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Masonic History

York Rite Vs. English Rite


By Bro. Wm. F. Kuhn

It has been stated that "A Rite in Freemasonry is a collection of grades or degrees always founded on the First three degrees." This definition is wholly misleading, and constitutes as grave an error as to call "The York Rite" as conferred in the United States, "The American Rite."

For the purpose of adding "more light" on the subject, we may state that in the United States there are two Masonic Rites, known as the York Rite and the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite.

Both are misnomers if the name of the Rite is to indicate its parentage or birth place. The York Rite was not born in the ancient city of York, neither was the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite begotten in Scotland.

The so-called York Rite is the result of an evolution in England from a One Degree Operative Craft of 1717, to a system of degrees of six or more as now practiced in the United States, Canada, England, Scotland and Ireland. The Seottish Rite was evolved from the Rite of perfection of twenty-five Degrees, by the addition of eight more at Charleston, South Carolina, in 1801, where the Mother Supreme Council was formed.

If either one of the Rites is to be known as the American Rite, the title probably belongs to the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. To designate the socalled York Rite in the United States, as the American Rite, would be even more absurd than to call it the York Rite, for it is neither.

What is meant by the word Rite? A Rite is defined as "A custom of practice of a formal kind; a formal procedure of a religious or solemn observance." But such a religious or solemn procedure or observance must have a definite end or purpose. It must have a goal idea. A central idea which the ceremony of procedure is intended to convey. The ceremony may be brief or voluminous, plain or ornate, but the central idea must be maintained and attained, as in the Rite of Baptism, in the Rite of Marriage, in the Rite of the Holy Sacrament, etc.

The central idea or pivot around which all Masonic ceremonies or Degrees must revolve is the Loss, the Recovery, and the Interpretation of the Master's word. This goal idea must be the nucleus of a system of Degrees, and without which no system of Degrees can be called a Rite.

Any series of Degrees, however intimately connected, that does not contain this central idea of Loss, Recovery, and interpretation can not be called a Masonic Rite. This is the goal idea or pivot of the so-called York Rite. The number of Degrees in a Rite is merely incidental. It matters not whether there are three or thirty-three Degrees, provided the central idea, the end of all Masonic symbolism is present.

The Loss and Recovery with a positive interpretation, or the Loss and Recovery with a general or individual interpretation is the very essence of a Rite.

The Loss is symbolized in the Craft or Lodge Degrees, the Recovery is symbolized in the Royal Arch.

In the York Rite the interpretation of the symbolism of the Royal Arch is left to the individual interpretation of the Royal Arch Mason, or it finds its positive and special interpretation in the light of the new dispensation, as taught in the Masonic Order of the Christian Knighthood.

The Three Craft or Blue Lodge Degrees, the Royal Arch, and the United Orders of the Temple and of Malta are the essential grades of the York Rite. The Mark, Past, Most Excellent, Royal, Select Degrees, and the Illustrious Order of the Red Cross are not essential, nor essentially necessary to the York Rite, but they are great aids in the elucidation of the symbolism of the central idea of the Rite and they adorn and magnify the Rite. The Lodge Degrees, the Royal Arch, and the Masonic Orders of Christian Knighthood constitute the so-called "York Rite." To eliminate the Royal Arch would be like removing the keystone of an arch, and the whole fabric would crumble and fall.

In essentials, the York Rite is the same in the United States as it is in every province or Country in the British Empire; in other words, it is essentially the same in the Anglo-Saxon world. But each country has its own system. In the United States it consists of seven Degrees and three Orders; in Canada, of six Deees and three Orders, although Canada has added the most excellent Degree in the Chapter and the Red Cross of the Commandery to harmonize, for the purpose of visitation with the United States; in England, it contsists of four Degrees and two Orders; in Ireland, of five Degrees and two Orders; in Scotland the system conforms closely to that of Ireland. The most excellent Degree is unknown in the British Empire, except in Canada; in England, the Mark Master's Degree is under the control of a Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons.

It will be noted that in the countries mentioned, the number of Degrees in the Rite varies, even the Degrees bearing the same name vary in the ceremonies of presenting the same truth. The Master's Degree in Pennsylvania varies much from the same Degree in the other States, yet symbolically it is the same. The Royal Arch in the United States, is more dramatic in its form than that of England or Canada, yet in essentials it is the same.

The Order of the Temple in the English Ritual is brief; in the Canadian Ritual it is more elaborate and has its military features; in the United States it is more wordy, possibly more ornate and dramatic, yet it is essentially the same in all these countries.

The Rituals of the Order of Malta in these countries are so near alike that a person that is conversant with one can readily use the other; even a casual observer can readily see that this so-called "York Rite" in essentials is the same everywhere where the English language is spoken. The Concordat adopted in 1910 by the Temple Powers of the World, emphasizes this great fact.

The name "York Rite" is an inexcusable blunder; at least an unfortunate mistake. There never was a York Rite. It is unnecessary to enter upon any discussion as to the claims of the York Grand Lodge or a York system of Freemasonry as the question has been settled beyond controversy. The name "York Rite" is an inheritance from the forefathers of Freemasonry in the United States, who were more skilled in ritual tinkering than in the history of Freemasonry. This becomes especially apparent, when one remembers that the ephemeral Grand Lodge of York never chartered a single Lodge in America. The Freemasonry of the United States began under the Provincial Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, then under the Grand Lodge of England (Moderns) with Price as Grand Master. The Grand Lodge of England (Ancients) and the Grand Lodge of Scotland chartered Lodges in America, and it is reasonably possible, that before the union of the two Grand Lodges of England, the Royal Arch and the Masonic Orders of Christian Knighthood were conferred in this Country by the Military Lodges connected with the Irish Regiments stationed in the Colonies. To sum it all up, our so-called York Rite is the English Rite dressed in more fantastic clothing.

The name "York Rite" should be eliminated and the name English Rite substituted. In view of the foregoing facts as to what constitute a Rite, we in the United States are practicing or have formulated an American system of the English Rite; not an American Rite as it is frequently erroneously called, but a system of Degrees of the English Rite; it should be known as the English Rite, or Anglo-Saxon Rite.

-Source: The Builder - November 1916

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