Mary’s Major Message in the Silent Apparition at Knock

Although not a word was spoken by Our Lady, St. Joseph and St. John during the silent apparition at Knock, the vision spoke louder than words with an eloquent message uniting earth and heaven.

The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Knock in Ireland
The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Knock in Ireland (photo: Eamonn P. Keane / Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)

On the rainy evening of Aug. 21, 1879, 15 persons saw a two-hour vision on the gable of St. John the Baptist church in the humble village of Knock, County Mayo, Ireland. Whoever came, saw. Ranging from 5-75 years of age, they acknowledged seeing the same religious tableaux.

The figures, all robed in white, were raised a couple of feet above the perfectly dry ground.  In the center of the gable was a simple altar with a young lamb standing in front of a cross. Angels encircled this area.

To the left were three figures. In the center was Mary, robed and mantled in white with a crown on her unveiled head. There was a rose where the crown touched her forehead. Her eyes were looking upward while her arms were outstretched in the orans position, similar to that of the priest at Mass.

To her right was a side view of St. Joseph, slight bowing toward her. To her left was St. John the Apostle, robed as a mitered bishop, looking forward, holding an open book in one hand and pointing heavenward with the other.


Understanding the Message

None of these figures spoke. Does that mean that there was no message? None verbally, but much in biblical and liturgical symbolic language. These are dimensions that are rich in meaning but poorly understood. Icons are noted for such messages and therefore are frequently said to be written and not painted.

Lourdes is notable for its biblical message. For example, the roses on Our Lady’s feet. Who puts a rose in their toes? Isaiah 52:7 gives the explanation clearly: “How beautiful are the feet of the messenger of peace on the mountainside.” As for the massive rock, St. Paul states in 1 Corinthians 10:4 that Christ is the rock. Mary Immaculate, standing in the cleft of the rock, is the New Eve, being born from the pierced side of Christ.

The Fatima miracle consisted of a night of torrential rain, a twirling sun during which a variety of colors were reflected on the immense crowd, after which the earth was instantaneously dry. This easily brings to mind the story of Noah, the flood, the rainbow and the restored earth.

At Guadalupe, Our Lady came clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet as given in Revelations 12:1. Her star-spangled mantle and flowered robe can symbolize Isaiah 65:17. “Behold, I make a new heaven and a new earth.”


Knock Symbolism

The Knock symbolism is varied, biblically and liturgically. The four figures can represent the four parts of the Rosary. St.  Joseph, of course, represents the joyful mysteries since he lived during the infancy of Jesus, St. John can symbolize the luminous mysteries that recall Our Lord’s ministry of preaching and healing. The Lamb, obviously, brings to mind the sacrificial sorrowful mysteries, and Mary brings forth the glorious mysteries. These mysteries are formally celebrated during the liturgical year. St. Peter Julian Eymard said that there is a Eucharistic kernel in each mystery of Our Lord’s life. St. John Paul II pointed out that celebrating and meditating on these mysteries releases their power.

Also, St. Joseph represents the laity, sanctifying labor and family life. St. John represents the hierarchy, evangelizing by word and sacrament. Mary is the model of the Church in its perfection — as indicated by the teaching of Vatican II and recent papal developments of those subjects.

But, because of the importance of the Lamb, the symbolism is primarily liturgical. The whole theme of the Lamb is presented, beginning with the patron of the parish, St. John the Baptist, who points to the Lamb in each of the Gospels, up to the eternal vision of the Lamb in the final book, Revelation. All are dressed in white which recalls those who follow the Lamb in heaven.

St. John the Apostle is in liturgical garb with an open book. His gospel is uniquely Eucharistic, the center and source of our life of faith. Whereas the synoptic evangelists devote only a few verses to the Eucharist — Matthew 25:17-25; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 21:7-20 — St. John devotes four chapters out of 21 to the institution of the Holy Eucharist and its meaning,

A recent 30-year groundbreaking study of this was published by a Vatican official of 26 years, Msgr. Anthony A. La Femina, entitled Eucharist and Covenant in John’s Last Supper Account (New Hope Publishers). The seven-page foreword by Cardinal Raymond Burke extolling this exclusive scholarship is a study in itself.


Centrality of Mary

Since Mary is portrayed as the main worshiper, her symbolism is extensive.  St. John Paul II devoted the last section of his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, entirely to Mary’s relationship to the Eucharist. He presents her as the ideal model which the Church is called to imitate. Therefore, there is a growth process wherein Mary develops the eyes and hearts of each Catholic, to appreciate Christ’s presence, sacrifice and communion in each Mass.

This principle can be extended to Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic letter on the Eucharist, Sacramentum Caritatis (Sacrament of Love) in which he presents the Eucharist as the mystery to be believed, to be celebrated and to be lived. These complement the three elements that St. John Paul II emphasized: presence requires belief, sacrifice is to be celebrated and communion is to be lived.

As Mother of the Church, Mary has the responsibility of forming our minds, hearts and actions according to the Eucharist, the Paschal Mystery of the Altar. Pope St. John Paul II says in Ecclesia de Eucharistia that her life was totally Eucharistic. Therefore, she enables us to live a Eucharistic life as directed by Sacramentum Caritatis.

The Mass of “The Blessed Virgin Mary, Image and Mother of the Church, II” in the Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary presents her as “the model of worship in spirit.” expressing “our duty to offer ourselves as a holy victim, pleasing in God’s eyes.” As “the model of liturgical worship,” she is the “exemplar of that sense of reverent devotion with which the Church celebrates the divine mysteries and expresses them in its life.”

In a series of conferences on the Mass as the Heart of the Church in 2017, Pope Francis said, “At every celebration of Mass our lives, offered in union with Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, become in him, an offering of praise and thanksgiving pleasing to God the Father, for the salvation of the world.”

Knock (Cnoc in Gaelic) means “hill.” And so, Our Lady of Knock is Our Lady of the Hill. The Eucharistic atmosphere of this apparition has us think of the hill of Calvary and therefore of the liturgy of the Church. Because of the crown and the rose on her head, her mystical title could be Queen of the Liturgy both in heaven and on earth. The Mass unites the two as one. That is the unique school of spirituality that Our Lady offers us at that Irish shrine.

Using the words of Benedict XVI, we can pray: “Mary, you in a totally unique way lived communion with God and the sacrifice of your Son on Calvary. Obtain that we may live ever more intensely, devoutly and wisely the mystery of the Eucharist in order to proclaim with our words and our life the love that God has for every human being.”