Sunday, September 23, 2007

Thoughts from the York Rite Fall Festival

With my busy travel schedule and time to just not even think straight, I think it’s time I sit down and formulate my thoughts on the ceremonies and forms there in. I felt that it was about time I actually took sat down and write my thoughts.

For background on the York Rite, take a look at the York Rite home page here it gives you a great deal of information regarding the degrees. Here in South Texas we have the York Rite festival, in which the district gets together and confers all of the degrees in a single day. Part of me wretched at this thought because of the time spent on the blue lodge degrees is essential to understand the fundamentals of Masonry, and I believe that fundamental understanding is somewhat lost in one day classes. While I understand their utility for soldiers being deployed, people who had family medical emergencies, etc. I don’t agree with it being used as a fast track to the Shrine or to cause inflated numbers for brothers that never return again.

The Chapter as a collective is by my favorite of the three (Chapter, Council and Commandery), it really does complete the first three degrees, even though they are considered “supplemental” I would suggest to anyone that is serious about learning more and completing the first three degrees should go through the degrees. I was also fortunate enough to be the candidate of the Royal Arch Degree which was wonderful. Really that degree is one of the best, and I would almost put it on par with the Masters Degree. The Virtual Past Masters degree is really good to, if done properly. It was flawlessly executed for me, but afterwards during lunch I could see how many ways it could of gone wrong, but that is a really fun degree as well. For the Chapter the Most Excellent Master was the most disappointing as the team due to freak issues was unable to confer the degree, so we came in and was given the lecture and took the oath. I guess that makes it legal, but I will have to see the degree in it’s full sometime in the near future. Overall a very good experience, even though the Most Excellent Master never really happened.

The Council degrees are interesting, and the Super Excellent Masters Degree is a powerful degree that I came to find out, was at one point a side degree of the rite. It wasn’t until 1813 that it was permanently fixed as part of the Council, the degree itself forcefully teachers the candidate to walk in faith, promote friendship, and practice fidelity. It has a wonderful message to behold when being played out, that God’s Presence among us and man’s responsibility to worship Him in Sprit and truth. The moral and spiritual values that are taught in the council are so numerous I could create another blog just to discuss them. Still, I found all of the symbolism and allegory wonderful to behold (if not overwhelming).

The last phase of the festival was the Commandery, which confers the three degrees of The Order of the Red Cross, The Order of Malta, and finally Order of the Temple. Apparently the Knights Templar at one time was only invitational, and later became more open. Also apparently the degree was conferred much differently from state to state until the mid 1800s, when it became standardized. The degree is long, not as long as the Royal Arch Degree, but long enough, its strong emphasis on Christian values was odd at first, (because of the previous degrees) but fit and was used very well. I also found the use of the American flag, kind of odd, but I guess it’s trying to emulate a military order so I guess it’s that way for a reason. It was an impressive ceremony, but was over hyped by our instructors in my mind. I found the Royal Arch and Super Excellent Master much more enlightening. This also can be attributed to the fact that we have been doing this all day and we didn’t get out of there till 1900 and we arrived 0630.

Overall I would recommend the York Rite to someone that meets the qualifications. I was already hit up for the Scottish Rite and Shrine, both of which right now will get a pass. I like to take my Masonic education slow and deliberate, I am not into collecting titles or degrees, and I have more then enough to learn in both the Blue Lodge and the Chapter/Council and Commandery.

The degrees where conferred by a core group of 15 individuals, 6 of which were entirely too much for them to be doing them. If Masonry is to survive in all it forms and beauties it is up to us younger Masons to try and learn the parts to the best of our ability. I hear excuses like “I don’t have good memory retention”, but like the saying goes, practice, practice, practice. I will attend the Chapter/Council as the Commandery, the memorization work comes second to the Blue Lodge, as the Blue Lodge is the foundation of all Freemasonry and without its teachings and symbols, there can be no York Rite.

Here I will stop myself before I rant any further. :)


ChuckEye said...

While there are elements of the York Rite that would very likely interest me, I am hesitant to join at this time. The requirement of having a Christian faith is disturbing to me, and currently something that I consider to be inherently un-masonic. One brother has suggested to me that the York Rite isn't so much about instilling Christianity into masons, as much as getting masons involved in their churches. But still, that's a small consolation while I still naively clasp onto the notion of a brotherhood of equals, meeting on the level. Perhaps I will reconcile my issues at some point down the line, but for now, I have my reservations.

fromdarknesstolight said...

Really only the Commandery has the Christian requirement, the Chapter/Council does not require you to be a Christian.

I can understand your reservations, and for me when I was going through the Commandery it didn't feel much like Masonry but some other society. Maybe I too will come to terms with it when I understand it more fully.

Anonymous said...

Bro. chuckeye,

I have the same reservation about joining either of the Rites. Granted, I would be comfortable in the Chapter and Council, but Commandery would be out of the question. I could not and would not agree to either profess a belief in the trinity or promise to defend the Christian faith.

Scottish Rite would be agreeable to the 14th degree. Some of the degrees beyond that are too Christian in their symbolism for my comfort. I don't necessarily see these degrees as exclusionary, but they're just not a good fit for this nice Jewish boy.

Ben R.