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The most inspiring story I have covered

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | May 14, 2019

From time to time someone asks me to name the biggest story that I have covered (probably the death of Pope John Paul II), or the most surprising story (easily, the resignation of Benedict XVI). Only rarely am I asked to name the most inspiring story. My answer to that question might surprise many readers. It’s not a ceremony at the Vatican, or a meeting with Church leaders. It’s a walk down Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, Mass. in a crowd composed mostly of young Catholic students.

It happened five years ago this week. A “black mass” that was to have taken place on the campus of Harvard University was cancelled just hours before the scheduled event. But a Catholic church near Harvard Square was packed for a Eucharistic holy hour. I was there, with my wife and daughter, as participants. Later I wrote about the experience:


Against all odds, last night became a great victory for the Catholic faith in the Archdiocese of Boston. Rather than a desecration of the Eucharist, the most noteworthy public event in Cambridge was a Eucharistic procession that stretched for several blocks. At Harvard, St. Paul’s church was packed, with many people standing outside the doors, for an hour of adoration ending in Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

The black mass that had been scheduled for the Harvard campus did not take place there. Although Harvard’s President Drew Faust refused to intervene, the extension-school students who were sponsoring the event (and who, tellingly, had never identified themselves) backed out at the 11th hour. After issuing a series of conflicting messages, the Satanic Temple members who had planned the outrage announced that the black mass had finally taken place later Monday night, in an upstairs room at a nondescript Chinese restaurant.

Did the black mass actually take place? As evidence for that, we have nothing but the word of people who say that they serve the Father of Lies. The bartender at the Hong Kong acknowledges that some members of the Satanic Temple were drinking there. If indeed a satanic ritual was enacted, it was done furtively, in darkness—rejected rather than welcomed, even at a university that generally scoffs at faith.

On the way home after the Eucharistic holy hour at St. Paul’s, a friend ran into some of the Satanic Temple followers in Harvard Square. She reported:

They seemed angry, had really embraced the ugly, and some of them were even masked or hiding their faces behind a cape. I was thinking that one doesn’t hide oneself if he feels good about what he is doing.

Inside St. Paul’s church, there were no feelings of anger: only a deep, quiet, firm faith. It is impossible to capture the mood of the assembly, but the photos on the archdiocesan Facebook page offer some clues. A Boston Globe photographer captured an image of the crowded church, and several moving shots of the procession. The young people kneeling on the stone steps, the reverent hush in the church, the booming resonance of the Tantum Ergo all radiated the vigor and joy of the Catholic faith.

As the procession made its way slowly down Massachusetts Avenue, some passersby dropped to their knees before our Eucharistic Lord; others joined in the hymns. I could not count the people who crowded into the MIT chapel to start the procession, but I know that many others joined along the route. When was the last time that the city of Cambridge, bastion of secular liberalism, saw such a strong display of the Catholic faith?

Something special happened in Cambridge last night, and I confidently predict that we shall see the results for years to come. Grace is real, and grace works in unpredictable ways. How many non-Catholic Harvard students went to St. Paul’s to show respect for their Catholic friends, and saw something there that will spark an interest in the faith, and draw them to the Church? How many young men, as they renewed their devotion to the Eucharist, felt the first stirrings of a call to the priesthood? We didn’t merely win a battle in the spiritual combat; we launched an offensive.

And all this happened because a few deluded students scheduled a blasphemous mockery, and the Catholic community responded appropriately: not with an impotent fit of anger but with a confident show of faith. Satan overplayed his hand, and got burned again.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: rfr46 - May. 15, 2019 8:21 AM ET USA

    Thanks, Phil. Good lesson on how to deal with evil. Sometimes.

  • Posted by: Athelstan - May. 14, 2019 7:26 PM ET USA

    Deo gratias!