Today is the Anniversary of Our Lady of Knock. The great Apparition happened in a humble village here in Ireland, not all that far from where I live.
For on this day in 1879 the Blessed Virgin appeared to the Irish, only thirty-four years after the Great Famine—when Ireland’s population had dramatically decreased through emigration and death. Many will know how this poor people were left to suffer starvation by their British colonisers, hostile to their Catholic Faith . . .
Recently, I spoke to someone about the horrors of what the British, my nation, did to the Catholic Irish, beginning with King Henry VIII’s sacking of the Monasteries. Then, continuing with the persecutions that followed during the reign of Elizabeth I, the situation worsened. It became worse still, with Oliver Cromwell’s brutality, further stripping away titles, land, wealth and lives of the Catholic Irish.
Yet Irish dignity remained. It remained Catholic. For whilst the Irish deeply suffered these persecutions, with hundreds of thousands dying, they kept the Faith.
And at the heart of their Faith lay belief in the Real Presence. We could say the Irish died for Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist.
Just like an Irish friend recently said to Roger and me ‘the Irish are a Eucharistic people.’
What James II Lost His Kingdom For . . .
Being English, I feel keenly for what my nation has done to Ireland. And looking into these things, I have found myself drawn into the history of the last Catholic King of England who reigned from 1685-1688: James II, whose father Charles I was killed by Cromwell and his Puritans.
James II, I should say, was unique among English Kings: he was a Protestant who converted to the Faith and reigned as a Catholic, throwing all of then-Protestant England into disarray, if not outright horror. He was soon deposed by England’s 1688 ‘Glorious Revolution’ (as the propagandists later called it). Yet the persecuted Catholic Irish, of whom he was also King, welcomed him in Ireland, where he took his last stand . . .
What fascinates me it that James II’s history not only connects to that of persecuted Ireland, it also weaves into France. It even connects to Paray-le-Monial and Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, so important to the Irish (as well as Roger and myself at this website).
For St Claude la Colombière, confessor to St Margaret Mary Alacoque in Paray-le-Monial, and great propagator of Devotion to the Sacred Heart had been sent to England from France, having been assigned chaplain to the Duchess of York, James’ wife, Mary of Modena. In hostile England, St. Claude used every possible occasion to preach on Devotion to the Sacred Heart. One could say his courage was his demise. For accused of being involved in the infamous Titus Oates plot, he was thrown into prison. Being of delicate constitution, he suffered terribly and never recovered.
Tradition has it, St Claude was assigned this mission by James’ cousin, the French King Louis XIV to convert the King of England, Charles II. True or not, interestingly, Charles did convert, but only on his deathbed. He never reigned as a Catholic . . .
No that fell to his Catholic brother who then became James II, King of England, Ireland and Scotland. And just as the English had persecuted the Catholic Irish, they persecuted their Catholic King, until James had no choice but to flee his beloved country, taking his last stand in Ireland, where he was proclaimed King.
That is, until William of Orange invaded, defeating him and his Irish-French army in the Battle of the Boyne. Close to the battleground, in Ardee, County Louth, nailed on the remains of the medieval castle, is a plaque stating it was there, James II stayed before this unfortunate defeat.
But what lies at the heart of all this horror and tragedy?
Hilaire Belloc, in his study of James II, answers this question, when he writes:
The Viaticum had come. The Priest, entering the death-chamber, held up the Blessed Sacrament asking, ‘Do you believe Jesus Christ to be really and substantially present in this Host?’ To which the King was heard to answer, fervently, with ardour, gazing on That for which he had given the three crowns and all his House:
‘I do believe it. I believe it with all my heart.’Hilaire Belloc, James II, p. 286.
The Real Presence
We see then, just as the Irish suffered and died for their Faith —Faith in the Real Presence of Christ in His Eucharist—so did the last Catholic King of England and Ireland. Thus, with the usurpation of James II, Catholic Monarchy was laid to rest in the British Isles. Practicing Catholicism continued to be a crime in Britain and Ireland. But Catholic Emancipation finally came in 1829, allowing once more free practice of the Faith.
Although, alas, the Irish would soon suffer again, for the Famine hit Ireland in 1845. For the British had forced the Catholic Irish to subsist on the humble potato, but now the potato crop became diseased . . .
But in 1879, the Catholic Irish, after centuries of penury and punishment for their faith, was consoled with the Apparition of Our Lady of Knock.
She came to Her Eucharistic People one rainy day, on 21st August, in the small parish town of Knock. She was accompanied by Her Divine Son, the Lamb of God, Who stood with a large cross raised high upon an altar. St Joseph and St John the Evangelist appeared either side of Her, all three, positioned to the left of the altar. And the entire Apparition was surrounded by a mysterious golden light.
Here in Ireland, priests speak about the symbolism and significance of Knock, whereby the Lamb before the Cross on the altar is an image of the Holy Eucharist. One also hears about the stance of Our Lady as one of intercessory prayer, where She is seen as Co-Redemptrix. And I have heard about the figure of St John, holding his gospel, as Bishop, preaching, probably about the Lamb of God! And that St Joseph is bowing reverently before the Mother of God.
Could it be—having suffered once more for the Faith—this Eucharistic People were granted a Eucharistic miracle? For is not the Apparition at Knock all about the Holy Eucharist In fact, could the Apparition be one depicting the Mass?
Perhaps Heaven affirmed that for which the Irish had died—the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This is what strikes me anyway.
Looking at the Apparition this way, St John could be the priest officiating. Whilst the Lamb of God is immolated on the altar, St Joseph, bows humbly, like one of the Congregation, deep in prayer before this awesome mystery of Holy Mass. And Our Lady intercedes, because She always intercedes at Holy Mass. Is this, perhaps, what the Apparition is indicating?
It is not difficult to imagine. For, after all, Our Lady stood at the foot of the Cross, Her Heart pierced in sorrow whilst Her Son suffered. Would She not be there, then, at the foot of the altar? Would She not be interceding, as Co-Redemptrix with Her Son, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the very same sacrifice as Calvary, in its unbloody manner . . .
Together, Her sorrow and His suffering unite, bringing us Salvation. She has given Her Son. Now, with Him, She intercedes for us, their Hearts united in sacrifice, united in prayer, united in love of us.
Two Hearts united for us in one flesh.
Did the Apparition at Knock take place to remind the world of that for which the Irish suffered and died—the incredible importance of the Unfathomable Mystery that is Holy Mass?
It appears so to me . . .
Our Lady of Knock, Pray for Ireland; Pray for us.
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