Comment Comment and Features

How we stopped a Black Mass at Harvard

Harvard University (AP)

Satanists are getting bolder in asserting their presence in the US public square. The Satanic Temple recently announced that they will try and start clubs for schoolchildren. A local government meeting in the state of Alaska began with an invocation of the Devil. Black Masses have been attempted, with varying degrees of success, most recently on August 15 (the Assumption) in Oklahoma.

As Catholics, we are right to be shocked at this, but we should remember that evil always eventually loses. I have had a glimpse of this – two years ago, when I was a student at Harvard.

Any Catholic at Harvard gets used to a subtle form of persecution: passing through Harvard Yard, you see many obscene blurbs from sexually progressive groups, while pro-life and other religiously conservative messages are systematically ripped down within hours.

But I had never imagined that I would see a poster of Satan himself, advertising a Black Mass to take place in a week in the basement of the freshman dining hall.

One of my first questions was whether a group of genuine Devil-worshippers was behind this, or whether someone, in ignorance and very poor taste, had decided to mock the Church, thinking they could get away with it at a place like Harvard. The answer was both: the cultural studies club at the Harvard Extension School had decided to host a Black Mass “re-enactment”, and had brought in Satanists to preside.

There is a distinction between the misguided soul who turns to the occult out of an anti-ecclesial and humanist pursuit of the good and someone who worships evil qua evil. The true Satanists are the latter, and although some official organisations claim to be atheist, the Satanists who came to Harvard appeared to be true believers in demonic powers.

The details of the ritual vary (and I recommend against Googling them), but they can involve the desecration of the Eucharist, the abuse of a woman’s body, and even the murder of infants (which is not surprising, given that there is a consistent and uncanny tie between abortion and Satanism).

I immediately emailed my friends about this, but given that it was finals week (for Harvard College at least, who knows about the Extension School), nobody had the time to assume leadership of organising the resistance. When it became clear that no one was planning to do anything, I realised that I would have to. I have been a daily communicant for several years, and I believe that the Eucharist is the most precious and holy thing in the world. If I did not protect it, what did that say about my true priorities? Was Christ worth more to me than my exam results? “It won’t take long,” I told myself, “I’ll just email the chaplains and they will take care of it, right?”

Wrong. It turned out that Harvard’s religious authorities were reluctant to try to get the Black Mass cancelled. Part of their concern, it seemed, was that impinging on the Satanists’ “religious freedom” could cause problems for Christians in future.

St Paul’s, the church which serves Harvard’s Catholics, had part of the solution exactly correct. At the time the Black Mass was scheduled, it would host a Holy Hour in reparation at the church, a message of love in answer to great hatred. But that was as far as it went. If we students wanted to stop the Satanists, we would have to do it ourselves.

I remain convinced that fighting to get the Black Mass cancelled was one of the most important battles I was privileged to be a part of at Harvard. If religious freedom means allowing people to practice and preach whatever evil things they will, it is no ideal to be defended. Furthermore, if we, as Christians, allow atrocities to happen in the name of religious freedom and think that our enemies will leave us be, we are sorely mistaken. Evil will not let us alone in the name of fairness.

Religious freedom is about people’s ability to pursue the good as they rationally perceive it, and what constitutes the good can and should be a matter of public discussion. The Satanists fell outside of this because they were pursuing evil as evil. And even were they so misguided as to think their Satanic worship good, as Catholics we should be unafraid to articulate why they are wrong – to call evil as we see it, and try to stop it.

The immediate concern, in the Catholic community, was whether the Satanists intended to steal a Eucharistic host from the Church to use for their deviant ends. From their initial poster campaign, it appeared that it was the plan. Usually, Satanists are intent on procuring a consecrated host, and they know the difference. Some former Satanists say they could feel an intense hatred of the consecrated host, which, in a roundabout way, helps to confirm the doctrine of the Real Presence.

The event organisers, who remained anonymous, declared that the event was simply a “re-enactment”, and so claimed that a consecrated host would not be used. Nevertheless, St Paul’s announced the threat publicly, and each person was required to consume the host in front of the priest (or extraordinary minister). This should be standard procedure, but it was a blessing to see the increased reverence for and vigilance about the Eucharist that these events inspired.

With the religious authorities unwilling to assist in cancelling the event, I approached the students again, who promptly sprang into action, writing op-eds and petitions and reaching out to alumni and faculty. Several students who had found themselves barely on speaking terms (religious infighting can be more bitter than the culture war) rallied together and drew from their respective networks for support. Love for the Eucharist had drawn us back into fellowship.

Before long, a few friends and I had an internal Harvard petition drafted, saying that the event did not align with the values of the university: specifically, Harvard prohibits the denigration of another person’s race, gender, or religion.

This petition, joined with national and international petitions, gathered nearly 60,000 signatures by the morning of the event, which became nearly 100,000 by the end of the day. My friends and I had spent the few days before in the library, ostensibly preparing for exams, but actually refreshing the petition web pages every few minutes. Friends and family all over the country, Catholic churches around the world, and a heartening number of Protestant allies signed. We watched the numbers of supporters climb each time we checked, at first by tens and then by hundreds and thousands, and as it grew, so did our hope and enthusiasm. The sheer number of people who supported the petition made the problem too big for Harvard to ignore.

Despite the ensuing media circus and public outrage, the Black Mass re-enactment was still scheduled to happen on Monday morning. Though we had little hope of success, my friends and I hatched a plan. We would print the signatures from the three major petitions, attach a cover letter, and deliver them to Drew Faust, president of Harvard, urging her to stop the event. Since I had served as president of the Catholic Student Association, it was decided that I would write the letter and deliver it.

That morning, I put on my suit, and headed over to St Paul’s to meet my co-conspirators, letter in hand. We printed the petitions, and after a quick stop at the tabernacle at St Paul’s to pray, we headed to President Faust’s office. There we received multiple sets of bad news: President Faust had issued a statement that, though she deplored the Black Mass, she would not cancel it (although she would attend the Holy Hour), and she did not come to the office that day.

I ended up dropping the six-inch stack of signatures on the desk of her exhausted secretary, who was just about in tears from fielding angry phone calls for days. I left the office, defeated. Final exams were coming up, and I hadn’t prepared for them: instead, I had spent a week doing what I felt was right, but some said was foolish, and others, including some of Harvard’s pastors, thought was harmful.

That’s when the news cameras showed up and turned the tide. I lost track of the number of interviews I did that day, and when I was finally getting back to work in the evening, I got the call. “Aurora? This is Fox News. We want you to be on Greta in 30 minutes.” “Fox News?” I replied. “Great! My parents watch that!”

Minutes before I went on the air, I found out that the Black Mass had been moved from the freshman dining hall and was going to be held off campus, at a nightclub in a seedy part of town between Harvard and MIT. The presenter, Greta Van Susteren, asked me multiple times: “Where did they go?” I assured her that I did not have the faintest idea: the Satanists had not kept me in the loop about all of their plans, for some reason. Plus, while the Catholics readily identified ourselves in the press, the Satanists and the extension students involved had hidden in the shadows.

I got back to Harvard from the studio just in time for the Holy Hour at St Paul’s. As the town car from Fox pulled into the Church parking lot, a group of pentagram-tattooed, heavily pierced, angry people surrounded it. They threatened to violate or kill me, hissing their words and advancing toward me menacingly.

These were the Satanists. Their event had been “indefinitely postponed”, and they were furious. Looking into their dead eyes and beholding their inhuman expressions, I felt a combination of fear and pity. These poor souls were in the grip of an otherworldly evil, not the spirit of rational or political protest.

I was lucky to get away: my boyfriend at the time, a tall and buff Cuban law student, pushed them out of the way, and we went up to the Holy Hour.

The Satanists’ plan was to avoid security by gathering in the parking lot near the basement entrance of St Paul’s. They intended to break through the door and run up the stairs that led to the sanctuary, emerging by the tabernacle next to St Joseph’s chapel.

But this ruse failed too: the rumbling and screaming from below the chapel could only be heard for a few moments, a fitting metaphor, perhaps, for the destiny of Satan and his co-operators. The police forced them away, and it is said they gathered in the upper floor of Cambridge’s most notorious nightclub. Deprived of the ability to conduct their ritual, they participated in the debauchery available to them.

To this day, I do not know how the event was actually cancelled, only that it was important for me to help fight it. The threat of the Satanists came, seemed insurmountable, and then dissipated. What remained were thousands of people worshipping the Eucharist. A great procession took place in the streets of Boston. Catholics, Protestants and sympathetic secularists came to St Paul’s, so that there were many in the street, adoring Christ in thanksgiving rather than in reparation. Catholics around the world who had heard the news were praying and holding Holy Hours of their own in solidarity, and they rejoiced with us.

Though Satan moved to attack the Church through a group of misguided students, the result was increased care for the Blessed Sacrament at St Paul’s, renewed friendship between estranged Catholics, and adoration of the Eucharist that made an impact throughout the world. It was the most unambiguous victory I have ever felt, a taste of the ultimate and inevitable triumph of good over evil. If God is for us, who can be against us?

This article first appeared in the August 19 2016 issue of The Catholic Herald. To read the magazine in full, from anywhere in the world, go here.