Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Apparition at Knock 21st August 1879 and Archdeacon Cavanagh

Today 21st August along with our great Pope St. Pius X we remember the Apparition that took place in Knock on this day in 1879.

On the wet Thursday evening of 21 August 1879, at about 8 o'clock, fifteen people, whose ages ranged from five years to seventy-five and included men, women, teenagers and children, witnessed an apparition in a blaze of light at the south gable end of the local Parish Church, the Church of St. John the Baptist.   At the centre of this apparition was a plain Altar and on this Altar was a Cross and a Lamb, the Lamb of God (representing Jesus) surrounded by adoring Angels.  Our Lady, Saint Joseph, and Saint John the Evangelist appeared to the left of the altar.  Our Lady was described as being clothed in white robes with a brilliant crown on her head.  She was in an attitude of prayer and adoration with her eyes and hands raised to Heaven.  St. Joseph was also dressed in white and had his hands clasped and head bowed in deep prayer and contemplation.  St. John was on Our Lady’s left and he was dressed in white vestments and resembled a bishop with a small mitre.  He held a book in one hand and appeared to be preaching.  The witnesses watched the apparition in pouring rain for two hours although they themselves were saturated not a single drop of rain fell on the gable or vision.  

One person who we ought also to remember in Knock was the Parish Priest of the time, Archdeacon Bartholomew Cavanagh.  Archdeacon Kavanagh had celebrated 100 Holy Masses for the Holy Souls in Purgatory and it was on the evening of the 100th Mass that the apparition occurred.  Below we read from the wonderful homily given by Monsignor Michael Walsh on the inspirational life of Monsignor Cavanagh, given on the 7th September 1997 in Knock Shrine. 

Archdeacon Cavanagh Remembered - The First Protector and Promoter of Knock

Msgr. Michael Walsh

I wish to speak about Bartholomew Cavanagh, the priest, the saintly priest, the good shepherd of his flock, the caring pastor, the man of prayer, the man of God, chosen by God to be the first protector and promoter of Our Lady's Shrine at Knock.

When I was growing up in the parish of Aghamore about five miles from here, there were still people living who had remembered Archdeacon Cavanagh as their Parish Priest. In particular I remember my grandfather speaking of him with the greatest respect and reverence. 

In the short time available to me now, I wish to speak about Bartholomew Cavanagh, the priest, the saintly priest, the good shepherd of his flock, the caring pastor, the man of prayer, the man of God. Already while Bartholomew Cavanagh was still a student in St. Jarlarth's College, the Tuam Diocesan Seminary, and later in St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, his fellow students had regarded him as being of exceptional personal piety. 

In Maynooth he would have studied Sacred Scripture, theology, spirituality, the principles leading to a life of holiness towards, which all priests were required to aspire and put into practice. He would have learned, too, the meaning of the priesthood. 

A priest was ordained to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the people, to administer the sacraments of salvation, to imitate Christ in his dealings with people, to bring Christ to the people. All of this education and training was exactly what Bartholomew Cavanagh wished to make his own. He was full of zeal and determination to put into practice all that he had learned. 

Jesus Was His Model in all His Work 
He was ordained a priest in 1846, and appointed shortly afterwards as Curate in the parish of Westport. A priests first appointment in a parish is an experience of great joy, the joy of sharing with Jesus Christ in the work of his priesthood. No doubt Fr. Cavanagh had that great joy. 

But the year was 1846, the second year of the Great Famine and that was a time of hunger, disease and death in Ireland. The conditions in which he was to work were horrific. However, he was not disheartened but was determined to do all in his power to feed the hungry, to visit the sick; to minister to the dying. He was urged on in his work when he saw Christ in each person that he served: Jesus said: "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me." Matt. 35. 

It is recorded that on many days he anointed as many as forty dying parishioners before breakfast. In the midst of all his labours he showed kindness to all in need. He was patient and gentle to all comers. He took Jesus as his model in all his work. 

His Personal Qualities Greatly Impressed His New Flock 
In 1867 he was appointed Parish Priest of the combined parishes of Knock and Aghamore. He immediately immersed himself in the work of the parish - celebrating Mass, preaching to the people, hearing confessions, attending to the sick, caring for the poor and destitute, organising the building and staffing of schools. 
He greatly impressed his new flock with the same personal qualities which he displayed in Westport, It was noted that he spent a lot of time in prayer both in the church and in his house. He would have noticed the inscription on a slab in the west wall of the church which read: "My house shall be called the house of prayer to all nations. This is the gate of the Lord; the just shall enter into it." 

He himself was a man of prayer, deep, contemplative prayer. His sermons often dealt with the heavenly truths on which he had meditated in his prayer. Frequent topics in his sermons were the ever Blessed Trinity, the adorable Heart of Jesus, the ever Immaculate Mother of God, the souls in Purgatory. 

His devotion to the souls in Purgatory was due to his love for all God's people, living and dead. It was also due in large measure to his devotion to the Mother of God. As Mother of the living and the dead, Mary would have a special love for her children in Purgatory and would greatly desire their release from Purgatory and entry into heaven. 

He placed great emphasis on the importance of the Morning Offering. He instructed his flock to offer up all their thoughts, words, deeds and sufferings to the adorable Heart of Jesus. In this way they would sanctify their whole day and give glory to God by everything that they did. 

Protector and Promoter of the Apparition 
He was already twelve years in Knock when the Apparition took place. This was a startling happening for Knock and the whole country. It is as well to state that the sanctity of Fr. Cavanagh was well known to the people of both Westport and the parish of Knock-Aghamore before the Apparition happened. Indeed, the people of Knock declared that Knock was chosen by God for the Apparition because of the holiness of their priest. As further evidence of this they drew attention to the extraordinary coincidence that on the morning of the day of the Apparition Fr. Cavanagh had just completed the celebration of one hundred Masses for the Holy Souls. 

Fr. Cavanagh did not himself see the Apparition, even though his housekeeper told him there was something wonderful to see at the gable of the church. We will never know all that went through his mind that evening. On the following morning when he heard reports from several parishioners about the Apparition he had no hesitation in accepting everything they told him. He considered it entirely suitable that the Lord should show this manifestation to the people and not to the priest. He gladly accepted the role of being protector and promoter of the Apparition. You might say he undertook, in his own humble way, the roles of both St. Joseph and St. John. 

A Miraculous Gift From Heaven 
The Apparition was to Archdeacon Cavanagh a miraculous gift from heaven. He was not thinking of his own prestige. He saw the Apparition as a wonderful opportunity for promoting the glory of God and the good of the people. 

His workload was heavy enough before this, but now it was enormously increased. He was available at all hours of the day for receiving and welcoming people to the shrine. He provided Masses and religious services for countless groups of pilgrims, but above all, he spent long hours every day in his confessional. In between the various activities, he found time for his own personal, private prayer before the Lord in his tabertacle. 

No doubt he was a priest of inexhaustible energy in his work for the Lord. He was self-sacrificing in his service to people. In the eyes of the people he was a priest of extraordinary sanctity. It is not surprising that he was often said to be like the famous Cure d'Ars, St. John Vianney. 

I finish with the description I gave of Archdeacon Bartholomew Cavanagh at the beginning of this talk - the saintly priest, the good shepherd of his flock, the caring pastor, the man of prayer, the man of God. Finally, I add another description - the priest chosen by God to be the first protector and promoter of Our Lady's Shrine at Knock.

Above from: Knock Shrine - Archdeacon Cavanagh

Homily of Archdeacon Cavanagh on the Feast of the Epiphany 1882

“Let each one of you never neglect the Sign of the Cross the moment you awake from sleep. Remember that there stands at your bedside, watching you, the Demon who wants to drag you down to Hell by tempting you to sin and the good Angel who watches you to help you to Heaven. You must choose for the day which you will follow. If you make the Sign of the Cross at once, you place yourselves on the side of God. You choose his standard, and the Devil will flee from you.

“When rising, you must praise and adore God for His goodness in sparing you to see another day. Never, never leave the room where you have slept – no matter what the hurry of your business may be – without saying at least three Our Fathers and Hail Marys in honor of the ever-Blessed Trinity, to place yourself under God’s protection for the day. This will take you only a few minutes.

“Then you must offer to God all your actions for the day that they may belong to Him! Oh! What merit you will have for any action thus offered to Him! It will not take you very long to say this short prayer:

I offer you all my thoughts words and action to the honor and glory of God, into the hands of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in union with the Adorable Heart of Jesus, and the sufferings of my Divine Lord for the Souls in Purgatory.

“All our actions are thus consecrated to God and offered to His honor and glory, and we leave all our actions at the disposal of the Blessed Virgin Mary for those holy souls who, when released from Purgatory, will never forget us. They will pray constantly for us at the throne of God. One soul released from Purgatory gives more glory to God than the entire universe.” 

(Liam Ua Cadain, Ven. Archdeacon Cavanagh: Pastor of Knock Shrine 1867-1897, Knock Shrine Society: 1955)

*Archdeacon Cavanagh died on the 8th December 1897 the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and was laid to rest in Knock Parish Church. What a wonderful and deeply holy witness to the Priesthood.  May he intercede for us here in Ireland and for all our Priests especially our Parish Priests.  

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