Catholic Harvard students, alumni rally against 'black mass'

BRAINTREE -- The Catholic community on campus and alumni of Harvard University have rallied against a planned so-called "black mass" scheduled to be reenacted there next week.

Controversy erupted earlier this week when it was reported that the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club will host the reenactment to be held May 12 at Queens Head Pub in Memorial Hall, on campus. The Satanic Temple, a group known for promoting controversy such as pushing to have a Satan statue built outside the Oklahoma Capitol, will perform what it called a reenactment -- said to be an "inverted" recreation of the Catholic Mass.

A statement from the Archdiocese of Boston had encouraged prayer and dialogue to ask that Harvard disassociate itself from the event.

The Harvard Catholic community and alumni responded as the statement word of the event hit social media and the press May 7.

Senior Catholic chaplain on campus at Harvard, Father Michael E. Drea, condemned the event and invited the Catholic community of the university to a Eucharistic Holy Hour and Benediction at St. Paul's Church, at the same time of the evening as the reenactment was to take place.

"As we celebrate these beautiful days of the Eastertide and give thanks for the gift of redemption that our Lord Jesus Christ won for us by conquering sin and death once, for all, it pains me to write to you today in order to comment on some distressing news," Father Drea said.

He said the "black mass" mocks the "Holy Sacrifice of the Mass -- the center of our faith and worship."

"As the University attempts to veil this 'presentation' under the guise of 'academic freedom and expression', people of good will recognize it for what it truly is: an act of hatred and ridicule toward the Catholic Church and her faithful," Father Drea said.

The Satanic Temple had reported having a consecrated host to use in the ceremony, but later stated publicly that it did not have a consecrated host and did not intend to offend any particular religion.

"As Senior Catholic Chaplain, it is my duty to offer my pastoral support to all in our community. And so, I call on the entire Harvard Catholic community to respond to this egregious action as our Lord Jesus would: with prayer and calm. We pray for all associated with this act that they may turn away from evil and be converted to the Truth of Christ in their lives. We pray as well for spiritual strength from our Heavenly Father that will guide us through this time of testing for us all," Father Drea said.

Father Roger Landry, a priest of the Diocese of Fall River and Harvard alumnus, sent Harvard President Drew G. Faust an open letter urging her to stop the event outright.

"I am writing to ask you to use your office to intervene to shut down the terribly ill-advised and totally insensitive Satanic Mass that's supposed to take place on Monday, May 12 at the Queens Head Pub within Memorial Hall," Father Landry said in his letter.

He called assertions in public statements from the Harvard Extension School claiming to support student groups in their right to assemble "silly."

"We all know that if there were to be a seance 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," Father Landry said.

"We also all know that if an "independent student organization" were trying to host an event in which there would be reenacting the burning of a copy of the Koran, it likewise would never be permitted, because Harvard would never associate itself with the desecration of Islam's sacred text or allow its name or property to be used in something that would obviously outrage the spiritual sensibilities of Muslims," he said.

In an earlier statement, the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club had said that, "While a piece of bread is used in the reenactment, the performance unequivocally does not include a consecrated host."

Father Landry expressed doubt in the claim by the club and pointed out that even a symbolic use of an unconsecrated host, amounted to an attack on Catholicism tantamount to the examples he gave regarding Islam and Judaism.

"A ceremony invoking Satan, mocking the Catholic Mass and desecrating what Catholics believe to be the Body of Jesus Christ -- or if, implausibly, an unconsecrated host will be used, something that is at least meant to symbolize the Eucharist -- should be treated in the same way," Father Landry said.

He said claims in a press release saying that Harvard does not "endorse the views or activities of any independent student organization" did not go far enough.

"Harvard simply would never allow itself or its properties to be associated with events that mock the religious beliefs, desecrate the sacred texts, or insult the spiritual sensitivities of Jews or Muslims," he said.

"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 reenacting the lynchings of African Americans or homophobic attacks or violence against women. Harvard would act decisively in those situations, 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," he said.

He said it was not too late for the university to take decisive action, saying that the reputation of Harvard had already incurred local, national and international derision.

"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," Father Landry said.

As the national chaplain at Catholic Voices USA and pastor at Saint Bernadette Parish, Father Landry interacts with the Catholic community on national and local scales. He said about two dozen people asked why his alma mater would allow mockery of Catholicism in such a public event.

"I replied that I can't fathom how this "dear mother" would have lost its capacity to see clearly and promptly how outrageous this is and that for the first time in my life I'm really embarrassed to be associated with Harvard. I'm sure there are many other alumni who are similarly ashamed," he said.