What should faithful Catholics do when they learn that the holy Eucharist will be mocked at a re-enactment of a Satanic mass sponsored by the nation’s premier university? Do they accept the argument that free-speech protections shield blasphemous actions? Or do they insist that a vicious attack on a core religious belief should be prayerfully but firmly opposed?
Boston-area Catholics chose the latter course, and, in doing so, they offered a powerful example for all believers who are being disenfranchised in an era of selective "tolerance" for religious and moral principles.
"At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood," states Sacramentum Concilium, the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, recalling that, through the holy sacrifice of the Mass, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is perpetuated and entrusted to "his beloved spouse, the Church," as a "sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity [and] a Paschal banquet."
The holy Eucharist is indeed the "source and summit" of Christian life, so when Boston Catholics learned that Harvard Extension School’s Cultural Studies Club would sponsor a re-enactment of a Satanic ritual that mocks the Catholic Mass and blasphemes God, they immediately called for the event to be canceled. Shockingly, however, the school’s initial response seemed calculated to confirm the low regard accorded to Catholic beliefs on a campus that otherwise celebrates "tolerance."
Ignoring grave concerns about the possible use of a consecrated host in the re-enactment of the black mass, the first statement released by Harvard Extension School suggested that the May 12 event was on par with other activities hosted by its Cultural Studies Club, "including a Shinto tea ceremony, a Shaker exhibition and a Buddhist presentation on meditation." Subsequently, the club claimed that the re-enactment would not use a consecrated host.
However, less than a week later, on May 12 — just hours before the controversial event was to begin — Harvard Extension School announced that it would not take place on campus.
By then, more than 80,000 people had signed petitions calling for the cancellation of the event, and Harvard’s president, Drew Faust, had offered a strikingly different response to what she called an "affront" to believers. Though Faust defended the club’s right to host the event, she, along with more than 1,500 others, attended the Eucharistic Holy Hour held by the Boston Archdiocese in St. Paul’s Chapel on the Harvard campus to make reparations for the mocking of the Blessed Sacrament.
The cancellation of the black mass at Harvard marks a key moment for Catholics in the United States — and a time of reflection for all people of faith in this nation. The firm, prayerful and ultimately effective response of the faithful demonstrates the need for Catholics to come together, in unity and peace, to defend their most sacred beliefs.
Amid the furor over the Satanic re-enactment, Catholics’ petitions and commentary also educated the public and exposed the shallowness of a university community that was prepared to sponsor an attack on the Eucharist, while, at other times, registering righteous indignation at perceived offenses to groups that seem to be accorded more sympathy, and thus respect.
In 2011, for example, Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted to drop two summer-school courses, after the instructor, an Indian Hindu, published an op-ed in an Indian newspaper that included statements offensive to Muslims. Why did Harvard’s faculty not express the same indignation for an offense against Catholics that would be committed right on the Cambridge, Mass., campus?
Father Roger Landry, a Fall River, Mass., priest and a Harvard alumnus, was among those who challenged the university’s insistence that the Cultural Studies Club had a right to hold the event.
"We all know that if there were to be a séance to communicate with the soul of Adolf Hitler, Harvard would never countenance it — first, because we’re clearly dealing with conjuring evil; and, second, because it would be terribly injurious to Jewish members of the Harvard community and the wider community," wrote Father Landry in a letter emailed May 8 to President Faust.
Meanwhile, leaders of the Satanic Temple, which was responsible for performing the re-enactment, dismissed any suggestion that the black mass was an act of grave disrespect toward the Eucharist. Instead, they presented themselves as mainstream atheists who believe the Eucharist holds no special significance, and they viewed the re-enactment as an intellectual exercise.
"Kinda-sorta Satanists play with fire by promising a kinda-sorta black mass at kinda-sorta Harvard," wrote Ed Morrissey, a Catholic blogger who posted an especially apt passage from Letter 7 of C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, a classic work of Christian apologetics that outlines the tactics of the Father of Lies:
"If once we can produce our perfect work — the Materialist Magician — the man, not using, but veritably worshipping, what he vaguely calls ‘Forces,’ while denying the existence of ‘spirits,’ then the end of the war will be in sight."
Instead, something else happened in Boston. Catholic witness to the Bride’s great love for her Bridegroom, present body and blood, soul and divinity in the holy Eucharist, drew the attention and respect of all people of goodwill, including many Catholics who do not accept the Church’s teaching on the Real Presence.
The pilgrimage of faith began with statements of concern and petitions, but it ended in the most powerful way it could: with prayer before the Eucharist. In the streets of Cambridge, as the Eucharist was processed from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to the Harvard Catholic chapel, students saw the faithful pausing on the sidewalk to kneel before Our Lord.
This is the great work of the New Evangelization: touching souls on the "fringes," including those who have attained great intellectual status but yearn for something or Someone they cannot name.
As Jesus said in John 6:48-50, "I am the Bread of Life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat it and not die."