Archbishop urges prayer to combat black mass

Oklahoma City Archbishop Paul Coakley expressed relief Aug. 21 when a consecrated host that a Satanic group had planned to use as part of a “black mass” scheduled for Sept. 21 was returned to a Catholic priest.

Attorneys representing the Dakhma of Angra Mainyu group and Oklahoma resident Adam Daniels also presented a signed statement saying that they no longer have and would not use a consecrated host — the real Body of Christ — in the ritual, which is intended to be an evil inversion of the Catholic Mass.

“I am relieved that we have been able to secure the return of the sacred host, and that we have prevented its desecration as part of a planned satanic ritual,” Archbishop Coakley said in statement. “I remain concerned about the dark powers that this satanic worship invites into our community and the spiritual danger that this poses to all who are involved in it, directly or indirectly.”   

With the return of the host and with the signed statement, the archbishop agreed to dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice.

Archbishop Coakley has made repeated requests for the city’s leaders to cancel the satanic ritual in a publicly funded facility.

“I have raised my concerns ... and pointed out how deeply offensive this proposed sacrilegious act is to Christians and especially to the more than 250,000 Catholics who live in Oklahoma,” he said in a statement. 

Call to action

His opposition won the approval of Catholic scholars who have been watching as increased levels of satanic activity have been publicized in recent months.

First, the New York-based Satanic Temple planned to hold a black mass at Harvard in May. Such an event is essentially an inversion of the Catholic Mass that mocks the Catholic Faith and calls on Satan to intercede in the world. However, the group made clear that it did not have possession of a consecrated host to desecrate.

After Catholics and other religious leaders protested, the event was first moved off campus and then turned into nothing more than an impromptu gathering, while more than 2,000 people, including Harvard President Drew Faust, joined in a Eucharistic procession to a Holy Hour at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Now another group, called Dakhma of Angra Mainyu, represented by Adam Daniels, has plans to hold a black mass Sept. 21 in the Oklahoma City Civic Center Music Hall.

In response to the planned black mass in his diocese, Archbishop Coakley has called on the faithful to pray the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel at the end of every Mass through Sept. 29, the feast of the archangels, and asks that each parish conduct a Eucharistic Holy Hour with Benediction before Sept. 21. According to the Book of Revelation, St. Michael defeated Satan.

On the day of the satanic ritual, if not canceled, Archbishop Coakley invited all Christians and people of goodwill to join him in prayer for a Holy Hour at 3 p.m. at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Oklahoma City, followed by an outdoor procession and Benediction. He called the planned black mass “deeply offensive.”

Roots of black mass

Jesuit Father James Bretzke, a professor of moral theology at Boston College, said Archbishop Coakley and Catholics around the country are right to take the performance of black masses seriously. It goes beyond poking fun at the Church and is an incident of serious and intended blasphemy.

The black mass was created to show disrespect to the Church, Father Bretzke said, because the Mass is the Church’s central sacrament. Its roots lie in the Middle Ages, when anti-religionists and anti-clericalists intentionally corrupted the Mass to show disrespect.

Charles Reid, a law professor at St. Thomas University in Minneapolis, said many of the medieval versions of what has become known as the black mass had more to do with university students at the time “goofing off,” rather than actually trying to summon evil into the world.

The mock-religious ceremonies gradually coalesced into what could be recognized as a black mass by the early modern period, roughly the 16th and 17th centuries, said Reid, who is also a canonist with a doctorate in medieval history.

Although some people have always been fascinated by the occult, for centuries black masses were mostly an underground phenomenon, he said. That started to change in the middle of the 20th century in the United States and Europe, when more serious satanistic groups became active and were more public about their beliefs.

“Now they were more pointedly honoring Satan,” Reid said.

Distinct motivations

Observers now must draw a distinction between those who hold black masses intending only to insult and parody the Church, Reid said, and those that intend blasphemy, desecration and the invocation of evil.

The Satanic Temple that planned the Mass for Harvard, for example, is actually made up of atheists and freethinkers who seem to want to desensitize people to the idea of any and all religion.

“Their idea seems to be, ‘Let’s just mock religion out of existence,’” Reid said.

While the Church should respond to the insult — such as with prayer and Holy Hours — it should not overreact, Reid said.

The black mass planned for Oklahoma City is another matter entirely, starting with the organizers’ claim that they had a consecrated host. “These people are actual satanists,” Reid said. “It’s not just a political stunt.”

That makes Archbishop Coakley’s more robust response entirely appropriate, he said.

“You have to point out that the Church stands for something way different” than the satanists, he said. “The Church stands for goodness, for self-sacrifice, for virtue, for all those things.”

While it’s unclear whether there is more occult activity now, Father Bretzke suggested we live in a culture that loves to push boundaries.

“There’s a certain adolescent quality to our culture now,” he said. “And as with individuals, adolescence is a time of testing limits of all kinds.”

Father Bretzke said any attempt at a black mass should be of concern.

“To call on Satan, who is traditionally the lord of all evil, even in jest, is ill-considered,” he said. “If you try to call on Satan, bad things happen.”

Michelle Martin writes from Illinois.