Degrees and Principles
The Order is dedicated to the principles of Charity, Unity, Fraternity and Patriotism. A First Degree exemplification ceremony, by which a man joins the Order, exemplifies the virtue of charity. He is then said to be a First Degree Knight of Columbus and after participating the subsequent degrees, each of which focuses on another virtue, 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. 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. A Knight is eligible to join the Fourth Degree after six months from the date of his First Degree, providing he has completed the 2nd and 3rd degrees beforehand.
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.