Our Lady of Knock
Aug 20, 2019
A few years ago, a sesquicentennial Mass recalled the suffering of Ireland on the western seaboard during that decade of awful starvation in the 1840s.
Ships took away cattle and grain, and the people were left to starve. Priests often anointed as many as 40 parishioners a day with "extreme unction" as they faced death.
Three million lined up daily at the soup kitchens; 2 million emigrated, but thousands did not survive the crossing, dying in the "coffin ships"; another million emigrated before the end of the century.
The population of Ireland had been halved. The Irish had then become the most emigration-oriented people in the entire world. The Famine was called "Great" because I million people died of simple starvation.
In 1879, recalling the still fresh horrors and miseries of such sufferings, the pastor of Knock had begun a series of 100 consecutive Masses for the happy repose of those who had died. Mary's apparition took place on the evening of that day when the 100th Mass was celebrated on Aug. 21,1879. In the midst of Ireland's agony, the mother of the Lord came to her people to be with them, to be present to them, to share their fate in silence.
Knock is a simple village of hardworking, God-fearing farmers. The evening of August 21, 1879, will never be forgotten by the inhabitants of this village in County Mayo.
As evening came, a steady downpour began. Few were outside, but those hearty souls noticed a heavenly light emanating from the village church. An elderly lady saw the light. She looked at it intently and then cried out, "The Blessed Virgin!" A man ran though the streets shouting, "Come quickly! The Blessed Virgin is here at the Church!"
Witnesses, comprised of all ages, saw a heavenly apparition on the exterior of the southern wall of their parish church, St. John the Baptist. For more than two hours, Our Lady, St. Joseph and St. John the Evangelist were present. To their right, and in the middle, there was a plain altar and on it a Lamb was standing. A large cross was behind, and above, the Lamb. This scene was enveloped in the brilliance of heavenly light, and angels hovered about the Lamb.
As the news spread, pilgrims by the thousands arrived at Knock with their sick. A large number of unusual cures were reported. Those who claimed a cure left their crutches and canes at the site, and many of those supports were attached to the wall. In the fall of 1880, a statue of Our Lady of Knock was erected where she had been seen during the vision. Knock had become a place for pilgrimage: one-and-a-half million visitors trek there annually.
So then, why this strangely quiet apparition where nothing is said, and why these particular people?
Saint Joseph is the Universal Protector and defender of Mother Church. Of all people in the history of salvation he was entrusted by Almighty God to take care and protect God the Father's two most precious treasures of love and grace: His own Son, Jesus Christ and Mary, the Immaculate Conception. Saint Joseph further reminds us of the obligation that all men, especially husbands and fathers and those young men and boys aspiring to be, to have a self-sacrificing faith that models for others, especially one's children vital virtues like devotion to one's family, commitment, dedication, and loyalty to God and Church. It was inconceivable of Saint Joseph to abandon His family to the murderous designs of King Herod, so we too must see the Church as an extension of our own beloved and always in danger families here on earth.
Saint John appears wearing a Bishop's garment. Having had the courage to be the only Priest at the Foot of the Cross, who understood better that moment when Jesus was raised upon that Cross in a sacrifice of perfect love for the sins of the world; recalling that moment at the Last Supper and every Mass he would then celebrate when elevating the Bread and Chalice of Wine Jesus said: This is my body given up for you, my blood poured out for you. Saint John reminds us of the majesty, power and glory of the Mass and how vital like our own heartbeats it is in our lives.
The Lamb upon the altar recalls of course the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world…and how this taking away, this healing and this empowerment of love takes place through Jesus suffering and dying upon the Cross. Rather than being a symbol of our shame and guilt, when embraced in our own lives it becomes the weapon we wield to over-come all trials and difficulties in this world. And how we most access this power participating in Mass and receiving this same Lamb of God in Holy Communion.
And of course there is the Blessed Virgin Mary. The awful starvation of the Irish people of the 19th century recalls a verse from Scripture when Jesus addressing our great adversary Satan after he taunts Jesus in His desert hunger to turn rocks into bread says: Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. And this Word who is Jesus Christ became Flesh for the life of the world and Jesus received His body and His blood from a single source and that source is Mary. Mary gives to us this same Jesus who refers to Himself as the Bread of Life in the Eucharist; so that receiving Jesus we receive the totality of God's love which is infinite and Almighty.
The apparitions of Knock therefore remind us of how incredibly potent, beautiful and healing the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is, encouraging us to find the strength and solace needed in our own lives to be men and women, families of deeper faith, devoted disciples and defenders of Holy Mother Church in a world gone mad with self-inflicted suffering and misery.