1. Yes, this is actually happening. Elizabeth Scalia of The Anchoress on Patheos confirmed it by phoning both event coordinators for Harvard and representatives of the Satanic Temple, the organization that is, uh, performing the event itself. She and others in the blogosphere have been keeping abreast of the developments; she has a few other posts on various aspects of it, but this one seems to be the most current as to the situation as such. The event is slated to happen on May 12.
UPDATE: The Black Mass did not take place last night as scheduled, and has been "indefinitely postponed." Due to public outcry, the event was moved to an off-campus location; thereafter, negotiations for a space fell through. So far it appears that this event will not be taking place at all. Thank God.
2. So what, exactly, is happening? There is no nice way of saying what follows, so I ask my readers to bear with me.
A Black Mass, in the strictest theological sense, is a deliberately blasphemous celebration of the Mass. This means it requires either a priest to "celebrate" it, or for someone attending or otherwise assisting with the Black Mass to sacrilegiously steal a Host from a real Mass, often by posing as a communicant. Obviously such sacrilege is not common, whether for Satanic purposes or others, but if you've ever received the Host, left without immediately consuming it, and been given an angry or panicked lecture thereafter, this is why. The Black Mass was one of the forms of witchcraft that developed during the Middle Ages, and was generally said with the purpose of increasing one's wealth or power, obtaining sexual love from someone, or killing someone. Its details need not detain us.
However, there is something else which also goes by the name of the Black Mass, and this owes its origin to modern Satanism rather than to Mediaeval witchcraft; the two should not be confused. Many of the trappings we normally associated with Satanism today (such as the notorious goat-headed Baphomet figure generally treated as a representation of Satan) are fairly recent developments, dating to the last two hundred years or less. Modern forms of Satanism, along the lines of the so-called Church of Satan founded by Anton LaVey, are frequently if not usually atheistic, and their posture of devil-worship is meant primarily as an act of defiance to Christians, rather than to a God in whom they do not believe, still less as an act of devotion to a devil in whom they also do not believe. From what I know of this ritual, it involves among other things the physical destruction and sexual violation of the Blessed Sacrament; an actually consecrated Host is not strictly necessary to them (since they don't believe there is any difference), but it does add a certain social force to the blasphemy to use one, for obvious reasons. The rite which a Harvard cultural studies club is proposing to host is of this latter kind, and, according to Lucien Greaves, a representative of the Satanic Temple, a truly consecrated Host will not be used, contrary to previous reports from the Temple.
If the Satanic Temple is now being quite truthful and accurate, then we may certainly thank God that Christ Himself will not be personally violated in the flesh. That admittedly doesn't help very much, insofar as the intention of the event, and the corresponding corruption of both spirituality and basic human decency that it suggests, are unsolved; but under the circumstances I'll take what I can get.
3. What the actual fuck!? Yeah, pretty much.
4. Why are they doing this? The club in question, and the Satanic Temple, assert that this is a strictly educational event, referring to it as a "re-enactment" (you know, the way people re-enact the Night of the Long Knives). They stated in an e-mail:
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. This performance is part of a larger effort to explore religious facets that continue to influence contemporary culture. (Source.)The claims would be laugh-till-you-cry ridiculous if they were about something that was less utterly sick. The entire and only point of a Black Mass is blasphemy: which, especially in the atheistic form, has no other purpose than to disgust, hurt, and horrify Christians. The little obfuscation about not denigrating "any" religion or faith, as if this were not a specifically anti-Christian and even a specifically anti-Catholic horror, is merely the stupid asshole frosting on the diseased insanity cake. I do also have difficulty in believing either that this is of any great cultural value in itself, given that Satanism 1) has never been a major religious trend in, uh, anywhere ever, and 2) is explicable only in terms of Christianity, so that attending a Christian event (like, for instance, an actual Mass) would have been a better use of their time and attention even from a cooly pragmatic viewpoint.
I am seriously offended, too, that they apparently saw fit to compare this event to things like a Shinto tea ceremony and a Buddhist presentation on meditation. Dear Harvard, there is no comparison between these things. They are cultural developments of religious and philosophical systems in their own right, whose existence is not premised upon the violation of the most sacred beliefs of another religion. None of that is true of Satanism or of the Black Mass in any form.
5. What is being done about this? Ah, there's the rub.
Little can be done, from one perspective. Protests are taking place, naturally, and the Archdiocese of Boston has issued a statement, in which "Are you serious right now? That's gross and wrong" is put in more ecclesiastical language. But college clubs do offensive and unnecessary things all the time -- while I was a student at Maryland, a group of students insisted on having a pornographic movie played at the college's expense, under the banner of "free speech" (which, sorry, but rubbing one out is not technically speech). I admit I entertain no great hopes that Harvard will come to its senses and put a stop to this nauseating piece of lunacy, not on its own initiative anyway.
And from another perspective, everything can be done, because we can pray. Pray for the repentance of the organizers and stagers of this event -- both that they would turn away from this specific act of hatred, and that they would leave Satanism or whatever else they may be participating in for restored fellowship with God; pray for the local Catholic community, whether horrified or angry or grieving or in any other state. It is easy for us to think of prayer as "the least we can do." And it's true that it takes little ostensible effort; which then leaves open the question of why more of us are not advanced in the practice of prayer.
Because the specific act is against the Mass, I am praying a Divine Mercy Chaplet (which is prayed on ordinary Rosary beads), and concluding with the Divine Praises and an Act of Reparation to the Heart of Jesus. You can pray along with the video any time, if you want to, and I've included the texts of the relevant prayers below. (An illustrated instruction on how to say the Divine Mercy Chaplet can be found here.)
The Divine Mercy Chaplet
(On the crucifix)
In the name of the Father + and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
(On the first main bead)
You expired, Jesus, but the source of life gushed forth for souls, and the ocean of mercy opened up for the whole world. O Fount of Life, unfathomable Divine Mercy, envelop the whole world and empty Yourself out upon us.
O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fountain of Mercy for us, I trust in You! (said three times)
(On the first bead of the set of three above the crucifix)
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.
(On the second of the set of three)
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
(On the third of the set of three)
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; He descended into hell; on the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
(On the beads of the five decades: the first prayer on the main bead for each decade, the second prayer repeated on each of the ten beads in it)
Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of Your dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.
For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.
(On the medal or the junction of the cord, after the five decades)
Holy God, holy Mighty One, holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world. (said three times)
Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion -- inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is love and mercy itself. Amen. +
The Divine Praises
Blessed be God.
Blessed be His holy Name.
Blessed be Jesus Christ, true God and true Man.
Blessed be the Name of Jesus.
Blessed be His most Sacred Heart.
Blessed be His most Precious Blood.
Blessed be Jesus in the most holy Sacrament of the altar.
Blessed be the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete.
Blessed be the great Mother of God, Mary most holy.
Blessed be her holy and Immaculate Conception.
Blessed be her glorious Assumption.
Blessed be the name of Mary, Virgin and Mother.
Blessed be Saint Joseph, her most chaste spouse.
Blessed be God in His angels and in His saints.
An Act of Reparation for Sins Against the Sacred Heart
May the Heart of Jesus, in the most Blessed Sacrament, be praised, adored, and loved, with grateful affection, at every moment, in all the tabernacles of the world, even to the end of time. Amen. +