Ireland still remembers what happened August 21, 1879. Mary McLoughlin was the first to notice a sign that something out of the ordinary was going on. She was a humble housekeeper of the Parish of Knock in County Mayo. The sign was a strange kind of light illuminating the south wall of the church.
Before going into what Mary McLoughlin saw next, let us examine the date. August 21 is the 233rd day of the year. It was a Thursday. That particular year of 1879 coincided with the 2nd day of the month of Elul of 5639 of the Hebrew calendar. In my humble opinion, that is a very important clue to understand what the subsequent vision is all about.
The month of Elul is a period of preparation, of examination of conscience and repentance. It is the 12th month of the Hebrew calendar. The word Elul is understood to be an acronym of the Hebrew words contained in chapter 6, verse 3 of the Song of Songs: “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” See also the two previous verses:
Where has your beloved gone,
O fairest among women?
Which way has your beloved turned,
that we may seek him with you?
My beloved has gone down to his garden,
to the beds of spices,
to pasture his flock in the gardens,
and to gather lilies.
I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine;
he pastures his flock among the lilies.
— Song of Songs 6:1-3
These verses exalt the purity of the love between the Beloved and the Shulamite, types of Christ and the Church respectively. It is a wonderful little Scriptural pearl to meditate upon. Who is fairest among women? What garden, flock, lilies, etc.? I will leave that part to your daily meditations while I stick to the significance of the month of Elul.
In the Old Testament, Elul is a month of preparation before the “head of the year” Rosh Hashanah. From the first day of Elul until the day before Rosh Hashanah, the shofar is blown every morning except on the Sabbath. The sound of the shofar and the examination of one’s deeds during the year are two things that characterize the last month, along with the recitation of the penitential prayer (selichot) and the reading of Psalm 27. Observant Jews will wish their friends the best in the coming year: “K’tiva VaHatima Tova” meaning that the person should be written and sealed in the Book of Life for a good year. All of those customs are meant to remind everyone to examine their conscience and to atone properly for any bad deeds or harm done to others.
Please take a good look at Psalm 27:
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers assail me
to devour my flesh—
my adversaries and foes—
they shall stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
yet I will be confident.
One thing I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
and to inquire in his temple.
For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will set me high on a rock.
Now my head is lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.
Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,
be gracious to me and answer me!
“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”
Your face, Lord, do I seek.
Do not hide your face from me.
Do not turn your servant away in anger,
you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,
O God of my salvation!
If my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will take me up.
Teach me your way, O Lord,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries,
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they are breathing out violence.
I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!
Back to the parish of Knock and Mary McLoughlin, the housekeeper.
When she went to see about that light shining on the south wall, there were three figures standing in front of it. He thought they were “replacements of the stone figures destroyed in a storm” and after noticing them she went to her friend’s Margaret Byrne’s house. About thirty minutes later, Mary McLoughlin left Margaret’s home along with Margaret’s sister Mary. As they walked by the church they had a very clear vision. This is how the site Catholic Tradition describes it in the article Our Lady of Knock.
“Standing out from the gable and to the west of it appeared the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph and St. John. The figure of the Blessed Virgin was life-size, while the others seemed to be neither as large nor as tall. They stood a little away from the gable wall about two feet from the ground. The Virgin was erect with her eyes toward Heaven, and she was wearing a large white cloak hanging in full folds; on her head was a large crown.” [ … ] Mary Byrne married, raised six children, living her entire life in Knock. When interviewed again in 1936 at the age of eighty-six, her account did not vary from the first report she gave in 1879.
The Church approved the the apparition in 1971 although no official pronouncement about the nature and meaning of the signs has emerged yet. Apparently this vision was a warning about the changes that were going to affect the Catholic Church in the 20th century.
What follows is a personal interpretation open to critical examination. This apparition of Our Blessed Mother is a prophetic image. The coincidence with the beginning of the month of Elul is, in my opinion, quite significant and self evident. I should add that the actions of some of the witnesses are also significant.
St. Joseph is shown honoring the Virgin Mary
Saint Joseph is known in the Gospel as a man of prudence, purity, and obedience to God. He also receives revelations in dreams like that other Joseph, the son of Jacob. The Gospels do not register any utterance of Joseph. In the vision of Knock, Joseph remains silent also but he is paying homage to the Virgin Mary.
The meaning of this may be that for a while the Church may be silent in matters of obedience and purity. Perhaps Our Blessed Mother will not be properly honored by some during a crisis of the Church. This made me think of the refusal to honor the request of Our Lady to reveal the Third Secret of Fatima, and to also the long delay to consecrate Russia to her Immaculate Heart.
The Virgin Mary is shown crowned
The crowned Queen of Heaven appears presiding the vision. This is a sign of authority. Those who try to touch the image of Our Lady see the vision retreat and are unable to reach it. This reminds me of the prohibition to touch the Ark of the Covenant. Our Blessed Mother, Queen of Heaven should be as untouchable. She should be honored always!
St. John is preaching
This may be a sign that the preaching of the Church will be silenced or severely curtailed. The small miter on St. John’s head may indicate that there will be bishops who will fall short of what God expects from them, remaining silent instead of preaching the Gospel.
The Lamb of God on the Altar
This is the most clear indication that the crisis of the Church will affect the Sacred Liturgy and in particular the Holy Eucharist. Remember the vision took place on a Thursday.
The local priest did not see the vision
This may be an indication that many in the priesthood will be in dereliction of their duties and will not be aware of the seriousness of the crisis.
The faithful that saw the vision were sheltered from the storm and remained dry
This may be the most obvious symbolic promise of the vision. A storm will affect the visible Church but the faithful will be protected in the same manner of the three Hebrews that were thrown in the fire by the King of Babylon.
The Lamb of God, Our Lady, Joseph, John, and the Angels participating in this vision remain silent throughout the duration: three hours. This is in contrast with the Hebrew tradition of that month of Elul. The shofar blasted to let all know that the year was ending and the judgment of God was nearing. That is a prophetic model of the mission of the Church, to warn us of the impending judgment at the end of our life and at the end of the age. Perhaps this time as the end approaches, the Church will not be warning the faithful properly. This is consistent with Jesus’ promise that He will come “like a thief in the night” without anyone being aware of his arrival.
These are only a few observations. I am sure that you will notice many connections between the Vision of Knock, the traditions of Elul, Song of Songs 6:1-3, and the reading of Psalm 27. I encourage you to comment and enrich this reflection.
NOTE: Emmett O’Reagan has an interesting article on this topic: Our Lady of Knock and the Opening of the Sealed Book. Highly recommended reading.