One of the young men who studied with me in the seminary was a man by the name of Jarlath Trench. His grandmother was one of the witnesses who had been in Knock, Ireland and had seen the apparition in 1879. It makes it seem very recent with that connection.
On Thursday 21st Aug, 1879, at about 8.00pm an apparition was seen at one end of the Church. What the people saw (about 15 people) was an altar in the centre, with a lamb on it and angels floating around it in the background. To the left of the altar was Our Lady accompanied by St. Joseph on one side and St. John the Apostle on the other side. Apparently the light from the Lamb was far brighter than that of Our Lady and the two others. It lasted for about two hours in all and the people stood there in the pouring rain praying.
We usually think of this apparition as one of Our Lady, but the truth is that the apparition was really an apparition of Jesus, appearing as the Lamb of God on the altar and it was accompanied by Our Lady, St. Joseph and St. John. This might seem trivial, but it is important because what it is telling us is that Jesus, the Lamb of God is at the centre, and especially for us Catholics it speaks powerfully with the vision of the Lamb on the altar: that is, Jesus coming to us in the mass. As you know, during the mass the priest holds up the Sacred Host at Communion and says ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, blessed are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb.’ The reason the priest does this is just to show us Jesus present in the Eucharist. The priest does the same thing at the consecration so that the people can see the host which is no longer bread but the Body of Christ.
The apparition in Knock happened back at a time when the people were desperately poor and just recovering from the great potato famine (1845-52) which reduced the population from by about 25%. The vision was a beautiful message of hope from heaven, both to let the people know that God was aware of their suffering and also to remind them of the treasure that they had in their midst. They had almost nothing materially, but God was with them and they had Jesus the Lamb of God coming on the altar in each mass, just as we still have today. Jesus was at the centre and the strongest light was coming from him, as you would expect it to be. And where Jesus is, Our Lady and the angels and saints are too.
In the Gospel today John the Baptist, who was sent to get the people ready for the coming of the Son of God, says: ‘There is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.’ Then the disciples start following Jesus, which is exactly what was meant to happen. John knew he had been sent to prepare the people for the coming of the Christ, but he didn't know who that was until he saw the Spirit come down on Jesus.
These various accounts are there for us not just for curiosity sake, but they are telling us something now as well. God is still saying to us through the Scriptures, ‘Jesus is the One to follow.’ He is the only One of importance. Jesus is the Lamb of God who is given to us in each mass. When we have him we have everything, because He is what makes sense of our life and why we are here.
Finally, when the priest says, ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, blessed are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb,’ we all say, ‘Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.’ That short prayer says so much. So often when we become aware of our unworthiness we can be tempted to think, ‘Maybe I should not receive Holy Communion because I am a sinner,’ and people sometimes say this to me. But this prayer says it all. Yes we are sinners, and yes we certainly are not worthy to receive the eternal God into our own bodies, but it is God himself who makes this possible. ‘Lord I am not worthy [to receive you] that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.’ If God is prepared to come to us, we should not be afraid to receive God in Holy Communion.
Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof,
but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.