KNOCK, Ireland, August 19, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — The Feast of the Assumption is normally the busiest day of the year at Ireland’s shrine of Our Lady of Knock, where some 20,000 pilgrims visit that day for Mass, confession, and to receive blessings from God through the Blessed Virgin.
This year, however, the shrine was closed from Friday night to Sunday morning to discourage the thousands of Catholics who normally make a pilgrimage to the Church of Our Lady, Queen of Ireland for the August 15 feast day.
Fr. Richard Gibbons, the rector of the Knock shrine, published a statement last Monday explaining that both church and state authorities had decided that the COVID-19 pandemic had made it necessary to stop all of the faithful from coming.
“In the light of the current escalation of COVID-19 cases around the country together with the sheer impossibility of having the resources necessary to deal with the potential of large numbers of people gathering at the shrine for the 15th August and being extremely conscious of our responsibility for the safety of our parishioners, pilgrims, visitors, staff, volunteers and priests, Knock shrine has taken the unprecedented and heartbreaking decision to close the shrine and grounds for the 15th August only,” he wrote.
“This decision was taken after detailed discussions with Church and state bodies. We are appealing to people therefore, not to travel to Knock for the 15th August as the shrine and grounds will be closed off to everyone in order to prevent large gatherings.”
In past years, the shrine had been open on Assumption Day from 5 a.m. for confessions, the priest noted, and its first Mass would normally take place at 6 a.m. for those who had undertaken the traditional walking pilgrimage to the shrine “during the previous night and early morning.”
“Masses would continue practically every hour until evening for enormous numbers of people coming from all over the country and beyond,” Gibbons added.
“For that day alone over 20,000 people would usually visit the Shrine.”
The National Novena to Our Lady of Knock, which since 1977 has taken place between August 14 and August 22, was also postponed to prevent crowds from coming to the shrine.
The story of Knock began when a group of 15 people from the northwestern Irish village saw an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, and St. John the Evangelist outside their church on the evening of August 21, 1879.
According to the shrine’s webpage, one of the visionaries, 11-year-old Patrick Hill, reported that the “figures were round and full as if they were alive.”
The silent vision then faded.
The visionaries reported what they had seen to church authorities, and they were deemed credible. The first pilgrims arrived in Knock soon after word spread, and the first organized pilgrimages began arriving in 1880. In 1935, the Knock Shrine Society was established to make the pilgrim site as famous as other Marian shrines in Europe. In 1976, a new, much larger, church was constructed in the village, and it was promoted to a basilica by St. John Paul II when he visited Knock in 1979. So popular is the shrine that an airport was built near the village; it opened in 1985.
The shrine reopened Sunday, August 16 and remains open to the public. According to its website, capacity is limited to 200 people on a first-come, first-seated basis.