The Holy Royal Arch is an extension of the Third Degree of Craft Masonry. It is not a Degree in its own right but is a separate Order indissolubly linked to Craft Masonry, and following a recent amendment to the Book of Constitutions the preamble now states, viz: “pure ancient masonry consists of three degrees and no more, they are those of the Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch, which is an extension to, but neither a superior nor a subordinate part of the Degrees which precede it.”
To understand the relationship of the Royal Arch to the Craft it is necessary to know a little of the history. Freemasonry as we know it today was established in 1717 by the formation of a Grand Lodge which consisted of freemasons who became known as ‘The Moderns.’ In 1751 a further group of freemasons formed themselves into a Grand Lodge which became known as ‘The Ancients.’ The two co-existed in rivalry until 1813 when they combined to form the United Grand Lodge of England. Up to this time The Ancients had practiced a fourth degree known as ‘The Royal Arch.’ The Moderns did not recognize this fourth degree so a compromise was reached to allow the Royal Arch to become the completion of the third degree, as it was agreed by both Grand Lodges that Craft masonry should consist of three degrees only. This compromise gave the Royal Arch the unique status of being an integral part of the Craft, yet still separate. No other Masonic Order can be described in this way.
Today the Royal Arch is considered the important final step in pure ancient masonry.
The connection of the Craft with the Royal Arch is further evidenced by many of the Rulers of the Craft being the same as those for the Royal Arch, e.g. the Grand Master and Pro Grand Master of the Craft are the First Grand Principal and Pro First Grand Principal of the Royal Arch, both share the same Secretary, Treasurer, Directors of Ceremonies etc. and the same administrative staff at Freemasons’ Hall, London.