It’s still on, even though Harvard University has come under an avalanche of public criticism for hosting it. Tonight’s satanic Black Mass “re-enactment” may be sans consecrated host — at least, that’s the public position of those staging it now — but the offense remains. Those offended include Harvard University president Drew Faust, who called it “abhorrent”:
A narrator will explain the history of the rituals to the expected crowd of 100 or so, according to the Satanic Temple, a New York-based group.
“Our purpose is not to denigrate any religion or faith, which would be repugnant to our educational purposes,” the students group said in a statement, “but instead to learn and experience the history of different cultural practices.”
The student club said it also plans to host Shinto tea ceremony, a Shaker exhibit and a presentation on Buddhist meditation.
But Harvard University President Drew Faust called the plans to hold the black Mass “abhorrent” and a “fundamental affront 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,” Faust continued.
Well, if Faust finds it “abhorrent” and a “fundamental affront,” why not force its cancellation? The ceremony — excuse me, performance art — will take place in a pub on university grounds, and the club is affiliated with the university. Harvard claims it can’t do anything about it on the grounds of intellectual freedom, but local priests scoff at that notion, especially given the intentionally sacrilegious nature of the black mass. One priest wondered whether Harvard would allow a re-enactment of a KKK ceremony as educational:
The educational argument for conducting the ceremony is nonsense. One can have a lecture on the practices of satanists without actually conducting their rituals. Are Harvard students so obtuse that they couldn’t learn about Aztec history without watching a human sacrifice re-enactment, to use just one example? This is just an attempt to attack Christianity and the Catholic and Orthodox faiths in particular by conducting a denigration of their worship practices. If Harvard feels that this qualifies as educational freedom, I wonder what would happen if their extension club mocked Islam in a similar manner. I’d bet they wouldn’t be nearly as sanguine about that kind of campus event, nor should they be.
Francis Clooney, a professor at the Harvard School of Divinity, offered similar thoughts in the school paper:
The club explains: “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. This performance is part of a larger effort to explore religious facets that continue to influence contemporary culture.”
If only the organizers had said more on which “religious facets that continue to influence contemporary culture” are highlighted in the performance of a black mass. This is, after all, a practice that, as far as its murky history reveals, seems often to have included the inversion and blaspheming of Catholic sacramental practice, as well as actual worship of Satan. Will these dimensions be present in Monday’s enactment? And what’s next? The endeavor “to learn and experience the history of different cultural practices” might in another year lead to historical reenactments of anti-Semitic or racist ceremonies familiar from Western history or parodies that trivialize Native American heritage or other revivals of cultural and religious insult.
Such events would surely raise legitimate concerns among all of us at Harvard; no one should be surprised if Catholics are concerned right now.
The Archdiocese of Boston plans to hold its own events tonight in opposition to the black mass:
In response to the “black mass” demonstration, the Archdiocese announced Friday that it plans to hold a prayer vigil on Monday followed by a Eucharistic procession to St. Paul Church, which will subsequently hold a “holy hour.” Harvard College Faith and Action has also scheduled a prayer event in response to the reenactment, according to Olivia J. Krusel ’15, the organization’s vice president.
In a bit of ironic juxtaposition, the Washington Post expressed a little surprise over the weekend that Pope Francis talks about the devil and Hell:
Largely under the radar, theologians and Vatican insiders say, Francis has not only dwelled far more on Satan in sermons and speeches than his recent predecessors have, but also sought to rekindle the Devil’s image as a supernatural entity with the forces of evil at his beck and call.
Last year, for instance, Francis laid hands on a man in a wheelchair who claimed to be possessed by demons, in what many saw as an impromptu act of cleansing. A few months later, he praised a group long viewed by some as the crazy uncles of the Roman Catholic Church — the International Association of Exorcists — for “helping people who suffer and are in need of liberation.”
“ ‘But Father, how old-fashioned you are to speak about the Devil in the 21st century,’ ” Francis, quoting those who have noted his frequent mentions of the Devil, said last month while presiding over Mass at the Vatican’s chapel in St. Martha’s House. He warned those gathered on that chilly morning to be vigilant and not be fooled by the hidden face of Satan in the modern world. “Look out because the Devil is present,” he said.
Since its foundation, the church has taught the existence of the Devil. But in recent decades, progressive priests and bishops, particularly in the United States and Western Europe, have tended to couch Satan in more allegorical terms. Evil became less the wicked plan of the master of hell than the nasty byproduct of humanity’s free will. Even Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, a lofty German theologian, often painted evil with a broad brush.
Enter the plain-talking first pope from Latin America, where mystical views of Satan still hold sway in broad areas of the region. During his time as cardinal of Buenos Aires before rising to the papacy, Francis was known for stark warnings against “the tempter” and “the father of lies.” Now, his focus on the Devil is raising eyebrows even within the normally unquestioning walls of Vatican City.
“Pope Francis never stops talking about the Devil; it’s constant,” said one senior bishop in Vatican City who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely. “Had Pope Benedict done this, the media would have clobbered him.”
Perhaps it’s because it’s becoming more necessary.
Update: Looks like the pressure forced the group to move the event off of Harvard’s campus — but they’re having trouble finding a host:
The Harvard Extension School Cultural Studies Club said it will relocate its reenactment of a Satanic black mass ritual, scheduled for Monday night, to an off-campus site, citing in an email that “misinterpretations about the nature of the event were harming perceptions about Harvard and adversely impacting the student community.”
The club wrote in its email that the event will be held at The Middle East nightclub in Central Square at 9:00 p.m. But Clay S. Fernald, the general manager of The Middle East, said Monday evening that the nightclub will not host the event, and that negotiations with the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club had fallen through.
Fernald declined to comment on why negotiations had ended.
The Cultural Studies Club emphasized that Harvard had not asked them to move the event from its previous location, the Cambridge Queen’s Head Pub in the basement of Memorial Hall, and commended the University for affirming its members’ rights to free speech and assembly.
We’ll see where the event ends up, if anywhere at all.
Update: Jim Armstrong, a reporter for Boston’s CBS affiliate, reports that the event has been canceled:
#blackmass at Harvard is cancelled and will not be relocated tonight.
— Jim Armstrong (@JimArmstronger) May 12, 2014
The Harvard extension school club that was sponsoring the black mass says no venue was willing to host, so it's off.
— Jim Armstrong (@JimArmstronger) May 12, 2014
The Satanic Temple still plans to conduct its service somewhere, but the Harvard group has dropped out of the event.
Update: Further confirmation from my cousin Nick Emmons at WHDH in Boston:
Cultural Studies Program: Satanic Temple will stage #BlackMass at private location to “reaffirm their respect for the Satanic faith"
— Nick Emmons WBZ (@NickEmmonsTV) May 12, 2014
Be sure to follow Nick for Boston news.