Knock

Jesus, as the Sacrificial Lamb, whose sacrifice won mercy and salvation for humankind, appeared with His Heavenly Mother Mary, His Earthly Father, Saint Joseph, and to give recognition to His evangelising Church, Saint John, the evangelist.

Saint John appeared as the priest offering up the sacrifice of Jesus on the altar, which is of course the Holy Mass, preaching a homily of the Good News, Resurrection, and New Life, for all who seek refuge in the Lamb, who takes away the sins of the world.

These figures, who are the Light of the world, came as figures of light, each having a greater intensity of light, in order of their standing in Heaven. The risen Lamb as the sacrifice who takes away the sins of the world, was the brightest, glowing in a brilliant bright light, Our Lady in a slighter lower intensity the second most important figure in Heaven, then in a lesser illumination, St. Joseph and then St. John.

When we try to understand the reason for this extraordinary apparition, without doubt it was in answer to the devout life of a priest, Archdeacon Cavanagh, who was at the time the parish priest at Knock. He had given most of his young life as a curate working in Westport, which in his time was in the grip of the worst famine in history. He spent all of his spare time with victims of the Famine, who were dying out in the open, in makeshift shelters, in ditches and at the side of roads, an excruciating slow death, of cold, starvation and thirst. Firstly he tried to bring practical help selling everything he possessed and even getting into debt to buy food for them. He also attempted to give all he could reach out to, at deaths door, the last rites. He felt that to save the eternal soul was even more important than the the saving of earthly body.

But there were hundreds in his parish alone, that he found it physically impossible to reach, to give them the last Rites, and for those poor people he offered up one hundred holy masses in Knock, asking God to have mercy on their eternal souls.

The evening of the day of his final mass was the day Heaven opened and the Holy Family appeared at the gable wall of his church immediately behind the altar where the one hundred masses were celebrated by Archdeacon Cavanagh. The explanation in the Liturgy of the last rites is that they are prayers to prepare a dying person's soul for death, by providing absolution for sins by atonement, sacramental grace and prayers for the relief of suffering through anointing, and final administration of the Eucharist.

This final Eucharist is known as "viaticum", which is Latin for provision for the journey, but it is also a celebration of the Lamb’s Sacrifice for the suffering of the world. So the Archdeacon’s plea to Heaven for mercy, had a clear connection with the apparition, and the last Rites.

They came as figures of light. Jesus as the Sacrificial Lamb who won mercy for all of Humankind by His passion and death on the Cross. The Lamb being the most brilliant illuminated figure in the apparition, Our Lady the next brightest light, as Mother of our Church, and next, Saint Joseph, as patron of the Universal Church.

But also there appeared a priest in the person of Saint John the Evangelist who according to the vestments he wore was not a Roman Catholic but an Eastern Orthodox Priest and therefore represented the Universal Church, and like all priests, was privileged to be able to offer up the Sacrifice every day of their lives for humankind, but shoulder the heavy burden of having to sacrifice their own lives to Jesus and His Church in return.

This call to God for mercy came from Archdeacon Cavanagh who was a compassionate priest of the Catholic Church, who offered up the Lamb’s Sacrifice one hundred times, asking for mercy for all who died in the Famine without receiving absolution through the last Rites.
We need to ponder the full depth of this extraordinary apparition. It seems firstly, a visible answer to the Archdeacon’s hope, that if he offered up the Sacrifice of the Mass one hundred times, it would atone for all those many souls that had died in the Famine years, without receiving the Sacrament of viaticum in the last Rites.

This is why it was Jesus as the Sacrificial Lamb that appeared, who we know is the symbol of the Sacrifice, (the Mass) and an integral part of the last Rites. The Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. What clearer answer could the Archdeacon have got to his prayers.
Secondly this was a critical sign showing the importance of the Church and the mass, this is why Saint John the Evangelist was present in his important role as the celebrant and the apparition was in answer to a holy priest and his belief in the power and importance of the mass.

Thirdly it demonstrates in a world of great tragic events where so many innocent people can die suddenly, out of reach of their loving families. This apparition is a consolation, showing that there is another life, a life where an innocent person who is suddenly taken away, can, like the Lamb, rise again among their loving family in another life in Heaven.

Fourthly it showed that prayers and an appeal to God’s Divine Mercy is heard, and that mercy and forgiveness is the reward.

Now let’s ponder the depth of what happened at the passion and death of Jesus. At the crucifixion, Jesus, the Lamb, an innocent and sinless victim, took all of our sins unto Himself. He does not just bear all our sins and suffer the punishment due for them, but Jesus Himself expiates those sins. He offers Himself on the altar of the cross.

Through His blood He washes away our sins. However, unlike the Passover lamb that was slaughtered, roasted, and eaten, our Lord rose from the dead, with the power to conquer both sin and death for all of humanity.

Jesus truly delivered us from sin and death, showing us the path to salvation, giving us the promise of eternal life. He made a new, and everlasting covenant with His own blood.

“Realise that you were delivered from the futile way of life your fathers handed on to you, not by any diminishable sum of silver or gold, but by Christ’s blood beyond all price, the blood of a spotless, unblemished lamb” (I Peter 1:19).

We must not forget that this image of the risen Lamb demonstrates an extraordinary victory. The Book of Revelation highlights this, picturing the Lamb surrounded by angels, “living creatures,” who cried out “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honour and glory and praise!” (Revelation 5:12). Jesus is the King of kings, and Lord of lords (Revelation 17:14) who will be victorious against the powers of evil and will invite the righteous to the wedding feast of the Lamb, the union of the Church, the new Jerusalem in heaven with the Lord.(Revelation 19:9)

For this reason, the Agnus Dei is sung during the breaking of the consecrated Host. St. John Chrysostom preached of how the breaking of the Host symbolised the Passion of Christ: “What Christ did not suffer on the Cross, He suffers in the sacrifice for thee.” The hymn itself invokes Christ and recalls His sacrificial death with overtones of a hymn of victory of the triumphal Lamb. This belief is emphasised again in every mass, when the priest holds up the broken Host and says,
“This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, happy are those who are called to His supper.” (Or, in a literal translation of the Latin, “Happy are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb,” a better reflection of the imagery of Revelation.)

As we celebrate the mysteries of the Mass, we look to the Lamb who suffered, died and rose again for our salvation. We must gather around the altar of the Lamb, offering to Him our own hearts and souls, so that we may become one with Him, in the Holy Eucharist.
Saint John the Baptist was the first person ever, to point to Jesus as “The Lamb of God.” The Lamb, or Sacrificial Lamb, is a metaphor for the Sacrifice of Jesus for humankind, which is our eternal salvation.

In the year 1828 a little church was built in the small village of Cnoc, (meaning ‘the hill’) in Co Mayo. Extraordinarily, it was consecrated in the name of Saint John the Baptist, the first to point to Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb; this was fifty one years before the apparition. Today the village is known by the English spelling, Knock. At the gable of this small parish church, just fifty-one years later, there took place probably the greatest apparition in the history of the world, when the Holy Family, appeared together once again on earth, with Jesus as the Sacrificial Lamb on the Mass altar.

Why is a Sacrificial Lamb a metaphor for Jesus’ sacrifice? 

In the land where the Gospels were written, the countryside was one of mountainous grassy terrain, so the main source of income was sheep farming. 

New-born lambs were very important in the life of a shepherd and his family. To the shepherd, the new-born lamb represented the continuation of his herd, his new flock, his future income, his survival. On small farms of that time, the livelihood of shepherds depended on the survival and welfare of their flock. So if the shepherd lost a lamb it was a considerable loss. 

Therefore, to sacrifice a lamb was a major statement by a shepherd, showing sincere sorrow for himself or one of his family, for having in some way, offended God . It also proclaimed his sincere belief in God. So it was done as an act of atonement, seeking God’s mercy and forgiveness, but it also demonstrated his total trust in God’s mercy. 

The ritual occurred in a public place and the lamb was known as the sacrificial lamb. It was slain on a ritualistic stone in the centre of the village, which in time became known as the sacrificial altar.

On such an occasion the neighbouring community would be invited to attend and take part in the ritual, thus benefiting from the offering to God, by being part of it. The beginning of the ritual involved the shepherd slaying the animal, next he would roast it on a fire prepared beside the altar and then he would cut it into small pieces inviting the community to each come up to the altar, take and consume a piece, and offer it in communion with him to God, in atonement for the sins of the family and those of the whole community. The sacrifice was in atonement for sins and a plea for God’s Mercy.

So, when Jesus sacrificed himself on the altar of Calvary in atonement for our sins, He became the Sacrificial Lamb, this is why John the Baptist said in prophesy, ‘He is the ‘Lamb of God’. This is who God the Father, the Shepherd of all, chose to become humankind’s sacrificial lamb. 

When Jesus was born to Mary, as a human being, He experienced human life, and identified with humanity, becoming friends with the apostles and all whom he met on his journey on earth. He experienced the nature of humans, their temptations, their shortcomings, their weaknesses. 

He finally made the supreme human sacrifice, giving up His life for all humans, as a plea to the Father, to have mercy on flawed humanity and through His sacrifice bring God’s mercy, to all who seek it, and atone for their sins. 

So, when we receive the Eucharist, we are consuming the flesh of the lamb, in communion with all seeking God’s mercy, and we identify with the victim, who was sacrificed, in atonement for our sins, and the sins of the whole world. 

It is when we are in fear of the future that we turn to God for His love and mercy, but it is only when we trust in His mercy, that God can show it to us. Love and mercy being practically one and the same, we cannot have one without the other, when we receive mercy, we are receiving undeserved love, because we are receiving forgiveness from someone we have offended.

The Lamb on the altar at Knock is Jesus the Sacrificial Lamb, down from the Cross, having suffered and died for humanity. This is the Lamb reborn, the risen Lamb, showing victory for His sacrifice, proof of almighty God’s mercy and man’s resurrection, rising in the presence of those who love Him. 

This silent tableau, is a powerful statement of God’s mercy and forgiveness for sinners, and of resurrection and new life with our loved ones, after suffering and sacrifice on this earth. The apparition needs no words.

This apparition happened on 21st August 1879, the day the parish priest of Knock, Archdeacon Cavanagh, had celebrated the last of one hundred masses he had been offering for all those who had suffered and died in the Famine, without the opportunity to receive absolution and God’s Mercy through the last rites. 

There was famine in Ireland in 1846, 1850, and in the year of the apparition 1879.This whole apparition was a vital message in its time for the whole world, like the message of Divine Mercy in our time. The Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross made God’s Divine Mercy available to man, and to the souls in purgatory through the prayer and sacrifice of others. It would seem that Our Lady in the apparition at Knock was appealing to the Father in Heaven in support of Archdeacon Cavanagh, and uttering words similar to the Chaplet of Divine Mercy given to Saint Faustina, in 1931.Mary, being the closest human to the Lamb of God, is the greatest intercessor of all and the most important human in the story of salvation, for it was her ‘yes’ that brought Jesus the Lamb into the world and through His Sacrifice, God granted Divine Mercy to humankind. In the message of Divine Mercy approved by Saint John Paul II, Jesus shows us we can atone for our sins, including our families, and for those of the whole world. What better place to do this, than in front of the Lamb, who takes away the sins of the world. We should kneel at the feet of the Lamb, praise and worship Him and beg him to take away our sins, those of our family, those who died in the Famine, and those of the whole world.

 

Prayer for the

Beatification of Archdeacon Cavanagh

Dear God in Heaven,

Through the appearance at Knock of the Lamb of God on the sacrificial altar, accompanied by Our Blessed Lady, St Joseph and St John, You showed to the whole world your love for the work of the Venerable Archdeacon Cavanagh in his efforts on behalf of the holy souls.

To mark with Your eternal seal his life and work, we beseech You to raise him to the altar of your Church and to grant through his intercession the grace which I ask for now:

(make your own petition)

Amen

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St. Eunan's Cathedral, Letterkenny, Donegal, Ireland

St. Eunan's Cathedral

Letterkenny, Donegal, Ireland

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