Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

Lessons From Our Lady of Knock

by Paul E. Duggan


An overview of the apparitions at Knoc, Ireland beginning in 1879.

Larger Work

The Priest



Publisher & Date

Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, August 1999

Knock is a manifestation of the mystery of redemption wrought by the Lamb of God. By a felicitous symbolism conceived in heaven, the Queen of Knock reveals in her person something of that singular grace and beauty conferred on her by this mystery. . ., She appears as the climax of human redemption. This unique completion of redemption in Mary has already crowned her in heaven as the divine ideal which foreshadows the absolute victory and transfiguration awaiting the Church on its entry into eternity.

Father Hubert, O.F.M. Cap.

Devotion to Mary is integral to the faith of Ireland. St. Patrick not only entrusted his missionary work to her intercession but he also sought her continued presence with the Irish people.

Patrick built the abbey at Trim in Meath, which he dedicated to Our Lady of Tryme. This became one of the famous pilgrimage spots in Europe. Miracles were attributed to the faith of the people who came there to seek the intercession of Our Lady. Over the years, the Irish people have remained ever so devoted to the Virgin.

The apparitions. God rewards fidelity: 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 on that gable. To their right, and in the middle of the gable, 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.

Since then, some have referred to Our Lady of Knock under her ancient title, Queen of the Angels. Many people today attribute the sanctity of family life, remaining strong with the Irish people, to the special grace that this vision at Knock represents.

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. Pilgrims snatched plaster and bits of cement off the apparition wall for relics in 1879 and the 1880s. 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.

Additional apparitions occurred on Jan. 6 and Feb. 10 and 12, 1880. The visions remained the same. Mary stood in the middle of the light from heaven, wearing a long gown and a crown of pulsating brilliance, with a golden rose over her forehead. Her hands were raised to the height of her shoulders, reaching out to the people but pointing heavenward. St. Joseph stood on her right, with St. John the Evangelist to the left. To the left of the group was an altar with a large cross, a Lamb was at the foot of the cross, and angels surrounded the cross in adoration.

This blessing upon Ireland apparently was expected because of the constant devotion to Mary that had always been exhibited on that island. St. Joseph was revered. St. John the Evangelist and the Irish people both knew love: Knock is a sign of that love.

The Lord's messenger. Peace resides in the heart of the Virgin's Son. Those who seek peace seek God. Those who seek Him find Him. At times, He sends His mother to earth, clothed with her divine maternity and power, but still a sister and mother to all humankind.

The Irish people have always understood that there is nothing divine about Our Lady; she is not God. Mary is a human being, a sister to humankind, as well as mother. However, she is the mother of Jesus the Christ, who is divine as well as human. Therefore, she is the mother of God. She has no power of her own, but she is, and always will be, the mother of the most powerful person who ever walked the earth.

She has been assumed into heaven now to be with her Son. Sometimes she comes to earth as a heavenly messenger, sent by her Son, and she then appears to people. When she speaks, she brings no new messages, nothing that is not contained in the biblical teachings of Jesus. She represents Him to us, and she calls upon us to have sorrow for sin, to repent and turn to God.

In most cases of alleged appearances, from early Christian times to the present, the Church finds that there is no evidence for thinking that Mary was really there: maybe a mistake or a hallucination, a hoax or a psychological problem.

But the Church has given its approval for devotion to some few of these apparitions in this difficult area of private revelation. We do not have to believe in the truth of any private revelation. But we may believe in them when, after a thorough investigation, official experts find them to be believable and to contain nothing contrary to faith.

Mary appears to various people in ways that appeal to them: she is black to the black, Chinese to the Chinese, Italian to the Italian. She appeared to Juan Diego in Guadalupe as a young Indian girl. She speaks in their language or dialect. She is one of them.

The Church officially investigated this happening at Knock in 1879, and again in 1936. It was found that the witnesses were believable and that there was nothing contrary to the faith.

Four recent popes have honored Knock. Pius XII blessed the Banner of Knock at St. Peter's and decorated it with a special medal on All Saints' Day, 1945. It was the Marian year. On this occasion, the Pope announced the new feast of the Queenship of Mary.

Pope John XXIII presented a special candle to Knock on Candlemas Day in 1960. He had always regarded it as one of outstanding shrines devoted to Our Lady.

Pope Paul VI blessed the foundation stone for the Basilica of Our Lady, Queen of Ireland, on June 6, 1974.

Pope John Paul II came, in person as a pilgrim, to the shrine on Sept. 30, 1979. He addressed the sick and the nursing staff, celebrated Mass, established the shrine church as a basilica, presented a candle and the golden rose to the shrine, and finally knelt in prayer at the apparition wall.

The Great Famine. It is recorded that Mary said nothing at all during these apparitions. She simply came to her people, to be with them in their hour of need.

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. The term An Gorta Mor referred to that great famine, that great hunger, that great calamity.

The years preceding the apparitions were the most tragic years in the history of Ireland. Famine and unimagined misery engulfed the entire Catholic country. 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. The magnitude of such suffering was unimaginable.

Today, worldwide help, together with the news media, would flock to aid these unfortunates. There was no such help in the 19th century. As the threat of famine seemed to decrease slightly, evictions from the land increased.

The west suffered more than other parts of Ireland. An Gorta Mor tells us of the terrible starvation and death in that decade of the 1840s. A million people died of "the sickness," the result of starvation. 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.

Such a physical horror today is impossible to imagine. Only the former Third World can offer what would be a similarity to these dreadful years, when "the blackening" of the potato crops left millions, without food, to die. The Famine was called "Great" because I million people died of simple starvation. As one person recalled:

That was the way things were then — ugly and hateful and loathsome, round about the area in which I was reared. I understand that the story was exactly the same all about the whole of Ireland. And, to make things altogether worse, it was not really by the will of God that things were so. It was that way because of the will of the people.

This last sentence may be interpreted to mean: To give the tenant his rights is an injustice to the landlord.

In 1879, the potato crop was threatened once again. Rents rose; money was borrowed; evictions occurred daily. People became desperate. Finally, in April of 1879, the meeting of the Land League was held at Irishtown near Knock: This was the beginning of the end for the landlords.

The Christian ideal. The pastor of Knock had begun a series of 100 consecutive Masses for the happy repose of those who had died and had been so precious to him, 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.

Our Lady does not exist in isolation. She is the type, the figure, of the Church. Mary is what we are destined to be. When we speak of Mary, we speak of ourselves; we state the Christian ideal of Mary and womankind.

As has been proclaimed before, in her life and person Our Lady expresses to perfection what it means to believe, to love and to be loved, to be graced and to be saved. She is indeed redemption's finest hour.

To accept, freely and without reservation, God's salvation in His Son, Jesus the Christ; to accept and to fulfill one's function in redemption; to bring our grace-life of service to the salvation of others — this is to be Christian.

Miraculous happenings. Ten days after the first apparition, the first cure occurred. A young girl, born deaf, was instantly given the gift of hearing. At the end of 1880, some 300 cures, apparently miraculous, had been recorded in the diary of the parish priest. One of the pilgrims, who had been cured soon after the apparition, testified many years later that he had seen "as many as half-a-dozen pilgrims simultaneously undergoing their cure, or getting relief, and in vision I see the lame walk, my case included, the sightless seeing, the withered skins expanding."

In the third year after the apparitions, Archbishop Lynch from Toronto, Canada, led a pilgrimage to give thanks for his own cure and for the cures of many in his diocese. The journey and the accommodations were certainly most primitive. That archbishop left us a description of the then pastor of the shrine:

The Venerable Archdeacon Cavanaugh, who had been hearing confessions, came to salute us. He is tall and ascetic looking, and well calculated to make a favorable impression on all who approach him. This is another stroke of the providence of God to have such a priest in so celebrated a place that the pilgrims may carry away, besides other gifts, a great reverence for the priesthood of Ireland.

Mary's yes to God. The work of the Church and each Christian is to continue Mary's unqualified yes to God at the time of the Annunciation. Her yes brought God to birth on earth. This links God with His people. It is a yes that continues a share in her Son's redemptive task.

Mary, like all mothers, did not know where her yes to God would lead her. She was not given an outline of her life: giving birth to her Son in a Bethlehem stable, the flight into Egypt, 30 years in the obscurity of Nazareth, and then through Jerusalem to the foot of the cross.

Mary's message remains the same as it was at Cana: "Do whatever he tells you."

Jesus teaches us not to judge and not to condemn others: the Pharisees do that. Rather, we should look into our own hearts.

Western countries today have received a material prosperity unknown in previous human history. Has this caused a disparity of living standards between the rich and the poor? These gaps have not been brought about through God's will, but by the will of the people.

Pope Paul VI was correct when he observed that economic development is accompanied by moral underdevelopment. But we must not look at the "mote" in others' eyes. We must become aware of the "plank" in our own.

May Mary, mother of the Lord, woman of the Magnificat, who identified herself with the anawim of this world, obtain for us courage to challenge the mighty and to put ourselves at the service of her Son and His kingdom of justice, peace and love. May we always pray:

Lord, open my eyes that I may see. Give me strength that I may act.

FATHER DUGGAN, who holds a doctorate in sacred theology, is a priest of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

© The Priest, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750.

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