CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — The Church of St. Paul in Harvard Square was jammed to capacity Monday, May 12, for a Eucharistic Holy Hour and solemn Benediction to offer reparation for a Harvard student group’s plan to sponsor a Satanic black mass on campus.
At least 500 people — many of them holding rosaries, crucifixes and images of Christ — also participated in a Eucharistic procession that began at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and ended at St. Paul Church, where hundreds more were gathered in prayer.
"Prayer is the most powerful thing in the world. That’s exactly why we’re all gathered here tonight. I couldn’t be more grateful that, out of an act intended to harm and attack the Church, love and unity and worship of the Eucharist have emerged," said Aurora Griffin, a 23-year-old Harvard senior and former president of the university’s Catholic Student Association.
Less than 10 minutes before the Holy Hour began, news spread that the Harvard Extension School Cultural Studies Club, the student organization sponsoring the black mass "re-enactment," had indefinitely postponed the event.
Moved Off Campus
The black mass is a sacrilegious ceremony structured in imitation of the Catholic Mass. Invoking Satan, the ritual is centered around the desecration of the Eucharist, which is generally done by stealing a consecrated host from a Catholic church and using it in a profane sexual ritual or defecating and urinating on it. It was originally set to be held in Cambridge Queen’s Head Pub, an on-campus bar, but the Harvard Extension School Cultural Studies Club decided to move the event off campus because it said, in an email to reporters, that "misinterpretations about the nature of the event were harming perceptions about Harvard and adversely impacting the student community."
The student club tried to move the event to a nightclub in Cambridge’s Central Square, but the nightclub decided not to host the event, causing the Cultural Studies Club to send an email just before the 7pm Holy Hour stating that it would no longer sponsor the black mass.
"I’m extremely grateful. It’s exactly what we wanted," Griffin, a Los Angeles native who is graduating from Harvard this year with a degree in classics, told the Register.
The Harvard Crimson, the university student newspaper, reported just before midnight that the Satanic Temple, a group of self-described Satanists, later held a scaled-down version of the black mass, without the Cultural Studies Club’s sponsorship, at a Chinese restaurant across from Harvard Yard.
The ceremony did not include a consecrated host, the Harvard newspaper reported.
Attack on the Eucharist
Terrence Donilon, the communications director for the Archdiocese of Boston, earlier told the Register that whether the black mass remained canceled or not, it still represented an attack on the Eucharist.
"It’s a disgraceful attack on the Catholic Church, and whether you’re Catholic or non-Catholic, anybody of goodwill has to know how awful this thing is," Donilon said.
Father Roger Landry, a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Mass., and an alumnus of Harvard University, told the Register that while he was disappointed that a scaled-down black mass may have been held, he was heartened by the response of the Catholic community.
"What was going to be a day of infamy ended up being pretty glorious," Father Landry said.
Father Michael Drea, the senior pastor of the Catholic Student Center at Harvard, said during his homily at the Holy Hour that he was overwhelmed by the prayers and well-wishes from Catholics and non-Catholics the world over who responded to the "terrible affront" the black mass represented.
"They recognized it for what it is," Father Drea said, "an act of hatred and ridicule for the Catholic Church and the faithful."
Father Drea later told the Register that he was praying for the conversion of the organizers responsible for the event.
"I just pray they embrace the light and the truth of Christ," Father Drea said. "That’s what we need to be about, and that’s so important."
Cardinal Seán O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, told local media earlier during the day on May 12 that the Archdiocese of Boston and local Catholics took offense at the black mass, but that the archdiocese had "no way to prevent it other than to try and explain to people how evil this is." Cardinal O’Malley noted the Wikipedia entry for the black mass describes it as "a ritual performed as a sacrilegious parody of the Roman Catholic Mass."
"That says it all," Cardinal O’Malley said.
The Cultural Studies Club had defended the black mass "re-enactment" as an educational activity. In an email message May 12 to reporters, the student club said it was "profoundly disturbing" to see the Satanic Temple labeled as a hate group "by people who don’t share their faith or don’t take time to understand their beliefs and the meanings behind their rituals."
Aurora Griffin, a Harvard Rhodes Scholar who helped organize three petitions that gathered more than 80,000 signatures against the black mass, said the Cultural Studies Club had not been transparent in who organized the event. Griffin also challenged the notion that the black mass was protected under free speech and academic freedom.
"The university very clearly says in its writings about free speech that any practice that dishonors another person’s religion is not permitted because it undermines the other values of the university," Griffin said. "I think that this is exactly such an instance and that the university should feel no qualms about standing behind it."
In a statement released earlier in the day on May 12, Harvard University President Drew Faust called the student group’s sponsorship of the black mass "abhorrent," and she said it represented "a fundamental affront to the values of inclusion, belonging and mutual respect that must define our community."
However, Faust said the university still had to protect the student group’s right to free speech, adding that "vigorous and open discussion and debate are essential to the pursuit of knowledge, and we must uphold these values even in the face of controversy."
Faust attended the Holy Hour and solemn Benediction at St. Paul Church, drawing praise from Father Drea, who said her presence helped to unite the community. Still, Father Drea asked: "How can an act of religious hatred and sacrilege have any place within the context of civilized discourse on any university campus?"
Standing Up for Truth
Father Landry, a member of Harvard’s Class of 1992, had earlier written a letter to Faust asking her to stop the event. Father Landry commended Faust for showing solidarity with Catholics in attending the Holy Hour, but said he still would have liked to have seen her use her office to stop the university’s cooperation with the event.
Father Landry was proud of the leadership that Griffin and other Catholic students at Harvard demonstrated. "They did that magnificently, and I’m really proud of them."
In his 15-minute homily, Father Drea taught a catechesis on the centrality of the Eucharist in Catholic life and added: "When an act of sacrilege is perpetrated on the Blessed Sacrament and the sacred liturgy, it demands our prayerful and fervent response such that those acts can never be tolerated."
Devotion to the Eucharist motivated more than 1,000 people from across New England and elsewhere to attend the Holy Hour at St. Paul Church. Taniele Tucker, a resident of Greenville, R.I., said she traveled to Cambridge "out of respect for the Eucharist and who Jesus Christ is for us and for those people who are confused in doing this and putting their souls at risk by mocking what is sacred."
Brian Fraga writes from
Fall River, Massachusetts.