Cardinal O'Malley of Boston, Blogger Elizabeth Scalia Weigh In on Harvard 'Black Mass' Controversy
As previously reported by Breitbart News, the Harvard Exchange Cultural Studies Club wound up in the middle of a controversy Wednesday when an event announced for May 12 began to look like a serious attempt at denigrating the Catholic Church.
As described in an ad, the Satanic Temple is putting on a performance of a so-called "black mass," a parody of the Catholic Mass, and it was being said that an actual Consecrated Host (which is, to Catholics, the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ under the appearance of bread) was going to be used in the exhibition. Such a Host (rather than a simple unconsecrated wafer, which would be to Catholics nothing but bread) would have to be taken illicitly from a church following its consecration by a priest.
Whether or not the Satanic Temple takes that belief seriously (and it appears they don't take many religious beliefs seriously, even Satanism), using a Consecrated Host would have been a deliberate insult and provocation to faithful Catholics.
One of the people most responsible for running down the story is Elizabeth Scalia, a Catholic blogger known as "The Anchoress," who posts at the Catholic Channel of the multifaith website Patheos.
Breitbart News contacted Scalia by email after her long day of reporting to get some clarification on the issues at hand.
Breitbart News: If this is a "historical re-enactment" that doesn't, as it turns out, involve a Consecrated Host, is it blasphemy or merely theater?
Scalia: As Catholics, we know that "intention matters." That plays into all of this. According to the Harvard Extension, the "re-enactment" is meant to educate and provide "historical context," and to that end there will supposedly be commenting and narration provided during the performance, with no "intent" to actually serve Satan. Harvard compared this to hosting an exposition of a Shinto Tea Ceremony, which is absurd, but that is the level of intellectual distance they purport to be bringing to this, and from their perspective, this is mere theater.
One good question we might ask, then, is "would the Harvard Extension be interested in hosting a Roman Catholic Mass – perhaps one in Latin, with the full smells-and-bells – with accompanying narration and historical context? Performed by a priest, it would be a true consecration; performed by a lay person, it would be a simple demonstration, and yet the invitation to Christ is still there, in some form.
The Satanic Temple folk who are going to preside say this is the first time they've ever done this, that there is no supernatural intent to it – since they profess not to believe in supernaturalism – so they see no blasphemy. If it sounds confused and contradictory, it is, but then, Satan loves to confuse.
Still, any time a black mass is performed – with or without the use of a Consecrated Host – one has to wonder whether opportunistic dark forces may come into play. Just as a demonstrated Catholic Mass still issues an kind of invitation to Christ, this black mass will issue a kind of invitation, too, but against Christ. I am fearful for these people's sake.
And of course, as a believer, I see this as nothing but sacrilege. Believing as I do in the "visible and invisible," I don't see how one can entertain these rituals, even as an "academic exercise,"without giving grave insult to the Creator, and potentially inviting in the destroyer. Again, I am fearful for these people.
Breitbart News: How careful should Catholics – and journalists of all types – be when they see a story like this?
Scalia: Well, I admit I was cautious. When I showed it to our bloggers, I stressed that we really needed to get some info from the horses' mouths, so to speak, before writing. The core issue, though, was whether or not we wanted to give publicity to these organizations, particularly when that is often all they are looking for. The Satanic Temple seems to be less about supernatural engagement than about secu-atheist-politico pot-stirring with a cup of Satan to create interest, and they really like publicity. They are Satanists with a PR flack!
Had not the question of a Consecrated Host being desecrated arisen, we wouldn't have touched it. Once that question emerged though, we had a responsibility to look into it and address it.
Breitbart News: What, in your opinion, was the source of confusion over the Host?
Scalia: I can only hazard a guess. Perhaps some combination of opportunism and excitement mixed with ignorance, or a genuine need to hide once things got hot.
Breitbart News: Should Cardinal O'Malley, head of the Archdiocese of Boston (where Harvard and Harvard Extension are located) comment in any way?
Scalia: Well, I am a nobody, and I feel strange being asked this, but since you have – the job of the Bishop is to teach, and this seems to me to be a prime opportunity to explain the theology behind both the Holy Mass and the Real Presence. It is a chance to explain why a black mass in any form is deeply insulting and hurtful to the Catholic community, and that, if involving a Consecrated Host, a grave offense to Almighty God.
I know people don't care if they offend God anymore, but we are supposedly living in an era of unsurpassed "tolerance" and "sensitivity." It's not a bad thing for Catholics to ask, "What about us? If the Harvard Extension would not invite someone to burn a Koran while offering 'historical context' then I'm not sure why they get a pass for this."
And, too, I hope Cardinal O'Malley will ask faithful Catholics to pray with Christlike generosity for the sake of the community of Cambridge and the Boston area, and, most especially, for the sake of these people involved. This is a matter of souls and salvation after all, and most of all, about our Lord.
Breitbart News: What is your overall impression of the entire affair?
Scalia: I think it's demonstrative of how comfortable we as a society have become with lying to ourselves and being lied to. Harvard Extension can convince itself – and others – that all it's doing is hosting an intellectual exercise; the Temple folks can convince themselves, and some, that they're not really tempting a supernatural, or etheric plane; but we know that there are "things seen and unseen" constantly at work.
It is so much easier to believe these over-rationalized-into-fantasy lies than to do the hard work of saying "no" to someone, or of respecting others, even if it involves some self-denial. It's a human condition, common to us all, but it seems to me to be in ascendance. The easier way always is.
Shortly after this exchange, the Archdiocese of Boston issued a statement:
The Catholic community in the Archdiocese of Boston expresses its deep sadness and strong opposition to the plan to stage a “black mass” on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge.
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.
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. We call upon all believers and people of good will to join us in prayer for those who are involved in this event, that they may come to appreciate the gravity of their actions, and in asking Harvard to disassociate itself from this activity.
Here's an excerpt from the Vatican's summary of the comments by Pope Francis referenced in the Archdiocese statement, which took place during one of his homilies at daily Mass on April 11 at Casa Santa Marta, his residence at the Vatican:
In his homily at Holy Mass, Pope Francis focused his reflection on the Christian's battle against Satan and the reality of the devil in the world today. "The devil also exists in the 21st century, and we need to learn from the Gospel how to battle against him"; and we must not be "naive" about his ways. In fact, he said, we need to be very aware of the strategies he employs to entrap us. For the devil is not a thing of the past.
In his comments, Pope Francis spoke explicitly about our "battle" with the father of lies. Even "Jesus’ life was a battle: he came to conquer evil, to conquer the prince of this world, to conquer the devil." Jesus battled against the devil, who many times sought to tempt him. "During his earthly life, he experienced temptation and persecution."
Thus, Pope Francis observed, "we who want to follow Jesus, and who by our baptism have taken to the Lord’s path, must be well aware of this truth: we too are tempted, we too are objects of the demon’s attacks," for "the spirit of evil does not want us to become holy, it does not us to bear witness to Christ, it does not want us to be disciples of Christ."
The Pope then asked: "What does the spirit of evil do to snatch us away from Jesus’ path through temptation?" He replied: "the devil’s temptations have three main characteristics, and we have to be aware of them in order to not to fall into his trap."
First, "the temptation begins subtly but then it grows and increasingly grows stronger." Then "it infects someone else… it spreads to another and seeks to take root in the community."Finally, "to calm the soul, it seeks to justify itself." In short: it "grows, spreads and justifies itself."