CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — A Harvard student group organizing a re-enactment of a satanic “Black Mass” on campus has dismissed its Catholic critics, calling their views arrogant and their objections to the ritual ignorant and intolerant.
“Satanists have a ritual that they perform for their own affirmative reasons,” the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club told CNA May 8, adding that these reasons “currently have absolutely nothing to do with Catholicism beyond the symbols themselves.”
“Offense is anachronistic and based on intolerance and ignorance about the practice [of] Satanism.”
The Cultural Studies Club has faced controversy since it announced its plans to host a re-enactment of a Satanic “Black Mass” on campus May 12. It described the ceremony as an educational event that is part of a larger series exploring various cultural practices.
The group said objections that have been raised to the event are “closed-minded,” arguing that it is “paranoia” to think the Satanic rituals and practices are designed to degrade the Catholic faith.
A “Black Mass” is a sacrilegious ceremony structured as a parody of the Catholic Mass. Connected to witchcraft and demonic worship, it invokes Satan and demons, often in Latin, with the desecration of the Eucharist as the focal point.
Early media reports included apparent confirmation from Priya Dua, a spokesperson for the Satanic Temple, which is staging the event, that a consecrated host would be used. However, both the Temple and the Cultural Studies Club later backtracked and said Dua’s previous statement was inaccurate and only a plain piece of bread would be used.
A Satanic Temple spokesman, however, told the National Catholic Register that, while no one has gone to any effort to obtain a consecrated host, “it would make no difference to our ceremony” if someone had — “it's a piece of bread.”
Announcements of the event prompted a deluge of complaints from Catholics, who argued that the event is not educational, but sacrilegious and disrespectful.
The event has drawn strong opposition from the Archdiocese of Boston and many individuals in the Harvard community. Critics argued the university would never permit a student organization re-enacting a Quran burning or lynchings of African-Americans and should similarly refuse to allow a sacrilegious ceremony mocking the Catholic faith.
Satanic Temple Talking Points
In a general email responding to numerous questions presented about the event, the Cultural Studies Club said that it was not seeking to offend people, but instead hoping to “work towards diminishing misconceptions” about Satanists, whom it described as misunderstood and marginalized.
“The Black Mass began as a propagandistic literary device to justify brutal purges against alleged witches. This conspiracy of witches, or Satanists, has never actually existed,” the group asserted. “The idea originated with the Church itself and has become a staple of the mythology concerning Satanism. The Black Mass has been adopted as a symbolic revolt against arbitrary authority, not a focused assault upon Catholic faith.”
However, the Cultural Studies Club appears to be regurgitating the talking points of the Satanic Temple, as the Register received the above response for its own story — word-for-word minus one sentence — from the Temple’s spokesman Lucien Greaves in an email interview for its own story.
The group acknowledged that the “Black Mass” is “inspired by, or derivative of” the Catholic Mass, but insisted that it is not intended as a mocking or “hateful display.” Rather, it said, the Satanic “Black Mass” is “an affirmation of a set beliefs whose intent is not to marginalize anyone, nor incite violence, nor intimidate others.”
However, the Cultural Studies Club’s assertions are contradicted by modern Satanism’s founder, Anton Lavey, author of the Satanic Bible, who himself stated, “A Black Mass is essentially a parody on the religious service of the Roman Catholic Church.”
Student Club: Satanists Don’t Believe in Satan
The Cultural Studies Club told CNA that “there is no formal doctrine” in Satanism, which allows “for a wide range of behavior” and is largely defined by its “outsider status” and ideas of individualism.
However, it also argued that “it is an outright lie to claim that the Black Mass ceremony as currently performed by Satanists, in general, is done with the intent of mocking Catholicism.”
“That position is arrogant and egocentric,” the group charged, suggesting that the “Black Mass” “has constructive meaning for the people who perform those actions” and that the offense of Catholics is not justification for stopping the event.
While there is “no one set of Satanic beliefs,” the club asserted, Satanists do not believe in Satan as an actual person, like many religious organizations do, but, rather, believe that “Satan is a metaphorical construct who represents the struggle against tyrannical authority.”
The source of Catholics’ offense, the group suggested, “is founded on differing interpretations of symbols and an insistence that one’s own interpretation is universal.” The group insisted that it “is presumptuous and inaccurate to insist that this event is designed as an expression of ridicule.”
In response to the “Black Mass,” the Catholic community at Harvard has announced that it is holding a Eucharistic Holy Hour on the evening of May 12 to correspond with the scheduled Satanic event.
Senior chaplain Father Michael Drea said this will allow students to “focus on the goodness of our Eucharistic Lord” and seek the grace to be true “defenders of our faith and the sacramental life.”
Alejandro Bermudez contributed to this report.
The National Catholic Register also contributed to this report.