Harvard 'black mass' event met with shock, outcry

Crimson banners hang outside Memorial Church on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., Sept. 6, 2012. Credit: Tim Sackton via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

A Harvard student group’s plans to re-enact a satanic black mass on campus has prompted outrage from Catholics who say that the event is not educational, but sacrilegious, offensive and disrespectful.

“We call upon all believers and people of good will to join us in prayer for those who are involved in this event, that they may come to appreciate the gravity of their actions, and in asking Harvard to disassociate itself from this activity,” the Archdiocese of Boston said in a statement released May 8.

Expressing “deep sadness and strong opposition” to the plan to stage the black mass on campus, the archdiocese announced a Holy Hour planned at 8 p.m. May 12 at St. Paul’s Church in Harvard Square.

“In a recent statement, Pope Francis warned of the danger of being naïve about or underestimating the power of Satan, whose evil is too often tragically present in our midst,” the archdiocese noted.

“For the good of the Catholic faithful and all people, the Church provides clear teaching concerning Satanic worship. This activity separates people from God and the human community, it is contrary to charity and goodness, and it places participants dangerously close to destructive works of evil.”

The archdiocesan statement came in response to an announcement that the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club would be hosting a reenactment of a black mass on campus May 12.

“The performance is designed to be educational and is preceded by a lecture that provides the history, context, and origin of the Black Mass,” the club said in a statement.

Connected to witchcraft and demonic worship, a black mass is a sacrilegious ceremony that invokes Satan and mocks the Catholic Mass. It involves the desecration of the Eucharist, generally by stealing a consecrated host from a Catholic Church and using it in a profane sexual ritual.

Initially, several media reports included confirmation from Priya Dua, a spokesperson for The Satanic Temple, which is staging the event, that a consecrated host would be used.

However, updates to the reports said that Dua later contacted them retracting her statement, saying that there had been a miscommunication and no consecrated host would be used.

The Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club made similar denials, saying, “While a piece of bread is used in the reenactment, the performance unequivocally does not include a consecrated host.”

“Our purpose is not to denigrate any religion or faith, which would be repugnant to our educational purposes, but instead to learn and experience the history of different cultural practices,” the group continued. “This performance is part of a larger effort to explore religious facets that continue to influence contemporary culture.”

Harvard Extension School said in a May 7 statement that it “does not endorse the views or activities of any independent student organization. But we do support the rights of our students and faculty to speak and assemble freely.”

It added that the black mass is part of a series of events hosted by the Cultural Studies Club, which also includes “a Shinto tea ceremony, a Shaker exhibition, and a Buddhist presentation on meditation – as part of a student-led effort to explore different cultures.”

Father Roger Landry, a Harvard alum who serves as national chaplain for Catholic Voices USA, also issued strong words against the event, calling it “terribly ill-advised and totally insensitive.”

In a May 8 letter to President Drew G. Faust, the priest said that for “the first time in my life I’m really embarrassed to be associated with Harvard.”

“I'm sure there are many other alumni who are similarly ashamed,” he wrote.

Fr. Laundry went on to say that Harvard “simply would never allow itself or its properties to be associated with events that mock the religious beliefs, desecrate the sacred texts, or insult the spiritual sensitivities of Jews or Muslims.”

“Likewise,” he added, “it wouldn't allow its reputation or institution to be affiliated in any way with the activities or views of an 'independent student organization' that was reenacting the lynchings of African Americans or homophobic attacks or violence against women.”

The priest then likened the planned event to a séance aimed at communicating with the soul of Adolf Hitler or a re-enactment of a Koran burning. Both, he said, would be “terribly injurious” to each community and is something Harvard “would never associate itself with.”

“A ceremony invoking Satan, mocking the Catholic Mass and desecrating what Catholics believe to be the Body of Jesus Christ – or if, implausibly, an unconsecrated host will be used, something that is at least meant to symbolize the Eucharist – should be treated in the same way,” he emphasized.

Fr. Laundry told the school's president that he has “a special responsibility over Harvard’s reputation as well as occupy the most prominent position of all to demonstrate what Harvard stands for.”

“Please grasp that Harvard’s present acquiescence to allowing its campus to be the setting for this Satanic Mass and its up-until-now anemic response have already brought the university local, national and international derision.”

“There's still time,” he wrote, “to remedy this situation and clearly communicate that mockery and desecration of the religious rites, objects, and sensitivities of others have no place at Harvard.”


Seeking the face of God in the Scriptures

Archbishop José H. Gomez

Prayer is seeking the face of God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church recalls the story of how St. John Vianney once found a peasant praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament. The saint asked him what he was doing, and the man replied: “I look at him and he looks at me.”


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