Catholic bloggers such as Elizabeth Scalia, who is popularly known in the Catholic world as The Anchoress, and others, first uncovered the reality last week that the students of the Harvard University Extension were planning to sponsor what they were calling a "re-enactment" of a so-called "Black Mass," a ritual which is a worship of Satan and a mockery or blasphemy of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the highest prayer of Catholicism. Catholics revere the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, a belief that the Black Mass blasphemes and mocks, desecrating a host and defiling Jesus Christ in what might be characterized as a kind of anti-worship. The public act of blasphemy is as yet slated to take place tonight at a pub on the Harvard campus, the Queen's Head.
Initially, the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club, which is sponsoring the event, and the "Satanic Temple" which will perform the ritual had said that a consecrated host (the Body of Christ), would be used, which would have made the affair even more offensive to Catholics and other Christians than it already is. However, the Harvard Extension now officially says that no consecrated host will be used in the display, and that the University will see to this. In an official statement, Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust called the planned "Black Mass" disgraceful. "The 'black mass' had its historical origins as a means of denigrating the Catholic Church; it mocks a deeply sacred event in Catholicism, and is highly offensive to many in the Church and beyond. 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," Faust said, yet Faust went on to say that the event would not be curtailed despite her power to do so. "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. At the same time, we will vigorously protect the right of others to respond—and to address offensive expression with expression of their own."
Faust went on to say that she plans to attend tonight's planned Eucharistic Holy Hour at St. Paul's Church in Harvard Square, which has been planned to counter the offensive event with a positive expression of prayer and love. "I plan to attend a Eucharistic Holy Hour and Benediction at St. Paul's Church on our campus on Monday evening in order to join others in reaffirming our respect for the Catholic faith at Harvard and to demonstrate that the most powerful response to offensive speech is not censorship, but reasoned discourse and robust dissent," Faust said.
Meanwhile, many in the Harvard community are speaking out against this event and the fact that it is being held on campus itself, including Father Francis X. Clooney, a Catholic priest who is also the Parkman Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School. Father Clooney opined, in part, in The Harvard Crimson that: "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." Father went on to explain that the university has not shown that it understands the difference between other religious ceremonies and what is scheduled to take place this evening. "If only the University had managed to show that it recognizes the potentially great differences between 'a Shinto tea ceremony,' 'a Shaker exhibition,' and this black mass," Father Clooney wrote.
It is unclear, aside from the scheduled Eucharistic procession and Holy Hour, if any counter protests might take place.