Encyclicals, etc what does it mean?


Papal Encyclicals, Apostolic Exhortations, Chirographs on Sacred Music, Infallible Statements…what does it all mean?

I have some definite opinions on things like the liturgy, and they tend to line up very stalwartly with the Pope’s opinions and those of Cardinal Arinze.

But between the aforementioned documents, which ones are REQUIRED to be believed and followed? For instance, the Pope has opined that guitars don’t belong in the Mass, but my understanding is that it is nowhere canonically forbidden.

What is the strength placed behind each of the aforementioned types of documents?


Infallible documents deal with faith and morals. Liturgical practices are regulations and can change. Nevertheless, we are to be obedient to current regulations established by the legitimate authority. Disobedience to legitimate authority is a sin (assuming we are not ordered to break an infallible teaching on faith and morals).



I think he was asking for the definitions of all those items and how they rank in importance. Which ones actually would be binding on the Catholic and which ones are for a better lack of a term “A whimsical fancy”

Or if you want to get to the nitty gritty

Which ones do you have to obey without question and which ones you can give consideration to and
which ones you can toss into the landfill?


They are all types of papal documents. They have different purposes and carry different authorities.


Vatican documents include, in descending order of formal authority: apostolic constitutions, encyclical letters, encyclical epistles, apostolic exhortations, apostolic letters, letters and messages.

See secondexodus.com/html/catholicdefinitions/encyclicalletter.htm for definitions of all these kinds of documents.

Similar info is available at rockreligious.com/vis.html


The Pope doesn’t like guitars. However he probably has the sense to realise that there are lots of good Catholics who strum along “kum by yah” at Mass, with the approval of the priest. There is no point offending these people with a sudden blanket ban, and it might create the false sense that they were doing something wrong.
So he says “I don’t like guitars”, and so Wayne, a new convert who is a guitar player, isn’t asked to do his stuff, but Mike, who has been doing it for years, is maybe allowed to continue. Then Mike is reduced to a few special “folk Masses” which get rather rare as the years wear on. But there is no point at which Mike is presented with an ultimatum - your guitar or your soul.


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