On Sunday, September 29th 2019, our Boherlahan-Dualla Praesidium was represented in Knock for the Annual National Legion of Mary Pilgrimage. Shortly after 8 a.m. our bus left Thurles and on the journey we recited Rosaries, sang hymns and prayed for different intentions. Shortly after 12 o’clock we arrived in Knock in glorious sunshine which prevailed throughout the day.
As this year marks the 140th Anniversary of the Knock Apparitions, our thoughts went back to the evening of the 21st August 1879. About 8 p.m., as rain was falling heavily, a wonderful vision was seen on the gable end of the Parish Church at Knock, Co. Mayo. The central figure was Our Lady with her hands raised to shoulder height in prayer. On her head she wore a golden crown which held in place a single golden rose on her forehead. To their right stood St. Joseph, with hands joined and his bowed head bent towards her. To her left stood St. John the Evangelist with a book opened in his left hand from which he seemed to preach. At the centre of the gable stood an altar supporting a lamb and behind the lamb was a large cross around which Angels’ wings were seen to hover. All the figures in the Apparition were dressed in white. Two women who saw this sight called their neighbours and friends from the nearby thatched cottages in the village, and before long a large crowd, ranging in ages from 5 to 74 years, gathered and prayed for about two hours in the drenching rain. News of this extraordinary event, and of the many cures and favours received, quickly spread. The excitement was so intense that six weeks afterwards a Commission of Enquiry was set up by Dr. McHale, Archbishop of Tuam. Fifteen official witnesses gave their testimonies and a second Enquiry in 1936 confirmed the first report as trustworthy and satisfactory.
No word was spoken at this Eucharistic Apparition but this picture speaks a thousand words. The Lamb and Cross represent Jesus, who died on the Cross for us. The Angels hovered in adoration as a reminder that the Holy Mass is one and the same sacrifice as that of the Cross, because Christ, who offered Himself as a bleeding victim on the Cross to his Heavenly Father, continues to offer Himself in an unbloody manner on the Altar through the ministry of His priests. The Book in St. John’s hands represents the word of the Lord as in the readings at Mass. This picture also represents the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Tradition has it that the parish priest of Knock at the time was after celebrating 100 Masses especially for the Holy Souls who form part of the Communion of Saints.
Since that time the gable has been the centre of devotion for pilgrims. Just ten days after the Apparition, the first recorded cure was the instantaneous restoration of hearing to a young, totally deaf girl as she knelt in prayer and applied a piece of cement taken from the gable. In 1880 a statue representing our Lady of Knock was donated by a lady from Dublin whose sight was restored, and was erected in the spot where Our Lady appeared. There it remained until 1932, the year of the Eucharistic Congress, when it was replaced by three plaster statues representing Our Lady, St. Joseph and St. John. As the parish church could no longer contain the thousands of pilgrims who came to Knock, a temporary Shrine was erected in 1940 to include the three statues where Mass could be celebrated, regardless of weather conditions. In 1978 a permanent Shrine, depicting the Apparition in detail, was erected. A well known Roman sculptor, Professor Lorenzo Ferri, was commissioned to carve three statues in white marble from the description of the Apparition, as seen by the witnesses. In order to secure a model for the lamb his manager and son travelled sixty miles into the Roman Hills where they bought a three week old snow white lamb for the equivalent of thirty shillings. After being fed with milk and trained to eat grass the little creature became the pet of the studio, scampering in and out through the statues. After he matured a little he became the ideal model for his work. When that little lamb had grown too big for the confined space of the studio he was given to the Little Company of Mary Sisters at Fiesole, near Florence. He became the treasured pet of the sisters, making frequent visits to the kitchen to receive dainty titbits. When he died he was buried in the garden attached to the convent. Incidentally, some Little Company of Mary Sisters from our own parish served in Fiesole.
Professor Lorenzo Ferri assisted at 6 a.m. Mass every morning before he began work on the Knock Statues. He felt greatly privileged to be representing such a wonderful Eucharistic Apparition and wanted it to be the greatest work of his life. He looked forward to the day when he could visit Knock to see his splendid work enshrined, but regretfully he did not live to see it.
In 1963 the statues were shipped to Ireland and arrived in Knock Shrine on the eve of the 8th September (Our Lady’s Birthday) in a downpour of rain, just like the weekend at the time of the Apparitions. St. John Paul II blessed the statues when he visited Knock on September 30th 1979 for the centenary of the Apparitions. He also presented a golden rose as a gift to the Shrine. The place where he celebrated Mass is now marked by a large Papal Cross. The iconic Church dedicated to Our Lady Queen of Ireland in 1976 to serve the many pilgrims was raised to the status of a Basilica by the Pope and was extensively redeveloped in 2015.
During the World Meeting of Families, Pope Francis visited Knock on Sunday August 26th 2018. There he spent 1½ hours and led the people in praying the Angelus before departure.
It is interesting to note that Knock Parish Church, built in 1828, was dedicated to St. John the Baptist, who pointed out Jesus as the Lamb of God. A simple plaque on the wall prophetically states “My House shall be called the House of Prayer to all Nations”. This historic church has been carefully and sensitively restored for future generations of parishioners and pilgrims. August 21th this year marked the 140th Anniversary. Archbishop Michael Neary unveiled the historic model of Knock Village exactly as it was in 1879.
The official celebration on the day of the Legion of Mary National Pilgrimage on the 29th September began in the Basilica at 2.30 p.m. with the Blessing of the Sick and recitation of the Rosary. This was followed with the celebration of Mass by Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick, who in his homily welcomed Legionaries from all over Ireland, and abroad from China and Brazil. He spoke of his own association with the Legion of Mary and with its founder, the Servant of God, Frank Duff. He asked Legionaries to pray and plead heaven for the Cause of the Beatification of Frank Duff. Ceremonies concluded with the outdoor Procession to the Shrine. On our homeward journey, Rosaries were again recited in thanksgiving for a joyful and faith-filled day. Today, Knock ranks as one of the World’s major Marian Shrines. Its message is as relevant today as it was 140 years ago when it gave hope to a poor and destitute people, who remained steadfast to the Faith. The Ireland of today is witnessing a spiritual famine, but the unspoken message of Knock is offering a solution to help people cope on the journey of life and renew the Church in Ireland.
Our Lady of Knock, Queen of Ireland, Pray for us.