Sovereign Military Order of Malta - Membership

Membership

Membership in the order is divided into several classes: knights of justice, or profess knights, who take religious vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and form what amounts to a religious order (until the 1990s membership in this class was restricted to members of families with noble lineages); knights of obedience (similarly restricted until recently, these knights make a promise, rather than a vow, of obedience); knights of honour and devotion, knights of grace and devotion, and knights of magistral grace, all classes made up of members who take no vows and who had to show a decreasingly extensive history of nobility (knights of magistral grace need not prove any noble lineage and are the commonest class of knights in the United States). Within each class of knights are ranks ranging from bailiff grand cross (the highest) through knight grand cross, knight commander, knight officers, and knight — thus one could be a "knight commander of grace and devotion," or a "bailiff grand cross of justice." A final rank of donat is offered to some who join the order in the class of "justice" but who are not knights. Bishops and priests are generally honorary members, or knights, of the Order of Malta. However, there are some priests who are full members of the Order, and this is usually because they were conferred knighthood prior to ordination. The priests of the Order of Malta are ranked as Honorary Canons, as in the Order of the Holy Sepulchre; and they are entitled to wear the black mozetta with purple piping and purple fascia.

Prior to the 1990s, all officers of the Order had to be of noble birth (i.e., armigerous for at least a hundred years), as they were all knights of justice or of obedience. However, Knights of Magistral Grace (i.e., those without noble proofs) now may make the Promise of Obedience and, at the discretion of the Grand Master and Sovereign Council, may enter the novitiate to become professed Knights of Justice.

Worldwide, there are over 13,000 knights and dames, a small minority of whom are professed religious. Membership of the Order is by invitation only and solicitations are not entertained.

The Order's finances are audited by a Board of Auditors, which includes a President and four Councillors, all elected by the Chapter General. The Order's judicial powers are exercised by a group of Magistral Courts, whose judges are appointed by the Grand Master and Sovereign Council.

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