Friday, October 19, 2018

Officers of a Chapel of St. Thomas of Acon

Known as the Commemorative Order of Saint Thomas of Acon, this order exists to reaffirma Knights Templar’s vows, is a revival of a medieval knighthood started during the crusades, and the central myth of the order centers on Saint Thomas a Becket. The basic organizational unit for this order is known as a Chapel and is composed of the following officers: Worthy Master, Eminent Prior, Marshal, Treasurer, Secretary, Deputy Marshal, Almoner, 1st Working Knight, 2nd Working Knight, 3rd Working Knight, 4th Working Knight, Herald, Doorkeeper, Cellarer, and Sentry. Unique to this group, only the Worthy Master, Treasurer, and Sentry are elected. The rest are appointed by the Worthy Master upon his election.

The presiding officer of the Chapel is known as the Worthy Master. He presides over the business meetings and knighting of new initiates. When the medieval order first began, it was the Prior who led the order, but in 1279 records speak of the "Master of the whole Order of St. Thomas of Acon." Since that time, the senior officer of the Chapel has been the Worthy Master. The installation ceremony expresses the historic humility exuded by Worthy Masters and by Jesus Christ. Once seated, the Worthy Master is presented with a baton or scepter affixed on the upper end with a bronze escallope shell. The honorary title of "Worthy" is rooted in the Old English weorþ meaning "valuable, appreciated, highly thought-of, deserving, honorable, noble, or of high rank." The word "Master" is rooted in the Latin word "magister" meaning "chief, head, or teacher."

As mentioned above, it was the Prior who originally led this order and while the Prior is now second to the Worthy Master, this officer still presides over several aspects of the order. Officially titled, Eminent Prior, this officer presides over the opening and closing as well as taking part in the initiation ritual; some of his ritualistic duties correspond to the Chaplain in the Blue Lodge. Prior is a traditional title used to represent a monk or priest who is the head of a religious house or order, would rank below that of the abbot. The honorary title of "Eminent" stems from the Latin word "eminentem" meaning "prominent or high." Prior comes to us from the Latin tongue and is used to mean "former, previous, first, etc." from which it was used to figuratively as "superior (in rank), forefather, and better."

The Marshal has duties similar to the Captain General in the Commandery and with the Marshal and Senior Deacon of the Lodge; he is the Master of Ceremonies and conductor of candidates for the Chapel. The title Marshal has been used by the military, courts, and other parts of society as someone who is charged with arranging and directs "ceremonial aspects of a gathering." Marshal comes from Old French word "mareschal" meaning "commanding officer of an army; officer in charge of a household" which is derived from Frankish-Germanic word "marhskalk" meaning "horse-servant."

The Treasurer and Secretary have duties similar to those found in other Masonic and non-Masonic organizations as the financial and administrative officers respectively. The difference in this organization is that the Secretary is appointed by the Worthy Master instead of being elected as the Treasurer is.

Next is the Deputy Marshal who assists the Prior in the opening of a Chapel and the Marshal during initiations. This officer is similar to the Junior Deacon of the Blue Lodge as he ensures the security of the Chapel and like the Wardens of the Commandery ensures all present are members of the order.

Charity is pivotal to the Order of St. Thomas of Acon and as such one of the officers of the Chapel is known as the Almoner. Traditionally, an Almoner is an officer who was in charge of distributing alms or charitable offerings to the poor, the needy, and the destitute. In some Masonic Lodges that have an Almoner, this officer also oversaw the needs of the Brethren in that Lodge. Almoner is derived from the Latin "alemosinarius" meaning connected with alms which comes from variations of "alemosyna" meaning "pity or mercy."

Sitting in the West of the Chapel are Four Working Knights. Corresponding to the duties of the Four Ancients in the SRICF as lecturers or historians of the Chapel. These officers take the name of Knight as these officers relate the chivalric history of the order and the story of St. Thomas a Becket. The word "knight" comes from the Old English word "cniht" which was taken from Middle High German "kneht" meaning "boy, youth, servant, or vassal." Knight started referring to a military servant of a king or lord in the 11th century and after the Hundred Years War started becoming important as a rank of nobility. 

Similar to the Junior Deacon and Marshall within the Blue Lodge, the Herald attends to the door of the Chapel and presents newly initiated knights of the order. The etymological roots of Herald originate from the old French word 'heraut' meaning "messenger or envoy" which is said to stem from an older Germanic word "hariwald" meaning "commander of an army." Some argue about the etymology as Heralds were said to evolve from minstrels and were originally attached more with tournaments than actual warfare or the commanding of armies. To counter this though, it also thought that this title was original with commanders, but came to be applied to lower officers whose chief duty was to make proclamations. An alternate theory is that Herald is derived from the Old Germanic word "haren" which means "to call out." A Herald was traditionally an officer who conveyed messages or proclamations, acted as diplomats or ambassadors for monarchs, served as Master of Ceremonies, presided over tournaments, and oversaw the adoption of arms. 

The inner guard of the Chapel is known as the Doorkeeper and ensures the security of the Chapel while it is in session. His duties correspond to the Junior Deacon and the less used office of Pursuivant. Traditionally, a doorkeeper, as the name implies, is the keeper or guard of the door into the chapel. In researching this office, it corresponds to concierges of a hotel or a porter. The word "door" is rooted in Anglo-Saxon and Germanic languages with minor variations such as duru, dor, or dyrr. Keeper comes from late Old English "cepan" meaning to seize, hold, or care for.

The office of Cellarer is a peculiar one in Freemasonry. The duty of the Cellarer is simple, to fill in for an officer of the Chapel when that officer is absent. This position is significant because the Knight appointed to this position should be knowledgeable with all the various officer positions of the Chapel. The term "cellarer" seems to have been selected as a tie back to our historical roots as the original Order started out as a monastic order. Traditionally, a Cellarer is an official in a monastery who is responsible for the provisioning of food and drink; the abbot is concerned with the spiritual aspects of monastic life, the Cellarer was in charge of the physical aspect. The etymology of Cellarer is the Latin word "cellarium" meaning "pantry, storeroom, or group of cells."

Usually the outer guard of a Masonic group is appointed by the presiding officer, but within the Chapel, the Sentry is elected by the members of the Chapel per the Constitution and By-Laws. Historically, a Sentry is a guard at a point of passage, particularly to the entrance of a military base or encampment. Being the revival of a order of knighthood the use of Sentry is appropriate for this officer. This word is believed to be rooted in the Latin word "sentire" translating as "feel or perceive by the senses." Some scholars believe that the word was originally a worn down version of sanctuary. Regardless, by the 1630s, the word "sentry" was being used to designate "military guards posted around a camp."

References

1. Online Etymology Dictionary. n.d. https://www.etymonline.com/

2. Constitution of St. Thomas of Acon, USA. n.d. http://www.stthomasacon.org/Constitutions_USA_rev1.pdf?

3. Bray, J. H. (n.d.). Order of St. Thomas of Acon. Retrieved from Grand Master's Council: http://www.stthomasacon.org/jhbray.html

4. Forey, A. (n.d.). The Order of St Thomas of Acre. Retrieved from The ORB: http://the-orb.arlima.net/encyclop/religion/monastic/st._thos.html

5. The Golden Legend: St. Thomas Becket. (n.d.). Retrieved from Fordham University: https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/goldenlegend/gl-vol2-thomasbecket.asp

6. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. n.d. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/almoner

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