Fred and Charlie are mere fictional creatures drawn from within my fevered brow, writes their creator Michael Lee, an experienced Freemason from Wiltshire. Their relationship, if any, to known human beings is entirely accidental. If inadvertent identification has been alleged then the parallels about monkeys randomly typing Shakespeare come easily to mind.
When trying to discuss many Masonic themes there is rarely a Stygian black or a pure Snow White – there is just a palette of shades of grey (considerably more than fifty, I might add!). In a monochrome one-person-me-write-your-read type of article discussion tends to be wordy and, frankly, often unconvincing. I decided many moons ago that to hold the attention of my Lodge of Instruction I needed to devise a dialogue format. In Masonic brotherhood sharp opposites aren’t appropriate so a complementary pair had to be envisaged. What better way than to make the protagonists two masons with which my Lodge of Instruction could identify – enter stage left a Past Master who doesn’t know it all but knows where to find it and, enter stage right, an enthusiastic younger mason who has an enquiring mind and a thirst for knowledge.
The choice of names – Fred and Charlie – came straight from an article written in another lifetime about the C13 builders of Salisbury Cathedral. Fred’s been a Freemason for a couple of decades; Charlie’s much younger and newer to it. They’ve struck up a friendship, and this series will allow us to eavesdrop on their Masonic communications. This month: ‘Do you present yourself with a view to improving in Freemasonry?’
While the Covid 19 restrictions were still in force Charlie had a regular mid-week chat on the phone with Fred. He liked to know that ‘the old chap’ was well and at the same time he could jot down Fred’s next shopping list. On Wednesdays his wife had her favourite ‘soap’ on TV so he felt no guilt!
Fred had earlier been sitting in the splendid May sunshine researching the history of the ‘Royal Arch’. ‘It’s a shame, Charlie, that so few Craft Masons in our Province take the next step, you know. The Royal Arch’s such a rewarding ‘Order’ – and so very logical.’
‘How many chaps actually get exalted, Fred?’
‘Difficult to say – nationally about 25 to 35%. Rather depends on the energy of the Lodge or the Province.’
‘What stops them?
Fred paused: ‘Where do you start? Business pressure, size of wallet, keeping peace in the home, demands of the Craft, disappointment with Masonry…you name it.’
‘Chatting around, Fred, some seem to be put off because they think the Royal Arch is a religious degree and these days, they aren’t comfortable with that.’
Fred’s sigh could be heard without need of any telephone assistance: ‘Absolute nonsense, of course. Rose Croix; yes, Knights Templar, yes; even Mark is based on a Gospel message. Curiously there are more prayers in the Craft ritual than there are in Chapter…’
‘…But look, Charlie, we all accept the Supreme Being on initiation and the Royal Arch simply invites us to consider this authority for Craft’s moral code – and there’s not a jot of religion or a particular Faith involved in any part of it.’
‘Why is Chapter the next step after Craft then, Fred?’
‘By the way, we refer to it simply as the Royal Arch to avoid confusion; several degrees or orders have chapters. Where were we? ‘
‘Craft Freemasonry is basically a sociable system of morality based on a Divine authority. (For those who join wanting just a cheery dining club with a bit of drama thrown in then all bets are off!) The Royal Arch completes the Third by providing answers to the ‘whose, what and where’ of this Divine authority in a delightful little historical story.’
‘Without a slant towards any particular religion it steadily reveals more about the name and nature of the Supreme Being when Speculative Freemasonry was founded and where His guidance for Masonic morality is revealed. More dramatically when the candidate’s veil is removed, he sees illuminated within a symbolic triangle the true focus for all three Degrees of Craft Freemasonry: our fellow Man and, through Agape, the love and care we owe him.’
‘As I said, the Royal Arch is such a very logical stage in our Masonry. Without it, one’s voyage through the seas of Masonic morality, although pleasant, is travel without a compass. With the aid of the Royal Arch though you can discover the solid foundations on which Craft morality is based and so it can help you to become better able to reflect on your own true self and values’.
After a pause Fred added:‘Simply put, Charlie, the Order of the Holy Royal Arch is the powerful moral completion of all of Craft Freemasonry’.
Another voice then spoke in Charlie’s ear. ‘Have you finished on the phone, dear. I need to call Mary. My ‘soap’ finished half an hour ago…’