Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama, General Decree on the Position of the Priest During the Mass, 18 October 1999.
LetterA well-intentioned but flawed and seriously misdirected movement has begun in the United States. Priests are encouraged, on their own initiative without the permission of their local bishops, to take liberties with the Mass by celebrating in a manner called ad orientem, that is, with their backs to the people. This amounts to making a political statement, and is dividing the people.
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the source and summit of our Catholic faith. As bishop of this diocese, I have, as successor of the Apostles in union with the Holy Father, the absolute duty to protect it from innovation or sacrilege.
The words, gestures, and postures of the Mass may not be changed by individuals, groups, trained liturgists, theologians, or canonists. No one may act in this regard without the permission of the diocesan bishop.
I am very aware of your conscientious and respectful obedience in matter of regulations of liturgy in this diocese. We are united as one paschal reality. You are one with me in leading our people to the full appreciation of the Holy Eucharist: a sacramental sacrifice of thanksgiving, communion, and Divine Presence.
Therefore, I am issuing a General Decree promulgating a Particular Law for the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama, a copy of which is enclosed. This law is to take effect one month from today’s date.
May our Lady keep us united always in Christ’s love.
Sincerely in Christ,
Most Rev. David B. Foley, D.D.
Bishop of Birmingham, Ala.
General DecreeWhereas, throughout the Diocese of Birmingham a legal custom has been established that Mass at free-standing altars is celebrated facing the people (Code of Canon Law, cc. 23-26);
Whereas the custom has abrogated the previous custom of celebrating Mass facing away from the people (c. 28);
Whereas the custom of facing the people is in accord with the desire of the Church to promote the active participation of the faithful in the liturgy;
Whereas the Celebration of the Eucharist with the priest facing away from the people causes wonderment and dissension;
Whereas the public celebration of the Eucharist is a matter of public order (c. 13, sec. 2);
We hereby decree, in virtue of our authority by the divine and the ecclesiastical law (cc. 375; 381; 391;678, sec. 1; 772, sec. 2; 838, sec. 4), that the following be the Law in the Diocese of Birmingham:
1) In churches and shrines, as well as oratories where Mass is open to the public, the priest celebrating the Eucharist at a freestanding altar is to face the people.
2) At any Mass that is or will be televised for broadcast or videotaped for public dissemination, the priest is to use a freestanding altar and face the people. These norms apply to all priests who celebrate the public Eucharistic Liturgy of the Roman rite within the Diocese of Birmingham, including visiting priests.
A priest who violates either of these laws is liable to suspension or removal of faculties.
This decree is promulgated by being sent to priests and juridical persons in the diocese and shall take effect one month from this date.
Given on the Eighteenth day of October in the year of Our Lord 1999.
The Most Rev. David B. Foley, D.D.
Third Bishop of the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama
Sr. Mary Frances Loftin, D.C.
Chancellor of the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama
W.H Woestman, Ecclesiastical Sanctions and the Penal Process: A Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, 2nd rev. ed. (Ottawa: Faculty of Canon Law, Saint Paul University, 2003): 261.