The president of Harvard said that a student group’s plans to hold a re-enactment of a satanic black mass are offensive, disrespectful and inflammatory, but will be allowed to proceed for the sake of free expression.
“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,” university president Drew Faust said in a May 12 statement.
“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,” she continued.
“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.”
However, the president continued, due to the university’s “commitment to free expression,” the student group will be permitted to continue with its ceremony.
Faust said that she plans to attend a Eucharistic Holy Hour and Benediction to be held by the Catholic community at St. Paul's Church on the edge of campus, to coincide with the black mass.
In doing so, Faust said that she hopes 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.”
The announcement that the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club is planning a May 12 re-enactment of a satanic black mass on campus has prompted a wave of complaint from the Harvard community and beyond.
A black mass is a sacrilegious ceremony structured as a parody of the Catholic Mass. Connected to witchcraft and demonic worship, it invokes Satan and demons, often in Latin.
The ceremony is centered around the desecration of the Eucharist, which is generally done by stealing a consecrated host from a Catholic Church and using it in a profane sexual ritual, or defecating and urinating on it.
A spokesperson for The Satanic Temple, which is staging the event, initially told media outlets that a consecrated host would be used, although the temple and the Cultural Studies Club both later denied this, insisting that only a plain piece of bread would be used.
The Archdiocese of Boston has voiced strong opposition to the event, and many individuals in the Harvard community and broader Catholic community have called for it to be canceled. Critics argue that the university would not allow a re-enactment of a Koran burning or lynchings of African Americans for the sake of free expression, and neither should it allow a sacrilegious ceremony mocking the Catholic faith.
The Cultural Studies Club has defended the black mass re-enactment as educational and dismissed critics as demonstrating a close-minded “paranoia.” The group told CNA that those offended by the event hold outdated views “based on intolerance and ignorance,” which are “arrogant and egocentric.”