While temple leaders conduct satanic rituals on Harvard University’s campus Monday evening, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston will host a eucharistic procession from MIT to a nearby church for an hour of prayer, hoping to “combat evil” with positive worship, church officials said.
In a decision that has brought harsh criticism from the archdiocese, the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club plans to host a reenactment of a historical “black mass,” which is believed to mock traditional Roman Catholic rituals.
Club members called it an educational opportunity, but many religious officials are finding it offensive.
“The university is allowing this under the guise that it is educational,”said the Rev. Michael Drea, pastor of St. Paul Church. “But anything rooted in hatred is not something that should be put in the same category as academic freedom and academic expression.”
During Monday evening’s events, a group of Catholics is to walk from the MIT chapel and then
participate in an hour of prayer at St. Paul’s Parish in Harvard Square, just a 10-
minute walk from the Queen’s Head Pub in Memorial Hall where the black mass is to be held.
Club leaders say the reenactment is meant to be an exploration of other cultures, not a mockery of catholicism.
“Clearly people are insulted, and I believe that is due to them having no contact with, or understanding of, Satanism,” an unidentified club spokesperson said via e-mail Friday.
Members of the club would not identify themselves by name and opted to communicate solely by e-mail. The spokesperson said in the e-mail that Satanists are often misunderstood. These people are not evil, they just don’t fit in with mainstream culture, the spokesperson said, and “actively embrace their outsider status.”
“Many whom I have met are vegetarians, artists, animal rights activists, and have a strong sense of community,” said the spokesperson.
Drea said that he disagrees and that satanic worship is inherently evil.
“There is no way to misunderstand a satanic act that degrades the Catholic liturgy,” said Drea. “There is no misunderstanding; it is just a fact.”
The Rev. James Bretzke, a Jesuit priest from Boston College, said anyone who believes this mass could be educational, must be misinformed.
“I find this highly offensive,” Bretzke said in a telephone interview Friday afternoon. “It is not educational, and anyone who believes it is displays a lack of understanding of the deeper message of this practice.”
The archdiocese fears that people are “underestimating the power of Satan” in participating in this reenactment, according to a statement from archdiocesan spokesman Terrence Donilon
In the statement, Donilon said the Catholic community is deeply saddened by the plan to hold the black mass.
“It is contrary to charity and goodness, and it places participants dangerously close to destructive works of evil,” Donilon said in the statement.
Drea said he hopes to bring in positive energy by participating in prayer.
“You can’t combat evil with evil,” he said. “We know this as Catholics.”
The club spokesperson said club members do not intend to insult the church and respect the archdiocese’s right to hold its events.
“The church is free to perform services as it wishes and has the right to do so,” said the spokesperson.Jacqueline Tempera can be reached at jacqueline.tempera
@globe.com. Follow her on twitter @jacktemp.