A Harvard student group organizing a re-enactment of a satanic black mass on campus has dismissed Catholic critics, calling their views arrogant and their objections ignorant and intolerant.
“Satanists have a ritual that they perform for their own affirmative reasons,” the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club told CNA May 8, adding that these reasons “currently have absolutely nothing to do with Catholicism beyond the symbols themselves.”
“Offense is anachronistic and based on intolerance and ignorance about the practice (of) Satanism.”
The club has faced controversy since it announced its plans to host a re-enactment of a satanic black mass on campus May 12. It described the ceremony as an educational event that is part of a larger series exploring various cultural practices.
The group said objections that have been raised to event are “closed-minded,” arguing that it is “paranoia” to think the satanic rituals and practices are designed to degrade the Catholic faith.
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.
Early media reports included confirmation from Priya Dua, a spokesperson for The Satanic Temple, which is staging the event, that a consecrated host would be used. However, both the temple and the Cultural Studies Club later insisted that the statement was inaccurate, and only a plain piece of bread would be used.
Announcements of the black mass prompted a deluge of complaint from Catholics who argued that the event is not educational, but sacrilegious and disrespectful.
The event has drawn strong opposition from the Archdiocese of Boston and many individuals in the Harvard community. Critics argue that the university would never permit a student organization re-enacting a Koran burning or lynchings of African Americans and should similarly refuse to allow a sacrilegious ceremony mocking the Catholic faith.
In a general email responding to numerous questions presented about the event, the Cultural Studies Club said that it was not seeking to offend people but instead hoping to “work towards diminishing misconceptions” about Satanists, whom it described as misunderstood and marginalized.
“The Black Mass began as a propagandistic literary device to justify brutal purges against alleged witches. This conspiracy of witches, or Satanists, has never actually existed,” the group asserted. “The idea originated with the Church itself and has become a staple of the mythology concerning Satanism. The Black Mass has been adopted as a symbolic revolt against arbitrary authority, not a focused assault upon Catholic faith.”
The group acknowledged that the black mass is “inspired by, or derivative of” the Catholic Mass, but insisted that it is not intended as a mocking or “hateful display.” Rather, it said, the satanic black mass is “an affirmation of a set beliefs whose intent is not to marginalize anyone, nor incite violence, nor intimidate others.”
The Cultural Studies Club told CNA that “there is no formal doctrine” in Satanism, which allows “for a wide range of behavior” and is largely defined by its “outsider status” and ideas of individualism.
However, it also argued that “it is an outright lie to claim that the Black Mass ceremony as currently performed by Satanists, in general, is done with the intent of mocking Catholicism.”
“That position is arrogant and egocentric,” the group charged, suggesting that the black mass “has constructive meaning for the people who perform those actions” and that the offense of Catholics is not justification for stopping the event.
While there is “no one set of Satanic beliefs,” the club asserted, Satanists do not believe in Satan as an actual person, like many religious organizations do, but rather believe that “Satan is a metaphorical construct who represents the struggle against tyrannical authority.”
The source of Catholics’ offense, the group suggested, “is founded on differing interpretations of symbols and an insistence that one’s own interpretation is universal.” The group insisted that it “is presumptuous and inaccurate to insist that this event is designed as an expression of ridicule.”
In response to the black mass, the Catholic community at Harvard has announced that it is holding a Eucharistic Holy Hour on the evening of May 12 to correspond with the scheduled satanic event.
Senior chaplain Fr. Michael Drea said this will allow students to “focus on the goodness of our Eucharistic Lord” and seek the grace to be true “defenders of our faith and the sacramental life.”
Alejandro Bermudez contributed to this report.