The National Shrine At Knock

The apparition which occurred in Knock in 1879 has particular significance in Ireland of the present day and testifies to eternal truths in a time when as never before, these truths are being attacked.

The Liturgical Richness of the Apparition.
This is the time of year when thousands of pilgrims make their way to Ireland’s National Shrine to honour Our Lady and to pray for many intentions. While the focus is on the novena prayers we should take time to really study the apparition and contemplate its meaning. The more we do this, the more we see its many layers.

In her beautiful work, “Meditation on the apparition of Knock” Sr. Helen Weston tells how the scene in the apparition chapel is a subject for contemplative prayer. When we give time to this contemplation, says Sr. Helen, we become more and more open to its richness, in particular its liturgical richness.

The apparition which occurred in Knock in 1879 has particular significance in Ireland of the present day and testifies to eternal truths in a time when as never before, these truths are being attacked.

At the shrine we see the representations of how witnesses described Our Lady’s attitude of prayerful supplication and intercession. On her right, appeared the holy spouse of Mary, St. Joseph. His statue depicts his attentive reverence as a reminder of the sanctity of marriage and family life in a time when these are being denigrated.  A few years before the apparition at Knock, St. Joseph had been given the title Patron of the Universal Church by Pope Pius IX.

The witnesses described St. John the Evangelist who appeared on Our Lady’s other side,holding a book in his hand which looked like a Book of the Gospels. At the centre of the gable of the church  a young lamb is seen standing on an altar. This seemed to be at a higher level although it appeared more in the background compared to the other figures. Behind the lamb was a large cross on the altar.

The only apparition in the world in which Jesus has shown himself as a lamb.
The altar, cross and lamb are symbols of Christ whose sacrificial death indicate their supreme significance. In the Book of Revelation the vision of John shows the lamb being given all power and authority and it is in understanding this that we grasp the highest possible degree of glory being given to Jesus.Today, when we look at the representation of the scene as it appeared to the witnesses in Knock in 1879, everything we see has its reality in the liturgy of the Mass. This is the only authenticated apparition in the world in which Jesus has shown himself as a Lamb.The Gospel of John describes Jesus as the fulfilment of the Old Testament Passover Lamb and tells of Jesus’ death on the cross at the same time as the Passover lambs are being slaughtered in the temple by the Jewish priests.

St. John’s Gospel points to the significance of the branch of hyssop which was used to hold the sponge full of vinegar to the mouth of the dying Jesus. We recall that hyssop was the branch also used to smear the blood of the Passover lambs on the doorframes of the Hebrews prior to their deliverance from Egypt. (Ex 12:21-2) After the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, the ceremonies and sacrifices of the Old Testament had no more significance because the sacrifice of Jesus replaced the Jewish liturgies. Jesus is now the way to the Father. Just as the lamb’s blood spared the Hebrews before they left Egypt, so now it is the blood of Jesus that saves us from our sins. For this reason John the Baptist proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) One of the most important ways that the Old Covenant foreshadows the New is in its use of the image of the sacrificial lamb.

A manifestation of the wholeness of God’s plan of salvation.
It is the liturgical richness of the Knock apparition that has most meaning for today when the holy sacrifice of the Mass is often described as only a banquet or community meal. This liturgical richness is a representation of what takes place in reality at Mass. At every Mass the Word of God is proclaimed to us in the Liturgy of the Word, and in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, Jesus is offered to the Father in sacrifice on our behalf just as in the apparition in Knock John was preaching the Word and the Lamb was being offered on the altar. So when we call Jesus the “Lamb of God” during Mass we are reminded that we now have heaven here on earth. Jesus says to us, “This is my Body which will be given up for you” and “This is the cup of my blood…It will be poured out for you and for many so that sins may be forgiven.”

Blessed are we who are called to the supper of the Lamb! Jesus continues to offer himself as the Lamb of God in every Mass. Through the ministry of the priest, he is the spotless victim offering himself to the Father for the salvation of the world. His is the perpetual, timeless, everlasting sacrifice of praise to the Father. As St. Paul tells us, Christ is “the same yesterday, today and forever.”  Jesus Christ is the son of David and the king of the new and heavenly Jerusalem.  “He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah and he is the Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world, as it said elsewhere in Revelation. But here in heaven, on the throne of glory, after his crucifixion, his resurrection, his ascension, his enthronement.” (Scott Hahn)

The tableau at Knock is a manifestation of the wholeness of God’s plan of salvation.  Silence testifies that there is nothing more to be said – this is the completeness of God’s revelation to the world. Our Lady is seen as intercessor; St. John is preaching; St. Joseph as patron of the Universal Church also represents the sanctity of marriage and the family. The angels circling around the Lamb are a reminder of the constant movement of life in the Holy Spirit. This is the never-ending praise and glory of God in which we participate during Mass when we join with the angels and saints in the Sanctus.

Knock is a foil to the teaching of counterfeit doctrine.
We should not equate Knock with simple devotion or dismiss it as religiosity. Our Lady’s Shrine at Knock is the centre and focus of Marian devotion, beloved by the people of Ireland. Many graces are received here through the intercession of Our Blessed Mother. But Knock is more. It is a foil to the teaching of counterfeit doctrine. We would miss a great deal if we only understood Our Lady’s Shrine at Knock simply as devotion to Our Lady. It is a liturgical apparition of global significance. At the same time we would do well remember that it is Mary who has brought Jesus into our world and it is she who constantly guides and intercedes for us.

The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary which we honour on the 15th August, is a “celebration that offers to the Church and to all humanity an exemplar and a consoling message, teaching us the fulfillment of our highest hopes.” These words are from the Mariological Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Paul VI and they honour the fullness of the blessedness that was the destiny of Mary, the Mother of God. For the people of Ireland this truth becomes immediate and accessible as two days later on August 17th we celebrate the memorial of Our Lady of Knock.

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