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A Black Mark on an Ivy League

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The word Catholic means “universal”. As I've often noted with non-Catholics, the Catholic Church embraces this title because it can be found everywhere in the world, and has an seemingly infinite amount of types of worship and traditions. Over this past week, however, there was quite a scandalous story about an event being held at America's most prestigious institute of higher learning: Harvard University. Rather than embrace all types of worship, Harvard scheduled an event dedicated to mocking religious worship.

Originally, a “black mass” had been scheduled on the campus of Harvard University for Monday evening. In a religious context, a “black mass” can mean one of two things: a Catholic “requiem mass” held in honor of the dead, where the clergy all dress in black. Alternately, it can mean a satanic ritual done to mock a traditional Roman Catholic mass. In this type of ceremony, Catholic mass customs are inverted to glorify the Devil and blaspheme God. A consecrated Eucharistic host is stolen from a Catholic church in order to desecrate it during the ceremony, which includes using it in a profane sexual ritual, or defecating and urinating on it.

Shockingly, Harvard University was prepared to give their approval for this sick display. Amid massive public outcry, the “black mass” has been called off at Harvard – but not canceled. Rather, organizers plan to re-schedule it at another location off-campus. What's very sad is that the event was only called off after massive protests from Catholic students and faculty at Harvard. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston held a Eucharistic procession that began at a Massachusetts Institute of Technology chapel in Cambridge Monday evening, followed by a holy hour at St. Paul Church in Harvard Square. Hundreds of marchers proceeded from MIT to St. Paul Church for the holy hour, clutching rosary beads, crosses, and pictures of Jesus. Jon Swedberg, 64, of Taunton, Mass., noted: “I find [the black mass] offensive as a Catholic”. He added: “I find it goes directly against the faith of my church, the faith of the church of my choice.”

Harvard University failed to realize this planned event is not a “religious event” or “cultural display”, but rather the opposite – the “black mass” has always been done as a mockery of religion, and to hurt and offend members of the Catholic faith. The actions of the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club can no more be justified as a “cultural study” than if they were to sponsor a “re-enactment” of the Ku Klux Klan lynching black Americans, or a NAZI party gathering that burned Torahs. Although it seems the “Cultural Studies Club” doesn't understand this simple fact, thousands of others associated with Harvard University do. In fact, nearly 60,000 students, alumni, and faculty members signed a petition against holding the services on campus, according to a statement released by Harvard Rhodes scholar Aurora Griffin, a former president of the Harvard Catholic Student Association. He noted: “I am ashamed that my university is allowing such a hateful event to happen under the auspices of ‘education’”. Harvard University president Drew Faust said in a May 12 statement that she considered the event to be “abhorrent” and that the culture studies club “represents a fundamental affront to the values of inclusion, belonging and mutual respect that must define our community”, but that she nevertheless would allow it to proceed under the guise of “freedom of expression”. It was only after the huge public outcry that this planned black mass was canceled at the 11th hour.

In any case, the Cultural Studies Club has not responded to an inquiry asking why it had decided to move the black mass. They now state it will take place at an “undisclosed private location”. Like a news report earlier this year about a Chicago area restaurant creating a “ghost burger” to mock the Catholic sacrament of Holy Communion, this needs to be a wakeup call to Catholics nationwide. There is a very vocal element of anti-Catholicism alive and well in the United States, even in states that are nominally very “Catholic” on paper like Massachusetts We must never let our guard down.

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