A 33rd degree Mason is someone who has earned the highest honors in Freemasonry. When someone joins the Masons, he is given the rank of Entered Apprentice, which is the first degree. Masons can advance to the 32nd degree through their contributions to the lodge. The 33rd degree is only given to Masons who have performed significant services for Freemasonry.
Each degree of Freemasonry has a corresponding title, and each degree bestows upon the member further rituals and secrets of the society. The method of advancing varies from lodge to lodge, with some rites requiring members to study and take tests while others merely require a monetary donation. The length of time it takes to reach the 32nd degree may also vary, with some lodges requiring a specific length of service before advancement.
While the 33rd degree is the "highest" degree, the award is honorary and bestows no special authority on its recipient. Generally, any Mason who has achieved the third degree, or Master Mason, is considered equal in stature to any Mason of a higher degree. The number of degrees a Mason accumulates simply represents how far he has been initiated into the mysteries of the order.
Famous 33rd degree Freemasons include Simon Bolivar, Harry Truman, Earl Warren, J. Edgar Hoover and John Glenn.