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CINCINNATI (LifeSiteNews) — Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is clamping down on ad orientem Masses and effectively banning the use of high altars, as per a December decree scheduled to take effect on January 19.

The decree partially restricts ad orientem Masses (facing the altar, “liturgical east”) by mandating that “On Sundays and other days of obligation, there must be at least one Mass offered versus populum (facing the people) in every church, oratory, or chapel in which public Mass is scheduled,” and that on other days “there must be at least one Mass offered publicly versus populum in each Family of Parishes.”

Exemptions to this policy “may be sought in writing from the Archbishop via the Chancellor,” the decree states, and the Chancery must be given advance written notice before the regular celebration of ad orientem Masses in a parish.

Ad orientem Masses are also essentially restricted to freestanding altars in the archdiocese, since the decree commands that Masses “only” be celebrated on a “freestanding altar” when one is present, and “NOT on the older high altar.”

Archbishop Schnurr’s decree is unclear about the reason for the restrictions, but he cites the “unity of the Church” and “a legitimate desire among the People of God” in the archdiocese “for worship in both a versus populum and an ad orientem posture.”

In publishing a copy of the decree, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s Northwest-5 Family of Parishes pointed out that “there has been a noticeable increase recently in parishes across the Archdiocese where priests have begun celebrating Mass in a more traditional manner,” including through the celebration of ad orientem Masses.

One Twitter user remarked in response to Schnurr’s decision, “There are lots of young priests and seminarians in Cincinnati who want to offer the TLM. I think the diocese is scared. Says a lot that they’d rather kill morale and vocations than set free the TLM.”

The NW5 Family of Parishes has a webpage dedicated to resources on ad orientem Masses, including a brief explanation of the liturgical practice. It points out that while ad orientem means “to the east,” since some churches are built so that the altar is not on the east wall, “liturgical east” is indicated by the location of the Tabernacle, “since it contains the Son of God.”

“For over a thousand years, the altar was placed against the east wall of the church” so that the priest and the people faced not only the direction where the sun rises but where the Son of God is expected to appear at the Second Coming, as one essay on the practice explains.

Retired Bishop Edward Slattery of Tulsa, Oklahoma pointed out in 2019 that ad orientem Masses, which were the “liturgical norm for nearly 18 centuries,” were held on to because of the “sublime way it reveals the nature of the Mass,” as an act of sacrifice in which the priest stands in the person of Christ as the Head of the Mystical Body — the congregants — who unite themselves with Him as He offers Himself to the God the Father.

Slattery cited Pope Benedict XVI, who has “urg[ed] us to draw upon the ancient liturgical practice of the Church to recover a more authentic Catholic worship” in explaining his own decision to restore the ad orientem position when he celebrated Mass at the Cathedral.

LifeSiteNews reached out to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati for comment but has not received a response as of the time of publishing.