UPDATED: May 11, 2014, at 2:37 a.m.
Despite condemnation by the Archdiocese of Boston, Harvard Chaplains, student religious groups, and many alumni and students on campus, an organization of Harvard Extension School students will move forward with plans to host a staging of a satanic “black mass” on campus on Monday.
A black mass ceremony is a ritual performed by satanic cults to parody the Catholic Church Mass. Historically, the ceremony features a ritual of sacrilege of the Catholic host, or the sacred bread used in the Eucharist, which becomes the body of Jesus Christ upon consecration.
The performance, which will take place Monday night at Cambridge Queen’s Head Pub in the basement of Memorial Hall, is organized by the Extension School’s Cultural Studies Club with help from the New York-based Satanic Temple.
The ceremony will model the script of the black mass articulated in novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans’ work “Là-Bas,” although a consecrated host will not be used. In addition, Christopher Robichaud, an ethics and public policy professor at the Kennedy School of Government, will speak at the demonstration to frame the event in terms of religious liberty and tolerance, according to the club.
In a statement posted to the school’s website on Friday, Extension School Dean of Students and Alumni Affairs Robert H. Neugeboren '83 said that though the School does not endorse activities of individual student organizations, it will “support the rights of our students and faculty to speak and assemble freely.” The statement followed a similar post on the Extension School’s website on Wednesday that affirmed the club’s right to host the event.
“We do not agree with the [Cultural Studies Club’s] decision to stage an event that is so deeply disturbing and offensive to many in the Harvard community and beyond,” the statement read. “While we support the ability of all our students to explore difficult issues, we also encourage them to do so in ways that are sensitive to others.”
To address concerns about the event, the Extension School ensured that the reenactment would not make use of a consecrated host and also encouraged Cultural Studies Club student leaders to “foster a positive dialogue” with Catholic student organizations, according to Neugeboren’s statement.
The club said that the events were motivated by educational purposes only in the statement posted on the Extension School’s website Wednesday.
“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 club said.
Several on- and off-campus groups have raised objections to the event.
The Harvard Chaplains, a group of religious and spiritual leaders who, according to their website, represent a diverse array of spiritual and religious practices, expressed concern about the event, which they said is a reenactment of a ritual that mocks foundational beliefs held by many Christians about the importance of Holy Communion.
“Just because something may be permissible does not make it right or good,” Reverend Luther Zeigler, President of the Harvard Chaplains, wrote in a statement to The Crimson on behalf of the Chaplains. “Whether or not these students are ‘entitled’ to express themselves through the ceremony of a ‘black mass’ as a matter of law or University policy is a distinct question from whether this is a healthy form of intellectual discourse or community life. We submit it is not.”