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, 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 a full member. Behind everything a Knight does is the vision of our founder, Venerable Michael McGivney, and the mission he left us as Catholic men united in faith. This holy and heroic parish priest founded the Order with a group of laymen in the basement of St. Mary’s Church seeing that both Catholics and the Church faced serious problems in the last half of the nineteenth century such as anti-Catholicism and ethnic prejudice; under-employment; lack of social standing and early loss of the breadwinner. To resolve those problems Father McGivney conceived the idea of an organization of Catholic men who would band together. Below is a list of the ranking of the Knights of Columbus, as well as how to achieve that status.
First Degree – new Knights start as First Degree Knights exemplifying Charity. This principle is the basis of all we do as Knights and as Catholics. Charity teaches us to have a Christ-like love for our neighbors. This kind of love is unconditional and by it we are able to reach out to our brothers and sisters and help relieve any physical, mental, moral or spiritual needs they may have.Charity is also about stewardship. A steward is a person who is tasked with caring for another person’s valuables. The steward is accountable to the “owner” for how well he manages the property he oversees. As followers of Christ, we are stewards of our lives. We are accountable for how well we live it and how well we manage the blessings, resources, capabilities and gifts that we have. We must therefore share what we have to the other members of Christ’s family through charity work.
Second Degree – exemplifies Unity. None of us is as good as all of us. United as brother Knights and fellow followers of Christ, our efforts in support of the Catholic Church and our fellow men are focused and multiplied. Nearly two million Catholic men and their families can do tremendous good. United as Knights of Columbus, our efforts have resulted in well over $1 billion in charitable contributions over the last decade.
Third Degree – exemplifies Fraternity. Fraternity means banding together for a common good. The Knights of Columbus show fraternity by supporting their local church by promoting the Catholic faith and supporting the community through dinners and gatherings as well as helping those who need more help as they get older. Knights work millions of hours yearly to assist sick and disabled members and their families. In the Knights of Columbus, we watch out for and take care of one another.
Fourth Degree – the primary purpose of the fourth degree is to foster the spirit of patriotism and to encourage active Catholic citizenship. Fourth degree members, in addition to being members of their individual councils, are also members of Fourth Degree assemblies which typically comprise members of several councils. Usually once a month, the Fourth degree council meets at the state council to discuss promoting patriotism in their state and their individual councils. Fewer than 18% of Knights join the Fourth Degree, which is optional, and whose members are referred to as “Sir Knight”.
Primary source: http://www.kofc12455.com/degrees-of-knighthood/
Secondary Source: https://kofcnc.org/vision-of-father-mcgivney/