The basis of the current Royal Arch ceremonies worked in England was established and agreed by Supreme Grand Chapter in 1834. There is some evidence that before those changes the ceremony of Passing the Veils was practised as a preliminary to the Exaltation ceremony. This was particularly true in Lodges under the former Antients Grand Lodge which worked the Royal Arch ceremony within the Craft Lodge, but there is little evidence of it being worked in Chapters under the original Excellent Grand and Royal Chapter.
Today in England the ceremony is solely authorised for use in Chapters in Bristol but it is still very much part of the Royal Arch system in Ireland, the United States of America and in Scotland – where it is known as the Excellent Master Degree. For those wishing to see the Bristol ceremony, the Province and its Chapters are always delighted to receive visitors.
This demonstration script undertaken in Somerset is not the ceremony as practised in Bristol, Ireland, USA , or Scotland, but necessarily includes material which appears in the ceremonies worked in those countries. It has been devised from manuscripts in the Library and Museum of Freemasonry and published sources such as Carlile and Claret. As many of the sources are simple descriptions of the ceremony it has been necessary to guess the questions put to the candidate as he enters and approaches each Veil. Originally there appear to have been only three veils – Blue, Purple and Scarlet – but most of the surviving evidence calls for the addition of a fourth veil – White – hiding from the candidate’s sight the Principals, the pedestal and the other furniture of the Chapter. The early descriptions state that the ceremony took place in a room adjacent to the Chapter Room and on its completion the candidate would then be led to the Chapter Room to seek admission. As in many places only one room would be available, it would appear probable that the fourth veil was adopted to shield the candidate from the Chapter as before he entered that part of the room he would be hoodwinked as candidates are today.
The Chapter would have been set up as is normal in our chapters today except that the pedestal and all that surrounds it, including the banners, would have been close to the Principals to enable them to be hidden from the candidates sight by the white veil. The rest of the room would be divided into three by the Scarlet, Purple, and Blue Veils, leaving a space between the latter and the door to the Chapter Room. The Veils would be full height but ours are adapted to allow you to see what is happening.
At the time that the Veils ceremony was being worked in England (c. 1770 – 1834) the opening of the Chapter was restricted to Principals and Past Principals. They would enter the Chapter and open it in the same way as we do today. The remaining Companions would then enter the Chapter in two columns led by the Scribes Ezra and Nehemiah, and as many as possible would form into threes to prove themselves RA Masons.
There is evidence that in some Chapters once this was done the MEZ would then ask each of the Officers of the Chapter, in ascending order, for their stations and duties within the Chapter. The minutes of the last meeting would then be read and confirmed and, if necessary, a ballot would take place for the candidate(s) for exaltation at that meeting. Once the ballot had taken place the veils would be drawn across the room and the Janitor informed that all was ready.
At the time that the Passing the Veils ceremony was in use in England the qualification for admission to the Royal Arch was that of being an Installed Master in the Craft and the pass into the Chapter was the sign and salutation of a Master of Arts & Sciences and the word of an Installed Master.
In Somerset the Most Excellent Grand Superintendent is authorised by Supreme Grand Chapter to undertake the Ceremony of the Veils once a year. The demonstration ceremony is started by “Calling Off” the Chapter and the Provincial Team then take their posts. On completion the Team resume their seats and the Chapter is “Called On”.
For those who have not seen the Ceremony undertaken it is hoped that they will be able to see it undertaken in the not too distant future.