Harvard (Extension School), the Black Mass, and the Not-Quite Satanists

All day, the Catholic blogosphere – in particular the corner of it housed at the multifaith website Patheos – has been buzzing about the announcement that the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club was planning to hold a "re-enactment of a 'satanic black mass' performed by the Satanic Temple" (according to the ad), at the Queens Head Pub in Memorial Hall in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on May 12.

You might chalk this one up to just more anti-Catholic hijinks from academia, except that reports began to circulate that the Temple planned to use a Consecrated Host in the ceremony, which is essentially an inverted parody and denigration of a Catholic Mass.

For those who don't know, in the Catholic faith, once a wafer is consecrated by a priest in good standing with the Church, it becomes – despite outward or even microscopic appearances – the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ.

So, to faithful Catholics, mishandling or desecrating one in any way is tantamount to doing it to Christ Himself. Some faiths may truck entirely in symbols and signs, and the Church has those, but when it comes to the seven Sacraments, of which Communion or the Holy Eucharist is one, they're considered to be real, to be what they claim, and to do exactly what the Church says they do.

Breitbart News also picked up the story, driven largely by a report in Campus Reform, and the hard work and perseverance of Patheos Catholic editor Elizabeth "The Anchoress" Scalia, who made numerous phone calls to try to ascertain whether the Host in question had been consecrated (and pilfered somehow from a church) or whether it was still just a wafer.

The answers were slow in coming and contradictory, with a spokesperson for the Temple first confirming that a Consecrated Host would be used. However, in a later conversation with Scalia, Temple bigwig Lucien Greaves (a.k.a. former Harvard student Doug Mesner) said that was not the case.

According to an interview conducted with Mesner at Vice.com, the Satanic Temple isn't the place to go if you really want to seriously worship Lucifer (or any other supernatural being). Mesner sees its mission more as poking religion in the eye and challenging its place in the public square by insisting that Old Scratch also gets a seat at the table (hence the group's support of a fairly ludicrous-looking statue of Satan and some adoring youngsters at the Oklahoma State Capital, to keep company with a plaque containing the Biblical Ten Commandments).

As Mesner tells Vice writer Shane Bugbee, "While the original thinking was that the Satanic Temple needed to hold to some belief in a supernatural entity known as 'Satan,' none of us truly believed that. I helped develop us into something we all do truly believe in and wholeheartedly embrace: an atheistic philosophical framework that views 'Satan' as a metaphorical construct by which we contextualize our works.

"We've moved well beyond being a simple political ploy and into being a very sincere movement that seeks to separate religion from superstition and to contribute positively to the cultural dialogue."

Apparently, for the Temple, "contributing positively to the cultural dialogue" consists of taking the "source and summit" of the Catholic faith, the Eucharist, and using it in some sort of quasi-historical/theatrical evening of entertainment.

Or, as DaTechGuy blog said in an extensive post (referring to some other recent cultural events), "The Harvard Cultural Studies group is hosting an event on campus that includes a Satanic black mass from a group that claims not to actually believe in Satan, never performed a black mass, and when called on to explain the university's position, equated a black mass to a Shinto tea ceremony and Buddhist meditation."

It is interesting that both the tea ceremony and the meditation seem to be harmless bits of cultural appropriation, if such a concept exists on campuses these days after the recent flap over American students wearing American flags in America – or at least California – on Cinco de Mayo. (How has Irish culture survived all these decades of negative St. Pat's Day stereotyping? Some folks are made of sterner stuff, it seems.)

So, after playing nice with Shinto and Buddhism, why is the Cultural Studies Club apparently going out of its way to kick Catholicism where it hurts?

Catholic blogger Mark Shea has a theory, writing (but before being told the Host in question would not be consecrated): 

Demonstrating once again the back-handed compliment that the devil always pays to Jesus Christ, the blasphemy is directed, not toward Zeus, Quetzelcoatl or Mars, but toward the one true God. In turn, blasphemy always destroys not God, who cannot be harmed, but the blasphemer, who makes himself utterly small when God desires to exalt him and give him joy.

So tragic. Pray for the poor souls who are opening themselves to very dark things with this act. Also, pray for Harvard, which would never think of allowing acts of blasphemy targeting Jews or Muslims, but which casually embraces the Last Acceptable Prejudice.

According to the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club, it's a case of no harm, no foul.

In a statement, it said: 

We are hosting a re-enactment of a historical event known as a black mass. The performance is designed to be educational and is preceded by a lecture that provides the history, context and origin of the black mass. While a piece of bread is used in the re-enactment, the performance unequivocally does not include a consecrated host.

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 performance is part of a larger effort to explore religious facts that continue to influence contemporary culture.

Perhaps the most entertaining commentary on the whole affair came from Patheos blogger Thomas L. McDonald in his piece called "Real Satanists Don't Send Press Releases." It runs down the history of the Satanic Temple; what passes for modern Satanism; and one of its now-deceased leading lights, Anton LaVey (a.k.a. Howard Levy), founder of the Church of Satan, along with late 19th-century/early 20th-century English occultist Aleister Crowley.

McDonald writes of LaVey: 

He cobbled together an asinine philosophy from scraps of Nietzsche, Ayn Rand, and a book called Might is Right by Ragnar Redbeard. It’s all the usual will to power, do as thy wilt, fascistic, watered-downed Crowleyite hokum designed to empty pockets and get women naked. (Say what you will about Aleister Crowley, but the man was no idiot and he took things seriously. He would have eaten these frauds for breakfast.)

In other words, American neo-Satanism is all just a big act from people who want attention. I’ve known the type from my days in the religious wilderness, and they tend to have above average intelligence and below average emotional maturity. They would be the cleverest 16-year-old in any room, which would be just fine if they weren’t in their 30s and 40s.

The problem, however, is that their deep ignorance and hatred has left them stumbling around in a very serious, very dark place.

And even though the Satanic Temple is a fraud, Satanism is quite real. It’s just that real Satanists don’t advertise the fact.

More as we have it...


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