As I write this on this eve of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, known affectionately in the English speaking world as Our Lady’s Day in August, and just a week from the Feast of Our Lady of Knock on August 21, our attention as Catholics of Irish descent naturally turns toward our Blessed Mother and her role in this history of our salvation.
I first visited Knock in April of 2013 with my cousin Christine. We were in Ireland for the first time and used a bed and breakfast in Knock as our base of operations while combing the countryside doing family history research. As I was sitting in little church in Knock praying before morning Mass, it slowly dawned on me that my own family members, namely my Great great grandmother and her children and grandchildren who had not yet emigrated to the United States, livingin nearby Claremorris in 1879, would surely have heard rumors of the apparitions and would most likely have visited. I took great comfort in the probability that the Shrine at Knock and the devotion of pilgrims over the last one hundred forty one years was a clear link with my own family history and with the faith which my ancestors passed on to me.
One aspect of the Apparitions at Knock which I find so endearing is the fact of Mary’s silence—a silence which continues to speak volumes even today. While most apparitions of the Blessed Mother include a clear and distinct message from her to the world, at Knock she said no words. Rather, she simply lifted her prayers to heaven, reminding us of her role as intercessor to her Son, who appeared as the Lamb upon the Altar of Sacrifice. In doing so, she reminded us of the centrality of the Eucharist in our lives, the centrality of the Pascal Mystery as the salvific event in human history. I spent several hours during those three days spent in Knock praying and visiting the various chapels and the Basilica. And in doing so, I felt very close to our Blessed Mother and very close, therefore, to her Son.
One question I have pondered often over the last three decades is whether a place of pilgrimage is holy because of the events that have taken place there or because of the prayers of the pilgrims who go there in search of healing, in search of answers to the ultimate questions of life and death, or mortality and immortality, in search of a renewal of faith and hope. The Shrine at Knock, I believe, is holy because of both. It is holy because our Blessed Mother Mary, along with Saint Joseph and Saint John the Evangelist chose to appear there in the presence of the Lamb of God. It is holy because of the faith of those men, women and children who stood for hours in the rain to gaze upon the wonder which they beheld with the eyes of faith on that evening of August 21, 1879. But it remains holy because of our prayers—because of the faith which continues to bring so many to Knock—because of the yearning for eternity in the presence of the Living God which is so much a part of our Catholic Christian faith which is made manifest to us the celebration of the Eucharist, the source and summit of who we are.
And so, in the words of a song I have often heard, if you ever get the chance to go to Ireland, go to Knock. And take with you your prayers, your hopes, your dreams, your fears, and lay them at the Altar of the Lamb. Join with Mary, our Mother and the Mother of God, in giving praise for the wonderful things God has done for us.