The days of secret, long and complex rituals for young Knights of Columbus are over.
In an effort to make the worldwide organization of Catholic men more attractive to new members, the Knights of Columbus has simplified the initiation ceremony and is allowing families and non-Knights to participate for the first time.
“The doors are wide open. Anyone can come and watch; they don’t even have to be Catholic,” said Marcel Renaud, state treasurer for the British Columbia and Yukon District of the Knights of Columbus.
“We hope that men who are not yet members of the Knights can come and watch the ceremony and say, ‘Yes, I want to be a part of this. That’s what I’m looking for.
Since the Knights’ founding in 1882, new members have had to take part in a series of confidential initiation ceremonies that often lasted more than an hour, used heavy and “archaic” language, and could be months or years apart. The First Degree was centered on the principle of charity of the Knights; the second, unity; the third, fraternity. Later, a fourth degree was added: patriotism.
Each graduation used its own unique ceremony, which Renaud said was only open to Knights, so it would be a new and impactful experience for new members each time.
“It was a great idea in the 1880s. Even in the 1980s. But not today. It tarnished us by giving people the idea that we were a secret society. We’ve never been there,” Renaud said.
Since January 1, all that has changed. The first three degrees were summed up in a 30-minute ceremony called the Exemplification of Charity, Unity and Brotherhood. The language has been updated to modern English and anyone can attend.
The first exemplification ceremonies in the British Columbia and Yukon District were held January 25 at St. Bernadette Parish in Surrey and January 28 at St. Luke’s Parish in Maple Ridge, with a total of 74 men who became Knights of the Third Degree.
“I would like to congratulate you on taking a great step forward as a Catholic gentleman,” said Ed Panes, British Columbia’s secretary of state, at the ceremony in Maple Ridge.
“We urge you, brother Knights and your families, to get involved in your parish, supporting the council and the community by putting your faith into action. You are a member of an organization that will make a difference in someone’s life.
The unique Catholic ceremony (which took about two years to update) included prayer, reflections on the three principles of charity, unity and fraternity, and solemn presentations of new rosaries and pins to men.
Rapid transition to third-degree Knights means new members are already eligible to run for elected positions on Knights councils or to participate as delegates at the B.C. State Convention in April. .
A knight for 26 years, John Work said the new ceremony will take some getting used to.
“There were some special parts of the diploma that I’m sorry are no longer there,” he said. “There were some great degrees and after doing them for so long, it’s hard to let them go. I will have them in my memory banks for the rest of my life.
But, he added, “it is time”.
Gus Bonnett was one of 10 men who became knights at the January 28 ceremony, as his wife Martha looked on joyfully.
Both are active members of St. Luke’s Parish as worship chapel coordinators and members of local pro-life ministries and migrant farm workers. Martha also devotes some of her free time to bringing communion to the elderly and designing posters for parish events.
Gus said their strong Catholic faith drives everything they do. “We really love Jesus,” he said The British Columbia Catholic after the ceremony. “The meaning of life for us is Jesus and what we can do for his kingdom – and [joining the Knights] is a good way to do it. The Knights are a good example of charity.
Bonnett has been thinking about the Catholic fraternal and charitable organization for 10 years.
“I was called by different Knights in my parish asking me to join, but I felt that I was too busy doing my job and had no time to give what they expected of me, but I always believed that I was a knight in my heart,” he said.
He retired in August 2019, traveled around Europe a bit, and then started planning what to do next with his life. The Knights were near the top of his list.
“I believe it’s a call from God,” he said. “For me, it was time to do it, and now I’m happy and so excited and ready to answer the call to do whatever they need me to do.”
Martha was thrilled with her decision. The couple attend daily Mass and were particularly touched recently by a call to serve the Church. “Many of the homilies we have heard this year [were] on service, service, service. I think it should too [Gus]. We must respond to our Lord. He gives us everything. We have to react,” she said.
The Knights have also made other efforts to gain new members in addition to the rewritten ceremony. About two years ago, they launched online membership, giving men the ability to join the Knights with the convenience of their smart phones.
Renaud said those who joined online would receive regular emails informing them of the various activities the Knights are involved in and a chance to join a local branch in person.
“For every three men who join us online, two will join a board,” he said. ” It’s incredible. This is another sign that the Knights are moving forward.
Last year, the Knights updated their Fourth Degree uniform, replacing the familiar feathered cape and hat with a jacket and beret.
The next exemplification ceremony will take place on Saturday, February 22 at the parish of Saint-François de Sales after the 5:00 p.m. mass. Renaud hopes more men will join the organization and ensure that it goes down in the history books as the greatest exemplifying ceremony. in British Columbia again.
the Knights of Columbus has nearly 2 million members worldwide, making it the largest lay Catholic men’s group in the world. Their activities include charity work and fundraising (they donated $186.7 million to charity in 2018), volunteering in parishes, selling insurance, and supporting priesthood vocations.