Homily of Bishop Denis Nulty at Mass for the Diocese of Kildare & Leighlin’s pilgrimage to the national Marian Shrine in Knock

04 Jun 2018

  • A family gives us recognition, an identity, family and diocese roots us, we belong somewhere, we belong to someone … We gather 79 days from the beginning of the Ninth World Meeting of Families in Dublin
  • I suggest here in Knock today one of the oldest (Corpus Christi) Processions originates in our own diocese in Tullow Parish in County Carlow, a Procession I was privileged to lead last night.  The Procession dates back to 1784
  • The message of Knock reminds us our faith can never just be a private matter, between us and God; we live it publicly giving witness to Christ every day in what we say and do

Introductory Words

We have travelled in huge numbers this Sunday afternoon to Our Lady’s Shrine here at Knock.  Since early morning buses and cars have left from parishes with familiar names that trip off our tongue like Saint Mullins and Stradbally, Naas and Newbridge, Baltinglass and Ballyfin, Carbury and the Cathedral, Portlaoise and Paulstown to mention just a few.  Fifty-six parishes, one family in faith.  A family gives us recognition, an identity, family and diocese roots us, we belong somewhere, we belong to someone.  We have come therefore as that Diocesan Family on this the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Body & Blood of Christ.  We gather 79 days from the beginning of the Ninth World Meeting of Families in Dublin.

Our gospel this afternoon pays a return visit to that Holy Thursday gathering in the Upper Room, a gathering around a table, a gathering centred on the Eucharist to strengthen Jesus and the disciples in turn for the journey that lay ahead, a journey involving places like Gethsemane, Gabatha, Calvary & Golgotha.  As we gather in prayer at the feet of Our Lady, we gather underneath this splendid mosaic that celebrates the fifteen witnesses back on 21 August, 1879.  We gather 139 years later in 2018 with our sick, with our young, with our old, with those full of the exuberance of life and those barely hanging in on this June Bank Holiday weekend.  We are challenged to join the ranks of those fifteen witnesses this day, tomorrow and the coming weeks.  Witnesses to the love, the mercy and the embrace of a loving and forgiving God and so we pray for the strength we need to face the journey ahead …


Our Corpus Christi gospel this afternoon in this beautifully restored basilica to Our Lady brings us back to Holy Thursday evening.  It is the gathering of Jesus and His disciple’s moments before the agony of Holy Week sets in.  We should not miss the very last line of Mark’s gospel: “After psalms had been sung they left for the Mount of Olives[1].  The fourteenth chapter is very much a Holy Week text – the preamble of the journey to the Mount of Olives.  In a few verses Jesus will be praying in Gethsemane and a few verses later his betrayal and arrest will unfold.  So, all this puts that first Eucharist and every Eucharist, first Mass and every Mass, into context.

Often, I hear a comment or receive a request: “Would I offer a Holy Mass for some intention?”  Every Mass is a Holy Mass.  I suggest a term like that is of itself a contradiction.  If a Mass is not holy, there is something seriously wrong.  Mass by its very essence whether celebrated by Pope Francis maybe to a congregation of half a million in the Phoenix Park next August is the very same Mass that is celebrated in this Basilica on our Diocesan Pilgrimage visit today, is the very same Mass that is celebrated in hospitals, nursing homes, prisons and direct provision centres and the very same Mass that is celebrated daily in your local parish.  A Mass is always holy as evidenced in the admission spoken when the two encounter Jesus at Emmaus, “how they had recognised him at the breaking of bread[2].

On this, the Feast of Corpus Christi, traditionally there are Corpus Christi Processions held in the larger urban parishes all over Ireland.  I know the people of Cork or Galway or Dublin might think they have the longest running Procession, I suggest here in Knock today one of the oldest Processions originates in our own diocese in Tullow Parish in County Carlow, a Procession I was privileged to lead last night.  The Procession dates back to 1784, introduced by Bishop Daniel Delaney.  For 234 years people have been assembling in Tullow to show their respect for the Eucharist.  They were coming to Tullow even before the Parish Church there was constructed in 1805.  People travelled by foot, by bicycle or in horse and cart.  They were different days, different times.

Introducing a procession in 1784 was a test to see how a public display of Catholicism might be tolerated by the magistrates and the Protestants of the town, it passed over peacefully. And it became an annual event. His predecessor, Bishop James Keeffe worried whether Delaney’s actions were imprudent or unwise as Tullow then had a tradition of being a deeply sectarian town. The struggle to obtain a site for the church and the buildings around it would be testament to this. While Delaney had a sincere devotion to the Eucharist, whether it was all out of reverence or partially out of a deeper political undercurrent, we can only speculate. He also introduced Sunday school at Tullow, one of the earliest initiatives of this kind in Kildare & Leighlin. One can only ponder again today how he might respond to the need for the younger generation to be properly formed in their faith in 2018.  

And so, to today.  A Corpus Christi Processions happens daily here at Knock as an integral part of every pilgrims visit.  It is as tied into the Knock visit as the filling of the bottle with Knock water, and don’t forget the neighbours, or availing of the opportunity for Confession.  Knock offers us an encyclopaedia of our faith – in the Apparition Chapel beyond we find the scene that was witnessed by the fifteen witnesses.  Our Lady is there, as is Saint Joseph, Saint John the Evangelist, the Lamb of God with the angels circling the Altar and Cross.  Everything we need for faith today we find it here in Knock.

There is the silence of Our Lady – she never speaks at Knock – this is the only Marian apparition where Our Lady is silent.  Maybe she realised she couldn’t get a word in with the Mayo people! 

There is Saint Joseph, the loyal, faithful one, the adoptive father of Jesus, who models fatherhood superbly; there is the erudite evangeliser Saint John; there is the sustaining food for the journey, the Eucharist and of course there is always the Cross.  Before the journey to the Cross which began in Gethsemane, there was a Eucharist.  There will always be an element of suffering in life, a faith that erases the Cross is only a fad and will pass.  Everything we need to support our faith, we find it here at Knock.

The Corpus Christi Procession is essentially a missionary movement as it winds its way along public streets and public pathways before ending for Benediction.  Very often Pope Francis reminds us that we live in a missionary Church, where our expression of faith is nourished in the field hospitals, in the meeting squares.  As we process with the Blessed Sacrament, let us never be blind to the reality of life we meet on our way.  In each person we meet Christ.  The person standing outside the pub door, not sure which way to avert their eyes, we are meeting Christ.  The homeless person who struggles to stand up straight, we are meeting Christ.  The little children who talk and then correct themselves and then talk again, we are meeting Christ.  The car driver, the haulier disrupted on their journey, we are meeting Christ.

Saint Pope John Paul II, who came here as a pilgrim to Knock in the Centenary Year of celebrations in 1979, reminds us that in commemorating today’s solemnity of Corpus Christi, the Church “does not only celebrate the Eucharist but solemnly bears it in procession, publicly proclaiming that the sacrifice of Christ is for the salvation of the whole world[3].  The message of Knock reminds us our faith can never just be a private matter, between us and God; we live it publicly giving witness to Christ every day in what we say and do.  Bishop Daniel Delaney in boldly introducing a Corpus Christi Procession in 1784 in Tullow believed honour should be paid to the Lord in public and in private, the two were inseparable.  Those we meet, as we walk in procession this afternoon are themselves Christ.

As we walk, may we allow Our Lady of Knock to introduce us to Christ this day.  I loved the concluding reflection on Our Lady in Pope Francis’ recent exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate where he suggests, “she walks ever at our side … Mary our Mother does not need a flood of words.  She does not need us to tell her what is happening in our lives.  All we need do is whisper time and time again: ‘Hail Mary’[4].  We can be certain that Our Lady of Knock who never used words here, will not expect us to say much either, just be present and be open to meeting Christ in all we meet.

Our Lady of Knock, pray for us.

Saint Joseph, pray for us.

Saint John the Evangelist, pray for us.  Amen.


  • Bishop Denis Nulty is Bishop of Kildare & Leighlin.  This Mass was celebrated by Bishop Nulty yesterday at the Basilica of Our Lady of Knock, Co Mayo, in the Archdiocese of Tuam.  The pilgrimage to Knock by the diocese included representatives from each of the 56 parishes of the Diocese Kildare & Leighlin which includes county Carlow and parts of counties Kildare, Laois, Offaly, Kilkenny, Wicklow and Wexford.
  • The story of Knock began on the 21 August 1879 when Our Lady, Saint Joseph and Saint John the Evangelist appeared at the south gable of Knock Parish Church.  This miraculous apparition was witnessed by fifteen people, young and old.  Knock is an internationally recognised Marian Shrine and was visited by Saint Pope John Paul II as part of his 1979 apostolic pilgrimage to Ireland.  During his visit, which coincided with the Shrine’s centenary year, the late pope celebrated Mass at the Shrine and addressed the sick, their helpers and pilgrimage directors.  Archbishop Michael Neary, Archbishop of Tuam, is the custodian of the Marian Shrine and Father Richard Gibbons is parish priest of Knock and rector of the shrine.  Please see: knockshrine.ie                                          

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[1] Mk.14:26

[2] Lk.24:35

[3] Pope John Paul II, ‘Homily for the Solemnity of the Body & Blood of Christ’, Basilica of St. John Lateran, 10 June 2004 §2.

[4] Pope Francis, ‘Gaudete et Exsultate, Veritas, 2018, pg. 79, §176.