What to make of the news that the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club has teamed up with a Satanic Temple and is to “host a re-enactment of a historical event known as a Black Mass” today at 8.30 pm at the Queen’s Head Pub in Harvard? According to a spokesman for the event, “The performance is designed to be educational and is preceded by a lecture [provided by the Temple’s Satanists]) that provides the history, context and origin of the Black Mass.” It seems that these privileged young people from one of America’s most prestigious universities don’t realise that they are playing with a deadly fire.
Even though the club rejects any suggestion that it will use a consecrated Host and is insistent that “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”, I imagine that Screwtape must be guffawing with laughter and thinking, “educational purposes”, “different cultural practices” – we could hardly have done better ourselves or dreamed up a more effective way of leading young souls astray and showing contempt for our Enemy at the same time.
Concerned Catholics have been swift to respond, according to the National Catholic Register, and protesting that this “historical re-enactment of Satan worship denigrates Catholic practice and belief and promotes evil.” A Black Mass – even using an unconsecrated Host – is still a parody of the Mass, making a mockery of the central and most sacred act of Catholic worship. Fr Michael Drea, senior chaplain of the Harvard Catholic chaplaincy, has been strongly critical of the university for allowing the event to proceed “under the guise of academic freedom, without a real sense of respect for the dignity of the Catholic faith.”
The Harvard Extension School has lamely responded to this by saying that the Black Mass is part of a series of events including a Shinto tea ceremony, a Shaker exhibition and a Buddhist presentation on meditation. But none of these are remotely on a level with the sacred significance of the Mass, which for Catholics is the supreme sacrament of God’s love for mankind and for which countless martyrs have died for over the centuries. In response to the news, the Harvard Catholic community plans to host a Eucharistic Holy Hour at St Paul’s church in Harvard Square from 8-9 pm tonight in reparation and to “focus on the gift of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist.” (By coincidence the name of the president of Harvard is Drew Gilpin Faust.)
The one thing Catholics know on the subject of evil, and which is brought home to them in the Easter Vigil liturgy every year, is that they must never dally or try to debate with demons; they must always and instantly reject Satan and all his works. You definitely don’t playact a satanic ritual for allegedly educational or cultural purposes – which would be effectively served in an ordinary lecture or discussion on the subject. As Pope Francis, who has often alluded to the Devil in his homilies, reminded his listeners recently, “Satan exists….He never gives up tempting us” and “we must learn from the Gospel how to fight [him].”
As if to underline the gravity and the reality of evil, the Telegraph reported on 9th May that a conference entitled “Exorcism and Prayers of Liberation” has been organised in Rome to train about 200 priests from around the world to help people who believe they are possessed. According to Giuseppe Ferrari, one of the organisers, there is an ever-growing need for priests to be trained to perform exorcisms because of the increasing number of lay people tempted to dabble in black magic, paganism and the occult. “We live in a disenchanted society, a secularised world that thought it was being emancipated, but where religion is being thrown out, the window is being opened to superstition and irrationality” he warned. Another priest, Fr Louis Wesly Merosne, said that in his experience, praying the Rosary with conviction is a powerful weapon against Satan.
I am reminded of the words of St Augustine: “Knowledge without love is diabolism.” The Cultural Studies Club might solemnly think it is offering a rich experience or extending knowledge by enacting a Black Mass; actually it is opening the door to something much more sinister, something literally diabolic.
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