The Knights of Malta are the militia of the Pope, and are sworn to total obedience by a blood oath which is taken extremely seriously and to the death.
Offical Masonry site
The crowning glory of the York Rite is the group known as the Commandery of Knights Templar. This starts with the Order of the Red Cross, moves on to the Order of the Knights of Malta, then Order of the Knight Templar Commandery. Once you are a Knight Templar, you gain entrance to the Order of the Red Cross of Constantine -if you have the right connections.
THE KNIGHTS OF MALTA.
If we regard the Knights Templar as one Degree we find that the Order has two, or possibly three Degrees in all. After the K.T. comes the Mediterranean Pass. It is now, practically, merely a passing Degree leading to the Malta, but it has a significance of its own. The sign, to begin with, is undoubtedly old. Major Sanderson found the same sign in use among the Yaos in Central Africa, and it was also known and venerated by the Arabs. In view of the tradition connecting the Mediterranean Pass and the Ma lta Degrees with the Arabs, this fact is obviously significant. Nor, esoterically, can we ignore the importance of the serpent in connection with a mystical journey, and in like manner "The Sea" is a phrase well known among mystics to imply certain spiritual facts, and is always said to lie beyond the mystical resurrection.
To make myself clear to non-mystical readers, let me add that mystical death and resurrection are well recognised stages in the development of the soul of the man who, while still in the body, is striving to reach spiritual union with God. St. Paul says that he died daily in Christ.
When we reach the Hall in which the degree of Malta is to be worked, we pass certain emblems which we are told indicate birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension. These are a symbolic summary of our whole Masonic career from the time we entered the Craft till the time we axe finally made a Knight of Malta. Further, resurrection is a new birth which, in itself, presupposes a new life, and in the mystical world we must, like St. Paul, be prepared to die daily in Christ.
The Malta, then, is a Degree of mystical, not physical resurrection, and the fact is emphasised by the linking up of the symbolical acts with the true history of the old Knights of St. John of Malta. The symbols on the table should be studied with this key, particularly that of the galley which bore the souls to safety though it perished itself. Our body must one day die, but if we have lived aright it will bring our souls in safety to the "Islands of the Blest." This is true whether viewed mystically, or in regard to life in the world of action.
The Sns. used in this Degree are certainly old, and the Pen. most peculiar and significant. It could hardly have been invented in the 18th century. The Sn. in the Templar degree is shown in the room of the Visconti Venosta to which we have already referred, and in the same room are to be seen figures making the Sn. of the Knights of Malta.
The colour of the Templar robes are white with a red cross, i.e., the "Blood of the Lamb," in which we have washed and become thereby as white as snow. But those of Malta are black, with a white cross: out of the black night of the Soul, out of the darkness of mystical death, the cross of Salvation rises, no longer a cross of suffering, but one of resplendent glory.