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Harvard chaplains speak out against Black Mass on campus

Harvard chaplains speak out against Black Mass on campus

Tomorrow evening the Harvard Extension School’s Cultural Studies Club is set to host a re-enactment of a “Black Mass” in association with an organization known as Satanic Temple. The chaplains, in solidarity with their Roman Catholic sisters and brothers who appear to be a target of the event, aim to balance tolerance and pluralism with the spiritual health of the university. The Rev. Luther Zeigler, the Episcopal chaplain at Harvard, has posted the following statement on his blog:

For many Christians, the practice of sharing the bread and the wine of Communion embodies some of our deepest beliefs about humanity’s relationship to the transcendent as reflected in the life and teachings of Jesus. It is for us a sacred rite to be treated with the utmost respect and love. For this reason, many in our community – including especially our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, who appear to be the target of this event – are understandably distraught and hurt when they learn that some of our students believe that an appropriate way to engage in learning about the religious beliefs and practices of others is to denigrate them through a mock performance like a “Black Mass.”

The Harvard Chaplains represent a wide diversity of religious and philosophical perspectives – including most of the major Western and Eastern religious traditions, as well as the perspectives of atheists, agnostics, and those genuinely uncertain about what they believe. One value that we share, however, is a commitment to engaging in discourse about life’s “big questions” in a manner that is open and honest, but also respectful. Our aim is to support the wider Harvard community in framing a thoughtful conversation about issues of meaning and value without the need to vilify or parody those with whom we differ. As chaplains we desire to help the wider community seek mutual understanding about religious matters; but just as importantly, when there is disagreement, as there often is, our hope is that we can learn to disagree in ways that are civil, caring, and supportive of our shared humanity.

We hasten to add that we do not think the issue presented here is primarily one of “academic freedom.” Just because something may be permissible does not make it right or good. 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.

To read the full statement from the Harvard chaplains please visit the Episcopal Chaplaincy at Harvard blog here.


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Eric Bonetti

As I understand it, the Black Mass is not intended as a parody of the Roman Mass, but rather a theological response to it, based on the specific beliefs of Satanism. So while I have no desire to see a Black Mass in person, I am cautious about the rush to codemnation. What about other faith traditions that are, or were, “out there?” The Latter-day Saints, for example. Or Seventh Day Adventists? Indeed, one might argue that that Mass in an Anglo-Catholic parish, like mine, is a parody, as we clearly are not in communion with Rome. Are we prepared to decry other faiths whose services are considered by some to be an outrage?

As Thomas Jefferson said, ““The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” – Notes on the State of Virginia, 1781-82

Murdoch Matthew

Hoo boy. Read this account of the cancelation of the so-called Black Mass, and see where your sympathies lie. The arrogance and presumption of the Roman church, in telling others what they may and may not do, knows no bounds. (Rome considers Anglican orders and masses invalid — but now lacks power to suppress them. The Harvard Anglicans should ask their Roman Catholic brothers and sisters if they’re standing in solidarity with the US nuns now under Vatican attack, or whether homosexuality is still a disorder.)

Yes, local clergy often get along well and recognize the value of one another’s ministries — but every time the ARCIC consultations find common ground, the Vatican shoots them down. They are the True Church, all others are pretenders.

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley said the event was disturbing. The satanic ritual is believed by critics to mock the Roman Catholic religion.

What, precisely, is wrong with mocking the Roman Catholic religion? Especially when done privately, and not in public confrontation. Indeed, the purpose of the event seems to have been educational:

Dani Mellen, 25, of Jamaica Plain, said that she had wanted to attend the black mass. She is not a satanist, but was curious to see how the black mass worked. “I understand it was supposed to be a reenactment of what a satanic mass would have been,” she said. “I’m not totally sure, because I’ve never attended one, but I was excited to because I have a thirst for knowledge.”

The Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club said:

“The Satanic Temple has informed us that they will stage their own black mass ceremony at an undisclosed private location to ‘reaffirm their respect for the Satanic faith and to demonstrate that the most powerful response to offensive speech is to shame those who marginalize others by letting their own words and actions speak for themselves.’ ”

J.C. Fisher has the right of it — why make a fuss about something of passing interest? Why join in RC outrage over what art can be exhibited or ceremonies can be held? Tempest in a teapot — but spilled hot tea will burn.

Gary Paul Gilbert

All this fuss over bread and a mythical Adversary! Which century is this? I would rather they were holding a seminar on Kant, reading poetry, or attending choral evensong, but adults are free in matters of religion.

Who gets to decide what counts as religion in the public square? One person’s religion is another’s superstition. As for the question of parody, some see the eucharist itself as a parody of a Passover seder. And the Church of Rome does not recognize Anglican orders or sacraments, despite how many ARCIC agreements?

The days when Harvard could make students attend chapel are over. There is a free market of religion and nonreligion now.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Luther Zeigler

I’m pleased to report that Harvard University President Drew Faust and Professor Jonathan Walton, the Pusey Minister of Memorial Church, will be joining me and other Harvard chaplains in a “counter-prayer service” of solidarity with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters at St. Paul’s Catholic Church on Harvard Square tomorrow at the same time as the “Black Mass” is being held.


This story seemed one-sided to me, so I tried Googling “Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club black mass” . . . and found very little (except an email address, to ask questions of the group: )

The fact that all the stories Google provided are in (uniformly negative) reaction to the planned event (?), suggests an unorganized group that was *seeking* notoriety.

In that case, making a Big To-Do over this is playing right into their hands. Respectfully, those of us who DO honor the Mass—Christ’s Eucharist—should go about our business of CELEBRATING Christ’s gift of himself (“Body, Blood, Soul & Divinity”, in Roman parlance), and just ignore those who looking to get a rise out of us.

The Risen Christ can MORE than take this—Alleluia!

JC Fisher

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