Degrees in the Knights of Columbus
The Order is dedicated to the principles of Charity, Unity, Fraternity and Patriotism. These are the virtues of the first through fourth degrees, respectively.
A First Degree exemplification ceremony, by which a man joins the Order, explicates the virtue of charity. He is then said to be a First Degree Knight of Columbus. After participating in the subsequent degrees, each of which focuses on another virtue, he rises to that status. Upon reaching the Third Degree a gentleman is considered a full member. Priests do not participate directly in Degree exemplifications as laymen do, but rather take the degree by observation.
The first ritual handbook was printed in 1885 but contained only sections teaching Unity and Charity. Supreme Knight Mullen, along with primary ritual author Daniel Colwell, believed that the initiation ceremony should be held in three sections "in accord with the 'Trinity of Virtues, Charity, Unity, and Brotherly love.'" The third section, expounding Fraternity, was officially adopted in 1891.
The Fourth Degree is the highest degree of the order.
The Fourth Degree - Patriotism
The Fourth Degree is the highest degree of the order. Members of this degree are addressed as "Sir Knight". The primary purpose of the Fourth Degree is to foster the spirit of patriotism and to encourage active Catholic citizenship. Fewer than 18% of Knights join the Fourth Degree, which is optional. A Knight is eligible to join the Fourth Degree after one year from the date of his First Degree, providing he has completed the 2nd and 3rd degrees beforehand.
As Knights of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd degrees meet as a Council, the 4th degree Knights meet in Assemblies. Assemblies are distinct from councils and are led by a separate set of elected officers. The Supreme Board of Directors appoints a Supreme Master and twenty Vice Supreme Masters to govern the Fourth Degree. Each Vice Supreme Master oversees a Province which is then broken up into Districts. The Supreme Master appoints District Masters to supervise several assemblies.
Each assembly is led by a Navigator. Other elected assembly officers include the Captain, Admiral, Pilot, Scribe, Purser, Comptroller, Sentinels and Trustees. A Friar and Color Corps Commander are appointed by the Navigator. Assembly officers are properly addressed by using the title "faithful" (e.g. Faithful Navigator). Assemblies are numbered in the order in which they chartered into the Order and are named by the local membership.
Only Fourth Degree Knights may optionally purchase the full regalia and join the Assembly's Color Corps. The Color Corps is the most visible arm of the Knights as they are often seen in parades and other local events wearing their colorful regalia. Official dress for the Color Corps is a black tuxedo, baldric, white gloves, cape and naval chapeau. White tuxedos may also be used on certain occasions. Baldrics are worn from the right shoulder to left hip and are color specific by nation. In the United States, baldrics are red, white and blue. Service baldrics include a scabbard for a sword and are worn over the coat while social baldrics are worn under the coat. The colors on a Fourth Degree Knight's cape, and chapeau, denote the office he holds within the Degree. Faithful Navigators and Past Faithful Navigators are permitted to carry a white handled silver sword. Masters and Vice Supreme Masters, as well as Former Masters and Former Vice Supreme Masters, are also denoted by their gold swords.
The need for a patriotic degree was first considered in 1886 and a special plea was made at the National Meeting of 1899. The first Fourth Degree exemplification followed in 1900 with 1,100 Knights participating at the Lenox Lyceum in New York City. Today there are more than 2,500 Assemblies.