. The Degree centers around the Fellowcraft Masons who were artificers fabricating the fittings and furniture of the Temple. It is unusual in that the first part of the Degree depicts events taking place before the death of the Grand Master Hiram Abiff, and the last part depicts events occurring after his death.
  • Select Master – A Degree emphasizing the lessons of devotion and zeal. The Degree centers on the construction and furnishing of a Secret Vault beneath the Sanctum Sanctorum of the Temple, and the deposition of those secrets pertaining to the Craft by the three ancient Grand Masters of the Craft. This Degree bridges the events surrounding the concealment and loss of the Ineffable Word and the events leading to the recover of the Word in the Royal Arch Degree. The presiding body is a Council, and the presiding officer is a Master (titled Illustrious).
  • Super Excellent Master – A Degree emphasizing the lessons of loyalty and faithfulness. The Degree centers around the events leading to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple at the hands of the Chaldeans. The Degree is narrated by small interludes of biblical prophecy that highlight the end of the first Temple and the construction of the second Temple. It is noteworthy for its scenes of the Jewish court of Zedekiah and the Chaldean court of Nebuchadnezzar. This degree is an honorary one, and a member of the Council not needing to have it in order to hold membership or office.

The rich history of York Rite Masonry is undeniable. The York Rite is historically the oldest and purest of the appendant Rites. Every Master Mason should be fascinated by the lessons and mysteries of Freemasonry provided by the Blue Lodge. Hopefully, all Master Masons will consider those lessons and mysteries available in the York Rite of Freemasonry — in order to complete their Masonic knowledge and the teachings that are mentioned as landmarks of the Master Mason. All brother Masons should be advised to continue their historical and educational view of Masonry. Every Master Mason should be a member of the Royal Arch, and every Christian Mason should be a Knights Templar. The state groups are organized into A Grand Commandery of Knights Templar. This organization represents members of a state or an area of equivalent size.

The Knights Templar contains three degrees called Orders which elucidate a Christian interpretation of Freemasonry:

  1. The Illustrious Order of the Red Cross illustrates the preparations for building a second Temple.
  2. The Order of the Knights of Malta (or simply Order of Malta) explains the history of the Knights of Malta, relates the story of Paul’s arrival on the island of Malta. It is a Christian Order that seeks to perpetuate ideals of love and mercy.
  3. The Order of the Temple. The Order of Malta and the Order of the Temple have a Christian orientation and their teachings are based upon the crusades of the original Knights Templar.
  4. The Knights Templar is based upon the practice of the Christian virtues, moral values and spiritual lessons. Members are urged to live their lives as Christian Knights.

The completion of the York Rite Bodies is the Commandery of Knights Templar—the degrees of which comprise what is known as Chivalry Masonry because they are based upon the Chivalric Orders of knighthood that fought to protect Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land during the Middle Ages. Unlike other Masonic bodies which only require a belief in a Supreme Being regardless of religion, membership in Knights Templar is open only to Royal Arch Masons who promise to defend the Christian faith. Local level groups are called Commanderies of Knights Templar.

Grand Encampment, KT, USA of York Rite Freemasonry

The Chivalric Orders are a set of three Orders culminating in the grade of Knight Templar, and controlled by that body. This body is markedly different from its foreign counterparts, in that it exhibits a paramilitary structure and outlook on Masonry, being the only branch of Masonry in the world that is a uniformed body. Its requirement that its members be professed Christians has led to calls of condemnation from other Masonic bodies and organizations both inside and outside the United States, claiming that the body is more of a Christian organization rather than a Masonic body. These have had little effect on the body, however, as many of the organizations criticizing the body have similar degrees among themselves.

The American body is also arranged different from its nearest relatives in England. The American body includes the Illustrious Order of the Red Cross, which is not conferred in any other organization, though it has very close cousins in the Irish and American Order of Knight Masons and in the English Allied Masonic Degrees grade of the Red Cross of Babylon. Also, in the United States, the Order of Malta is conferred on members before being eligible to receive the Order of the Temple, whereas in England, the Order of Malta is an honorary grade bestowed on Knights Templar. In the United States, all business is transacted in the Order of the Temple, the other bodies only being opened for the conferral of the Orders. In England, the Order of Malta meets and operates as a separate body in addition to the Order of the Temple.

Illustrious Order of the Red Cross – An Order emphasizing the lesson of truth. Elements of this Order were practiced in Ancient Lodges before the final form of the Master Mason Degree came into use. It is still practiced in the full ceremonial form by the Knight Masons of Ireland and the Knight Masons of the United States, and as the Red Cross of Babylon in the English Order of the Allied Masonic Degrees.


Order of Malta – An Order emphasizing the lesson of faith. This Order requires the Mason to profess and practice the Christian faith. The pass degree of the Mediterranean Pass, or Knight of St. Paul prepares the candidate for the Order by introducing the lesson and example of the fearless and faithful martyr of Christianity. The Order is centered on allegorical elements of the Knights of Malta, inheritors of the medieval Knights Hospitaller.


Order of the Temple – An Order emphasizing the lessons of self-sacrifice and reverence. It is meant to rekindle the spirit of the medieval Knights Templar devotion and self-sacrifice to Christianity. The history of the Masonic Order is long and convoluted, with the Order’s ritual differing between that conferred in England and in the United States. That practiced in the United States has a slight militant zeal to the lesson of Christianity, whereas the English ritual is more allegorical. However, the American ritual is most impressive, and more emphasis is placed on the solemnity and reverence associated with the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ. The presiding body is a Commandery, and the presiding officer is a Commander (titled Eminent). Local level groups are called Commanderies of Knights Templar.

Chair Degrees in York Rite Freemasonry

The “Chair Degrees” of York Rite masonry, so called as the candidate must be the installed or a past presiding officer of the respective York Rite body. They may also differ somewhat in name or character from one jurisdiction to another.

Order of High Priesthood – A chair degree conferred upon installed or past High Priests. Sometimes referred to as the Anointed Order of High Priesthood. In antiquity, this degree was known as the Order of Melchizedek.


Thrice Illustrious Master –  A chair degree conferred upon installed or past Illustrious Masters. It is also known as the Order of the Silver Trowel from the jewel of the degree.



Knight Crusader of the Cross –  A chair degree conferred upon installed or past Eminent Commanders.



Sovereign Order of Knights Preceptor –  All present and Past Commanders of Constituent and Subordinate Commanderies of the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar of the United States of America in a jurisdiction where there is not any Chapter of the Order may petition for membership in the Order of Knights Preceptor. The Grand Chapter of the Order of Knights Preceptor meets annually at the time and place of the Annual Meeting of the Grand Council of Allied Masonic Degrees of the United States of America.

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