The York Rite enjoys one of the oldest names in all of Masonry. Its legends are included in the Gothic Constitutions dating as far back as the 10th century. It became identified very early on with Freemasonry as practiced in Britain and transmitted to the American Colonies. The story line of the York Rite degrees, like those of the Symbolic Lodge, is based on the completion and dedication of King Solomon’s Temple; and the building of the Second Temple.
Thus, the degrees continue the themes and practices of operative Masonry as the progressive system of moral instruction to which we have already been introduced in craft Masonry and have come to expect from Masonry as students of our speculative art. The York Rite adds immeasurably to our own personal quest for spiritual and self development.
The degrees and orders of the York Rite can be traced by written records from 1744 with the Royal Arch conferred in York, England to the Knight Templar conferred in Boston in 1769. The Cryptic or Council degrees were not established as part of the York Rite system until well into the 19th Century. But we find during the second half of the 18th century both the Royal Arch and the Knight Templar degrees described in York lodge records as the 4th and 5th degrees of Masonry respectively and were said to been conferred as part of a five degree system known as the Early York Rite.
During the early 19th century, the term York Rite came into common usage in early America because there was a need to distinguish the degree system offered by it, including the Royal Arch and Knight Templar, and the associated degrees of Mark, Past and Most Excellent Master, the Red Cross and Knight of Malta, from that offered by the Scottish Rite. Because of the growing popularity of both Rites in America, Freemasons made almost daily use of the names of both in their Masonic conversations as a way of distinguishing between the two. Historically, many Freemasons have opted to belong to one or both of these great Rites. In Oklahoma, we are particularly proud of the unity which exists between the two Rites. The quest of the Master Mason is not complete without them.
Today, the York Rite is known all over the world and its significance is highly appreciated by all serious students of Masonry.
The Essential Theme of the York Rite
The degrees and orders of York Rite Masonry all revolve around one great center—the True Word.
In the Lodge, that Word was lost.
In the Chapter degrees, consisting of the Mark Master, Past Master, Most Excellent Master, and the Royal Arch, you will find the Master’s Word and where it was concealed before the death of Hiram.
In the Council degrees, consisting of the Royal Master, Select Master, and Super Excellent Master, the Word is preserved. As a Royal Master you will have a conversation with Hiram Abif about mortality. You will discover how and why the Master’s Word was lost, by whom, and for what purpose. The answers to these questions will be unveiled in the Select Master degree.
In the Orders of the Commandery, consisting of the Illustrious Order of the Red Cross, the Order of Malta, and the Order of the Temple, the Word is explained. In the Commandery Orders, you will assist in rebuilding the Second Temple and learn the origins of the Knights Templar. You will become a Knight after the tradition of Templary.
Every Master Mason is entitled to these explanations. It is just another reason why we call Masonry a progressive science.