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.”
The Archdiocese of Boston, which oversees Catholic churches and schools in the area, also denounced the event.
“This activity separates people from God and the human community, it is contrary to charity and goodness, and it places participants dangerously close to destructive works of evil,” the Archdiocese wrote in a statement earlier in the week.
In response, the Cultural Studies Club wrote in an email to The Crimson that its reenactment should not be seen as offensive.
“The event does not promote hate or incite violence, and it does not silence anyone. The complaints are founded metaphysical concerns, and there is simply a disagreement with regards to how this faith is practiced,” the club wrote.
“The flawed assumption seems to be that because Satan is the representation of evil incarnate for some faiths, that Satanist[s] are part of a hate group and their practice devoted towards denigrating Catholicism,” the organization’s statement continued. “The point of this event is to challenge the stigmatization of marginalized groups.”
With the event scheduled for Monday, some groups have made efforts to try to cancel the event or demonstrate against it.
A petition opposing the event, organized by Matthew R. Menendez ’14, has, according to Menendez, received the signatures of 370 Harvard students and 100 alumni. The petition demands that the University prevent the event from taking place because it “offends all who have faith in Christ” and “promotes contempt for the Catholic faith.”
Menendez, a member of the Harvard Catholic Student Association, said that many Catholics like himself are offended by the event, which he deems hateful and unproductive.
“We found that this is embarrassing to the Harvard community and not only attacks our religion as Catholics in a very direct way, but in no way promotes an open intellectual dialogue,” Menendez said. “There are other ways to educate, and it does not seem that having something that is so hateful fits the mission of Harvard. It is unfair to portray this as an educational or cultural event, when it is a mockery.”
Menendez said that, due to the demonstration, he is not planning on donating to the Senior Gift. He also said that he thinks that the event will have lasting implications for University community.
“It exposes other groups to the possibility of similar hateful speech, and we do not think this is the kind of thing that is conducive to having an intellectual dialogue,” Menendez said.
In response to the “black mass” demonstration, the Archdiocese announced Friday that it plans to hold a prayer vigil on Monday followed by a Eucharistic procession to St. Paul Church, which will subsequently hold a “holy hour.” Harvard College Faith and Action has also scheduled a prayer event in response to the reenactment, according to Olivia J. Krusel '15, the organization’s vice president.
Despite repeated requests for comment, the Cultural Studies Club has not responded to questions about its leadership or membership, although it did say that its formulation required 10 members.
—Staff writer Theodore R. Delwiche can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter @trdelwic.
—Staff writer Alexander H. Patel can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on twitter @alexhpatel.