News outlets and online message boards lit up a few months back with the announcement of Harvard University potentially hosting a Black Mass. The Boston Archdiocese came out against this, and the service was canceled. This blog post is intended as a response to several of my friends asking me my thoughts on the subject, as well as to give a deeper understanding of why Catholics would find the Black Mass offensive.
The Black Mass has come to mean several things. I must first clarify that I am not talking about the pre-Vatican II terminology for a requiem mass (also called a “black Mass” because of the color of the vestments worn by the priest). Rollo Ahmed, in his book The Black Art, gives a definition that sheds some light on why the Black Mass is so offensive. The Black Mass here is understood as “the most important and blasphemous ceremony in the whole performance of black magic...being essentially a perversion of the highest and holiest ceremony of the Church…” (Ahmed, 236). As no definition of the service could be located on the website of the group asked to perform the black mass, this definition will be considered for the rest of this post.
The blasphemies can include a variety of things: something as simple as saying the Mass backwards, to human sacrifice and the use of all sorts of macabre images and instruments during the service (Ahmed, Chapter IV). These claims are also substantiated on a website entitled satansheaven.com. (Warning: following the link provided will give gruesome detailed descriptions of some atrocities associated with the Black Mass.) I cannot bring myself to write out the various blasphemies, but suffice it to say that the entire service is a reversal of everything holy in the Catholic Mass.
The Satanic Temple contacted the Harvard Cultural Studies Group to organize the Black Mass to occur the week of May 11th. Lucien Greaves, the spokesperson for the New York based temple, told Daily News that they do not believe in the supernatural. He was also reported as saying that the group was not planning to use a consecrated host, or provoke the spirit world. This argument is weak at best. It would be like throwing an egg at a wall and then being surprised when the egg broke on the basis of not believing in the existence of the wall. The Boston Archdiocese released a statement against the service including the following:
“For the good of the Catholic faithful and all people, the Church provides clear teaching concerning Satanic worship. 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”.
Beyond the blasphemes of the ritual, there is also clear concern on the part of the Archdiocese for the spiritual well being of all participants.
Many social media comments I have read centered around freedom of speech. Harvard University issued a statement disapproving of the event, but allowed for the freedom of the students to make the decision. Harvard University is well within their rights to promote cultural diversity and understanding of other ideas; however, something as offensive to so many should have never been considered inside the realm of diversity. I highly doubt the student group in question is bringing in somebody from the KKK to give a demonstration of lynching or cross-burning, regardless of what the performers say they believe.
USA Today reported that the Black Mass was canceled on Harvard campus and held off-campus. Is this the type of thing that can now be expected of such a prestigious establishment as Harvard? The event was obviously meant to cause trouble and turmoil. Something as offensive to Christians, blasphemous, spiritually damaging, and revolting as the Black Mass should not be a part of any form of higher learning.
Ahmed, Rollo. The Black Art. London: Senate, 1994.