Update, May 13, 8:35 a.m.: The Black Mass at Harvard was cancelled at the last minute.
Earlier: An independent group of students from the Harvard Extension School are hosting a controversial reenactment of a Satanic “Black Mass” ceremony at a space on the school’s campus this month, which has raised eyebrows in the community and led to the condemnation of the ritual by the Archdiocese of Boston.
Members of the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club, who posted fliers and notices on campus and online about the Satanic worshipping happening on May 12, said the event is educational and meant to add historical context to a lecture on the subject that will precede it. “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 said in a statement. “This performance is part of a larger effort to explore religious facets that continue to influence contemporary culture.”
The group has teamed up with members from the New York-based Satanic Temple, the same organization that has been fighting tooth and nail to get a bronze Satanic statue installed outside of Oklahoma’s State House this year, to carry out the demonstration and reenactment of the Black Mass. The Satanic Temple will provide commentary and historical background as the ritual is happening, according to event details posted on the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club’s website.
A Black Mass usually mocks Catholic teachings and the word of God. While the mass will have elements of what typically occurs, the group said it “unequivocally does not include a consecrated host.” Instead, they will use a piece of bread.
Here is the flier that the group used to promote the event online:
In response to some outrage about the planned ceremony, which is scheduled to take place at Harvard’s Queen’s Head Pub, in Memorial Hall, school officials said while they don’t condone this particular type of worship, they have no plans to shut the gathering down. “Students at Harvard Extension School, like students at colleges across the nation, organize and operate a number of independent student organizations, representing a wide range of student interests,” Harvard officials said in a written statement.
Members of the club said the Satanic worship is part of a larger series that explores different cultures from around the world, and will be followed up by events such as a Shinto tea ceremony, a Shaker exhibition, and a Buddhist presentation on meditation.
Despite the fact that it’s merely a demonstration, the planned ritual has Boston’s Catholic Church officials worried. In a lengthy statement posted to Facebook, where they expressed their “deep sadness and strong opposition” to the event, the Archdiocese of Boston warned against conjuring up the devil under such circumstances—even if it’s for educational purposes. “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 statement said. “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. 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 Harvard Chaplains echoed the church’s sentiments, and have strongly opposed the event. “We hasten to add that we do not think the issue presented here is primarily one of ‘academic freedom.’ Just because something may be permissible does not make it right or good,” they said in a statement. “Whether or not these students are ‘entitled’ to express themselves through the ceremony of a “Black Mass” as a matter of law or University policy is a distinct question from whether this is a healthy form of intellectual discourse or community life. We submit it is not.”
As word spread about the event, more Catholic leaders came forward, slamming the university and expressing outrage about them allowing the ritual to move ahead as planned. “You have a special responsibility over Harvard’s reputation as well as occupy the most prominent position of all to demonstrate what Harvard stands for,” said Fr. Roger Landry, Diocese of Fall River, in a damning letter addressed to Harvard President Drew Faust. “The Founders of Harvard would, I think, be ashamed that a school to which they gave the motto ‘Veritas: Christo et Ecclesiae’ would allow itself to be used in any way whatsoever as the staging for Satanic worship.”
Faust responded to the mayhem Monday, after it boiled over during the weekend, and said the school has to uphold students’ rights to free expression and speech, even in the face of extreme controversy such as this. “The decision by a student club to sponsor an enactment of this ritual is abhorrent; it represents a fundamental affront to the values of inclusion, belonging and mutual respect that must define our community. It is deeply regrettable that the organizers of this event, well aware of the offense they are causing so many others, have chosen to proceed with a form of expression that is so flagrantly disrespectful and inflammatory,” she said. “Nevertheless, consistent with the University’s commitment to free expression, including expression that may deeply offend us, the decision to proceed is and will remain theirs.”
Harvard Extension School officials also made clear that they do not endorse the views or activities of any independent student organization such as this one. “But we do support the rights of our students and faculty to speak and assemble freely,” they said.
In reaction to the Black Mass, Boston’s Archdiocese said Cambridge students are organizing an hour of “Adoration and Benediction in reparation for offenses against the Holy Eucharist,” close to where the Satanic demonstration will take place, at St. Paul Parish in Harvard Square. Faust said she would attend that holy ceremony.
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