Killaloe Pilgrimage to Knock

Homily of Bishop Fintan Monahan for Killaloe Diocesan Pilgrimage to Knock May 22nd,  2022

Here I stand, with John the teacher

And with Joseph at your side

And I see the lamb of God

On the altar glorified

At the centre of the apparition here in Knock is the very striking image of the Lamb on the Altar, the Lamb of Sacrifice.   The Cross is just behind that.  The Lamb of God being sacrificed is a strong symbol of the Mass, the Eucharist.  What a truly remarkable image it is.   It may be the case that in so often seeing it – some of its significance and meaning might have diminished in your mind with the passage of time.

Of all creatures, a lamb combines beauty and innocence in a special way.  The idea then of such a harmless animal, without a bad bone in its body being slaughtered or offered in sacrifice is jarring to our sensibilities.  And yet that very image is one of the most popular of our religious devotion and hugely sought after and admired in various art forms.  The lamb of sacrifice.


Sacrifice was at the heart of religious practice in biblical times and across many if not all religious traditions of the time.  Offering of sacrifice, from the best of the abundance of God’s gifts was believed to in some way appease, appeal to and guarantee blessing from the Deity.  The first born and best of the animal herd was offered in sacrifice in atonement and reparation for sin and with the hope of receiving the kindness of God in return.

Passover Lambs in the Temple

In the Jewish tradition lambs were sacrificed in the Temple en masse at the celebration of the Passover, the most important religious feast.  In St. John’s Gospel, one of the key members of the apparition at Knock – Jesus is presented as the lamb of sacrifice.  The reason being that at the very same time he was dying on the cross the Lambs were being sacrificed in the temple at that festival time.  Jesus is offered on the altar as the perfect sacrifice, the Lamb of God.

Hear in Knock – We hear the words in the iconic hymn Lady of Knock:

Here I stand, with John the teacher

And with Joseph at your side

And I see the lamb of God

On the altar glorified

And it continues…

And the lamb will conquer

And the woman clothed in the sun

Will shine her light on everyone

In a few short words and images the mystery of Knock, the Eucharistic and Marian Shrine is summarised.  John the Evangelist, the apostle of love.  St. Joseph, the worker, foster father of Jesus.  Mary, radiant and shining, light in Glory.  The lamb of God on the altar glorified.  Eucharistic and Marian.

I remember a dearly beloved spiritual director in seminary in Maynooth many moons ago.  He was a Dominican called Michael Casey.  We called him The Dom for short.  He was a complex character with oodles of talent, charisma and to so many he was a role-model of holiness.  Despite all this, his spiritualty was simple.

  • Devotion to our Lady.
  • Devotion to the Rosary.
  • Regular Confession.
  • Devotion to the Eucharist.
  • Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

All key messages of this sanctuary of Knock, Marian and Eucharistic.  And sacrifice is also central.

Apart from the religious meaning of sacrifice, I feel, if I am correct that sacrifice in general has been somewhat diminished in meaning.  Encouragement to sacrifice in some circles is seen as  an enemy of freedom, liberation, depriving one of self-expression and the human choice to ceaselessly ‘have a good time’ regardless of the cost.

Contemporary Sacrifice

And yet sacrifice is at the heart of so much that is really good, that is true and is beautiful:

  • The sacrifice of a parents for their children.
  • The sacrifice of the family who make significant alterations to their lives and homes to take in refugees and those displaced from their land.
  • The sacrifice of an elite athlete who puts their life on hold to build up skill and stamina to be the best.
  • The sacrifice of a student who gives up normal routine to achieve maximum results in exams.
  • The sacrifice of a pilgrim who comes here to Knock to pray for the intention of someone who has requested it.
  • The sacrifice of the believer and person of faith who makes a point to take time to pray, to fast, to give to the poor.
  • The sacrifice of a religious who takes vows to deny themselves the pleasures of the world to be available to and for the Lord.
  • The sacrifice of a blood or organ donor who vicariously offers a part of themself for the life of another.

In actual fact – we see sacrifice and its effect in the world around us on a daily basis.

I remember as a small child in the cut and thrust and tumble of games and play falling regularly and cutting my knee.  As the necessary tender love and care was being applied by mother the comment was occasionally “offer it up”.  The idea being to offer it up in sacrifice with the sufferings of the Lord on the Cross.

I sometimes reminisce on the intriguing practice of my grandfather who put aside or “offered up” some of his food during November in sacrifice as a gesture of being in solidarity with the Holy Souls.

In times past the emphasis in understanding the Mass was around the ‘Eucharist as Sacrifice’ and focusing on the ‘Real Presence’ of Christ.  In recent times more sway has been put on the presence of Christ in the Word and in the Assembly, the gathered Body of Christ.  Good and necessary and complementary and all as this is, the notion of sacrifice is still a central one and so central to our Eucharistic devotion.

Every time we participate in the Eucharist we, in active participation bring with us and offer up our sacrifices, our efforts, our good deeds and all we have to present to God.   In this way we bring a huge part of ourselves and place it on the altar of God, confident that this offering will establish genuine contact with God and evoke a response.

In this way it gives us a profound realization and awareness that our prayer is truly being offered as a sacrifice in tune with the eternal sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  This is the amazing miracle of the Eucharist the meeting point between heaven and earth.

As we enter into that sacrificial space in a few moments time in the Eucharist may the peace of Christ of today’s Gospel from St. John be in your heart now and always.