In this third installment of our pilgrimage through Ireland, we head north to the remote village of Knock in central Ireland, past fields where sheep peacefully graze in lush green pastures.
The Gaelic word for Knock is Noc which means hill. It was here on August 21, 1879 that a small group of poor Irish peasants witnessed an apparition shrouded in mystery.
Heavy rain beat down on the housekeeper at St. John the Baptist Church. It was evening and Mary McLoughlin was eager to warm herself by sipping a hot cup of tea with her friend widow Byrne. All was normal until a strange sight materialized under the black skies. White glowing figures pierced the night. Mary figured that the pastor, Father Cavanaugh, had bought statues and had not mentioned it to her. She kept walking to widow Byrne’s cottage. Upon her arrival, Mary told her friend about the statues (or so she thought). They decided to investigate. Widow Byrne sent her daughter, Mary, along to accompany Mary McLoughlin.
Upon arrival at the church, the two women got a clear view of the figures. Not only were they glowing, but they also were moving. Before their eyes were St. Joseph, Our Lady, St. John the Evangelist holding a bible, and an altar, a lamb, and a cross. Angels hovered over the altar. Mary Byrne sounded the alarm, knocking on doors to gather more witnesses. Twenty-five people stood in the downpour to pray the rosary. It was a silent apparition that lasted three hours.
The faithful have puzzled over the apparition at Knock. Why was it silent? Why did they choose Knock? Many have speculated that it was to comfort the oppressed Catholics of Ireland who suffered under British rule. More than a million Irish Catholics died in the potato famine that lasted from 1845-1847.
Look more closely at this story and you will find another clue to this mystery.
Father Cavanaugh, pastor at the church, was deeply troubled that so many Irish died in the famine without receiving the Last Rites of the Church. He decided to say one hundred Masses for the repose of these souls. When do you think he said the final Mass? That’s right. He offered the last Mass on August 21: the day the apparition appeared.
The humble village of Knock is now a major pilgrimage site and has been approved by the Church. This unusual apparition is a Marian apparition but also a Eucharistic miracle, for the lamb is a symbol of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.