The York Rite is one of two appendant bodies of Freemasonry in which a Master Mason can proceed in Masonry after he has completed the three degrees of Blue (or Craft) Lodge Masonry (the other appendant body being the Scottish Rite). Any Master Mason in good standing may petition for membership. He must be judged of good moral character and be elected by the members.
Ancient York Rite Masonry, which took its name from the old English city of York, is considered by many Masonic historians to have been "original" Masonry. It is said that a British king who was converted to Christianity in York granted the original charter to the Masonic guilds there nearly 1,000 years ago. This organization apparently functioned for about 50 years, then faded, but it left traditions that were revived years later.
When Masons came from the British Isles to the New World, they brought with them Masonic degrees conferred in the mother country. Fearing that many of the lessons of ancient Freemasonry would be lost or altered by Masons scattering through the new land, early Masons arranged some of these lessons in a series of rites. The term York Rite has come to be applied to this series of degrees conferred in three primary bodies: the Royal Arch Chapter, the Council of Royal and Select Masters, and the Commandery of Knights Templar. These additional degrees supplement and amplify the Symbolic Degrees of Freemasonry, adding to the moral and spiritual lessons taught in the Lodge. Though not a religion in itself, York Rite Masonry develops themes based on Christianity.
In ancient Masonry, the Royal Arch Degree was conferred for a time in the Blue Lodge, but eventually evolved into a separate body in the York Rite. The degrees of the Royal Arch bring to completion the symbolism of ancient craft Masonry, and each degree has its own story to tell, its own lesson to teach, and its own moral truth to illustrate.
The Royal and Select Masters follows the Royal Arch. The degrees of this body each inculcates its own special historical and moral lesson. In some jurisdictions, membership in the Council of Royal and Select Masters is not a prerequisite for membership in the final York Rite body, the Knights Templar; the Council, however, is believed essential in fulfilling a Masonic education.
The Order of Knights Templar is considered the Christian branch of Freemasonry. The three orders in this body are the Order of the Red Cross, the Order of Malta and the Order of the Temple. These orders are founded upon the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ as related in the New Testament. A candidate for the orders must be of the Christian faith, accepting his individual obligations as a man, a Mason and a Christian, and in some jurisdictions must be a Companion of the Royal Arch in good standing. A genuine concern for others is one of the basic characteristics of Templary.
Local chapters of each of the three main bodies of the Rite are organized into state, provincial or regional organizations. Chapters of Royal Arch Masons are organized into Grand Chapters, which themselves form a unified association called the General Grand Chapter. Chapters of the Royal and Select Masters form Grand Councils, which together form the General Grand Council. And Commanderies of the Knights Templar are organized into Grand Commanderies by states, and those bodies form the Grand Encampment, Knights Templar of the U.S.A. In Canada, this body is known as the Sovereign Great Priory of Canada.
As in Craft Lodge Masonry, the governing bodies at the state or provincial level are autonomous and sovereign in their own jurisdiction. The Grand Chapters and Grand Councils may or may not choose to affiliate with the corresponding national or international governing body. Grand commanderies are required to belong to the Grand Encampment.