Saturday, March 20, 2021


When I saw the notice that Our Lady of Knock was going to be promoted, I just had to tune in.

I have some standing in Knock having visited it in the 1950s, and maybe even the 1940s, when Knock was just Knock - the site of an apparition at the gable end of a fairly ordinary church and a source of holy water and related religious artifacts from any one of a row of huxters' stalls.

Today's Knock is serviced by an international airport, bringing Cardinal-led pilgrimages from the USA. It has a Basilica, albeit one more like an airport hangar on the inside until the recent extensive renovations. It has five churches in all in the grounds, including a Chapel of Reconciliation that has as many confessionals as there are weeks in the year.

Anyway, up to now, its status was as a national shrine. After much manoeuvering at many levels, Pope Francis agreed to up its status to an international shrine. And that is what last evenings ceremony was all about.

While far from the Knock I knew as a chiseller, I have to say it was a very impressive show.

So, no wonder the smile on this man's face. He is Father Richard Gibbons, the PP at Knock, and I have been lost in admiratiion for his organising and fund-raising skills since I saw that beautiful film on the village, Strange Occurrences in a Small Irish Town, way back in 2016.

His Holiness turned up bang on time. None of your oul Zoom shite here. Right on cue (I nearly wrote queue).

He read the citation in what I assume was faultless Italian and happily someone had kindly provided subtitles in English.

He was thanked by Archbishop Neary on behalf of Knock, the County of Mayo, the Country of Ireland (including the North as it's a 32 county organisation) and the World at Large.

I reminded myself that I had once shaken the Archbishop's hand. That occurred at a funeral in Ballyhaunis when I had assumed he was the Parish Priest and he, no doubt, assumed that I was a relative of the deceased. As it turned out he was right and I was wrong.

As a former civil servant, I really appreciated this bit. You can't beat the rule, get it on paper. And that's what he did. And that is the piece of paper. Well done.

The mass was concelebrated. I assume by all the priests present in the sanctuary, and I'll come back to that.

You can see Fr. Francis indicating his participation in the consecration here with the standard gesture.

It is a very familiar gesture to me, having been present at a number of concelebrated masses, two being those of my deceased priest cousins.

I'm sure loads of people have been at concelebrated masses. But I think I may have the unique distinction of sitting in a pew at a cousin's funeral in St. Patrick's church in Ballyhaunis, when the priest sitting beside me galvanised into action at the consecration and with the same hand gesture as Fr. Francis above, revealing that he too had been quietly participating in the concelebration of the mass but from a considerable distance. Gave me as bit of a fright at the time.

Assuming that he was successful, I'm sure that this has some relevance for participation by the laity in Zoom masses in these difficult times. But at this stage I'll leave it to someone else to figure out the implications.

Archbishop Eamon Martin, Primate of All Ireland (the all is important here for a variety of reasons), dropped in to say a few well chosen words, and went as quickly as he had come.

As we neared the end, the Archbishop unfortunately had a wardrobe malfunction. Don't get carried away, it was just that his mask became entangled with his glasses as he tried to remove it with one hand. Been there, done that. It was only one hand because he had his crozier in the other.

Now, I have been an altar boy in my day and I have good instincts. If I were Fr. Francis I would have put an unobtrusive hand out to support the crozier and allowed the Archbishop the luxury of a two handed disentanglement. But never mind. The Archbishop is an old soldier and he just soldiered on regardless. Well done.

As you can see, the matter was quickly resolved as all faced the apparition tableau for the final hymn. And speaking of hymns, I have to say the singing was most impressive.

I did wonder where the choir was, assuming they were live. And then there was applause which appeared to come from the body of the church. So I'm still wondering what the covid set up was, but in view of the nature of the occasion and its obvious success, that's probably a bit of unnecessary nitpicking on my part.

Now, I haven't mentioned the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, who was present in the sanctuary throughout. I'm assuming he participated in the concelebration from a distance, but for the most part he was invisible in a dark corner at the back on the right. He is indicated by the red arrow in the picture above.

No doubt a modest and retiring man. quite unlike his predecessor, Charlie Brown, who had a fetish about Knock and Our Lady thereof, and would no doubt have hogged the limelight had he still been around and not banished to Albania for his sins. He has recently been sighted in the Philippines where he has now taken up residence.

All in all, a most entertaining evening. And, as it happens, that was my second virtual mass of the day.

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