A Harvard chaplain says a student group's plans to re-enact a satanic black mass on campus has elicited a strong response, and he is encouraging the Catholic community to engage in prayer and witness.

Fr. Michael Drea, senior chaplain at the Harvard Catholic Student Association, told CNA on May 8 that he has seen "a huge groundswell from Catholics on campus, as well as alumni" protesting the black mass re-enactment, which the priest characterized as "absolutely ludicrous" and extremely offensive.

A black mass is a sacrilegious ceremony that invokes Satan and mocks the Catholic Mass. Connected to witchcraft and demonic worship, it involves the desecration of the Eucharist, often by stealing a consecrated host from a Catholic Church and using it in a profane sexual ritual.

The Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club is hosting the controversial May 12 event, which it described as a "performance" that is "designed to be educational and is preceded by a lecture that provides the history, context, and origin of the Black Mass."

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, updates to the initial reports said that Dua later retracting her statement, saying that there had been a miscommunication and no consecrated host would be used.

The Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club also denied that a consecrated host would be present, saying that a piece of bread would be used instead.

"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," the group said.

Harvard Extension School said May 7 that it "does not endorse the views or activities of any independent student organization. But we do support the rights of our students and faculty to speak and assemble freely." According to the school, other cultural practices explored by the club will be a Shinto tea ceremony, a Shaker exhibition, and a Buddhist presentation on meditation.

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 Archdiocese of Boston strongly opposed the plans for the event in a May 8 statement expressing "deep sadness" and asking the university to reconsider.

"In a recent statement, Pope Francis warned of the danger of being naïve about or underestimating the power of Satan, whose evil is too often tragically present in our midst," the archdiocese said, noting the Church's clear teaching against Satanic worship and the danger of participating in such activities.

Fr. Drea said that he has received an outpouring of support, along with many emails from alumni around the country expressing outrage at the event.

One such letter was sent to university president Drew G. Faust from Harvard graduate Father Roger Landry, who now serves as national chaplain for Catholic Voices USA. He said in the letter that this is "the first time in my life I'm really embarrassed to be associated with Harvard."

Harvard would never associate itself with an independent student organization that was re-enacting a Koran burning or "the lynchings of African Americans or homophobic attacks or violence against women," he charged, and neither should it permit a sacrilegious and desecrating ceremony mocking the Catholic faith.

Fr. Drea told CNA that holding a black mass on campus shows "a complete lack of respect" for the Catholic faith.

"It's a matter of hatred," he said. "It's an affront to our Catholic sensibilities."

"For anyone to try to veil this under the guise of academic freedom is sadly mistaken and misinformed."

With numerous calls for the university to change its mind, the priest said he is still hopeful that the event will not take place.

However, if the event does occur, Fr. Drea has encouraged students to remain prayerful and calm. Rather than an attitude of confrontation, he emphasized the need to seek God's grace in order to be "defenders of our faith and the sacramental life."

"We need to be strong and committed in articulating the teachings of our faith," especially regarding the Eucharist, which is the source and summit of Catholic belief, he stressed, citing the Second Vatican Council.

With this aim in mind, the Catholic community is planning a Holy Hour at 8 p.m. May 12, to coincide with the black mass. The Holy Hour will take place at St. Paul's Church, the university parish and Catholic campus ministry center on the edge of campus where Fr. Drea serves as pastor.

Fr. Drea said the Holy Hour will allow students to "focus on the goodness of our Eucharistic Lord" and ask for the strength to be true witnesses and ambassadors for Him.

The priest said he is praying that every Catholic of good will in the Harvard community will be there. He added that the chaplain at nearby MIT has reached out in support and may also hold a prayer event.

Members of the Catholic community can draw hope and strength from realizing that Christ has already won the ultimate victory, Fr. Drea encouraged.

Evil is truly present in the world, he acknowledged. "But we know that Christ's truth triumphs always."