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While Harvard makes a Faustian bargain between Satan worship and academic freedom, Catholics are responding with prayer and a Holy Hour.
BY PETER JESSERER SMITH
BOSTON — Harvard University is going forward with a presentation of a Satanic “Black Mass” on its campus in the name of academic freedom, even as Catholics vehemently protest that the “historical re-enactment” of Satan worship denigrates Catholic practice and belief and promotes evil.
The Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club has teamed up with the Satanic Temple to re-enact a “Black Mass” on May 12 at 8:30pm at the Queen’s Head Pub, in Memorial Hall, with “commentary and historical context” provided by some of the Temple’s atheistic Satanists.
“It’s disturbing,” said Father Michael Drea, senior chaplain of the Harvard Catholic chaplaincy. “The unfortunate thing is that this is being allowed [by the university] to go forward under the guise of academic freedom without a real sense of respect for the dignity of the Catholic faith.”
The Archdiocese of Boston, in a statement, expressed its “deep sadness and strong opposition” to the plans for Monday’s event, calling it “dangerous” and asking Harvard University to condemn it.
“For the good of the Catholic faithful and all people, the Church provides clear teaching concerning Satanic worship,” the archdiocese said.
“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 archdiocese added that Pope Francis himself recently “warned of the danger of being naïve about or underestimating the power of Satan, whose evil is too often tragically present in our midst.”
Harvard’s Lackluster Response
The “Black Mass” is an ironic first for Harvard, an institution originally founded by Puritans as a divinity school in 1638. Despite requests from Catholics to rescind permission for the club, Harvard University has shown no indication of interfering.
A press release from the Harvard Extension School said it “support[s] the rights of our students and faculty to speak and assemble freely” without endorsing the “views or activities of any independent student organization.”
Harvard President Drew Faust did not return the Register’s request for comment.
The Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club has doubled down and argued the “performance is designed to be educational.”
“Our purpose is not to denigrate any religion or faith, which would be repugnant to our educational purposes,” it said in a statement, “but instead to learn and experience the history of different cultural practices.”
Mocking Catholic Worship
The Cultural Studies Club’s defense of the presentation appears incoherent. Catholics point out that the “Black Mass,” whatever its origins, by its nature is focused on mocking the Catholic Mass and denigrating Catholic belief in the Eucharist. An actual “Black Mass” would involve the desecration of a consecrated host, which is a deliberate blasphemy and sacrilege aimed at the focal point of Catholic worship and belief.
Modern Satanism’s founder, Anton Lavey, author of the Satanic Bible, himself stated, “A Black Mass is essentially a parody on the religious service of the Roman Catholic Church, but can be loosely applied to a satire on any religious ceremony."
Addressing Catholic concerns that the re-enactment would involve desecration of the Eucharist, the student club said the upcoming event “unequivocally does not include a consecrated host.”
“This performance is part of a larger effort to explore religious facets that continue to influence contemporary culture,” it said.
Lucien Greaves, the Temple’s spokesman, told the Register in an email that the Temple’s Satanists have “gone to no effort to obtain a ‘consecrated’ host,” but he expressed little empathy for Catholic concerns.
He added, “Even if [the host] did turn out, somehow, to have been blessed without our knowledge, it would make no difference to our ceremony, nor would anybody, of any faith, be able to discern the difference. It’s a piece of bread.”
The Satanic Temple claims on its website that they are actually atheists, not theistic Satanists, so they don’t believe in or worship Satan as a personal being of evil. Greaves said that while some Satanists may have practiced the “Black Mass” as a “misguided attempt to gain the devil’s favor,” he said their brand of Satanism uses it as “an affirmation of revolt against arbitrary authority.”
None of the Cultural Studies Club’s other planned activities (a Shinto tea ceremony, a Shaker exhibition and a Buddhist presentation on meditation) involve what Harvard alumnus Father Roger Landry, a Catholic priest from Fall River, Mass., called “mockery and desecration of the religious rites, objects and sensitivities of others.”
In a May 8 letter, Father Landry asked President Faust to shut the event down, pointing out that the university would not countenance offending Jews by allowing a club to hold a neo-Nazi séance invoking Adolf Hitler’s spirit or Muslims by staging the public desecration and burning of the Quran.
“Likewise, 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 re-enacting the lynchings of African-Americans or homophobic attacks or violence against women,” he said.
“Harvard would act decisively in those situations,” the priest added, “both out of just concern for its own reputation, but also out of moral outrage against such insensitivity that clear thinking, ethical people immediately recognize as evil.”
“By shutting this event down and not just dissociating itself from what was supposed to happen, but by forcefully condemning it, you would not only remedy the damage to Harvard’s reputation that has already taken place, but set the type of example for educational institutions and the broader culture that Harvard has prided itself in setting for 378 years,” Father Landry counseled Faust. “I’m hoping that you will use your office to respond as strongly to this insensitivity as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver recently used his office to respond to [Los Angeles Clippers’ owner] Donald Sterling’s racist comments.”
Commenting later via email to the Register, Father Landry said, “I’m praying for it to be canceled. Otherwise, President Faust will be culpable of a true Faustian bargain.”
Catholic Response: Holy Hour
The Archdiocese of Boston has asked “all believers and people of goodwill” to respond not with demonstrations, but 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.”
While the Satanists are “historically re-enacting” the devil at Queen’s Head Pub, Father Drea said the Harvard Catholic community will respond to evil with good by hosting a Eucharistic Holy Hour at St. Paul’s Church from 8pm to 9pm “to focus on the gift of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist.”
“We take strength from [the Eucharist] to be the life of Christ in the world, to bring his message of life and love into the world and to be effective ambassadors of the New Evangelization,” he said. “We want to help people understand the beauty and centrality of our Eucharistic theology and how we are nourished by this great gift of Our Lord’s body, blood, soul and divinity.”
Father Drea reported that since the plan to stage the “Black Mass” was disclosed publicly, campus Catholics have received an outpouring of support, particularly from alumni.
Father Drea said they are still hoping and praying the event does not take place. But he made clear that Catholics and people of goodwill must not respond with “direct confrontation or disruption,” but, instead, “respond with prayer and calm.”
“I think the best way to combat the devil is uniting ourselves with Our Lord in prayer,” he said, “and asking for his grace to persevere, to let his truth speak for what it is and to be his effective witnesses in the world for that.”
Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff writer.