Understanding Magisterial Documents

By: Allison Ramirez



In the Catholic Church, we recognize three sources of divine revelation. The Church recognizes the authority of sacred scripture as profitable for teaching as the inspired word of God through human authors of our salvation history. The Church also recognizes the authority of sacred tradition, the teachings and doctrines of the church as outlined in the Catechism, and the teaching authority of the magisterium which encompasses the documents and letters from the popes and bishops. The church views all three of these sources of revelation as valuable and necessary when coming to a cohesive and articulate understanding of one’s Christian faith in Christ Jesus and his church.


The following Magisterial Documents as ordered by importance which exist for our reading and study are as follows: Motu Proprio (issued from the pope on his own initiative not in response to a request), Apostolic Constitution (includes solemn magisterial acts relating to governance, dioceses, status changes, and papal elections), Encyclical (expresses the mind of the pope on matters of faith and morals to the entire church or to a particular group), Apostolic Letter (written on a doctrinal matter or a papal act), Apostolic Exhortation (communicates to the church conclusions reached following recommendations from a Synod of Bishops), Common Declaration (a joint statement of the pope and other religious leaders concerning a common understanding of a teaching), Homily (the pope’s homilies on the scripture readings at Mass), Audience (given at weekly general or private audiences on a particular theme that often continues over a long period), Discourse (given in a setting outside of mass such as upon arriving or departing from a certain place or directly before or after mass), and Message (conveying a personal greeting to an individual or group).


Magisterial documents can be accessed from an internet search or on vatican.va. If you are looking to deepen your study of the faith, I would recommend spending some time looking up and familiarizing yourself with some of these magisterial texts. For example, in Pope Francis’ service as Holy Father alone, he has published three encyclicals: Fratelli Tutti, On Fraternity and Social Friendship (2020), Laudato si’, On Care For Our Common Home (2015), and Lumen Fidei, On the Light of Faith (2013).

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