The York Rite is one of several Rites of the worldwide fraternity known as Freemasonry. A Rite is a series of progressive degrees that are conferred by various Masonic organizations or bodies, each of which operates under the control of its own central authority. The York Rite specifically is a collection of separate Masonic Bodies and associated Degrees that would otherwise operate independently.
The three primary bodies in the York Rite are the Chapter of Royal Arch Masons, Council of Royal & Select Masters or Council of Cryptic Masons, and the Knights Templar, each of which are governed independently but are all considered to be a part of the York Rite. There are also other organizations that are considered to be directly associated with the York Rite, or require York Rite membership to join such as the Knights of the York Cross of Honour, but in general the York Rite is considered to be made up of the aforementioned three.
The Rite's name is derived from the city of York, where, according to a Masonic legend, the first meetings of Masons in England took place.
The York Rite is one of the appendant bodies of Freemasonry that a Master Mason may join to further his knowledge of Freemasonry. But the York Rite is not found as a single system worldwide, and outside of the York Rite there are often significant differences in ritual, as well as organization. However in most cases provided that the Grand Body in question regards the parent "Craft" jurisdiction as regular, each distinct Order has recognized fraternal inter-relations with the respective Grand Body within the York system.
Since the York Rite is actually a grouping of separate organizations joined in order, each body operates with relative autonomy. And though they are referred to as one rite it is common for individuals to be member of some bodies and not others. For example in many jurisdictions Cryptic Masonry (Royal & Select Masters) can be skipped allowing the person to be a member of just the Royal Arch and Knights Templar. It is also common for non-Christians to join only the Royal Arch and Council of Royal & Select Masters as the Knights Templar require members to be of the Christian faith. But no matter what the Royal Arch is always required and membership in that body must be kept in order to maintain membership in the other bodies.