The following categories of
papal documents are according
to relative degree
of authority, greatest to least.
Motu Proprio -
document issued Motu Proprio is from the Pope on his own
initiative, and not in response to a request or at the initiative of
others. Its legal determinations carry the full force of papal authority,
though it does not derogate from existing laws unless specifically stated.
It can be any category of document.
Apostolic Constitution - In
teaching, it includes solemn Magisterial acts of the Pope; in governance,
erecting dioceses, changing their status, rules for a papal election and
Encyclical - a
circular or general letter expressing the mind of the
Pope, generally on matters of faith and morals. It may be a letter
(to the entire Church) or an epistle (to a particular Church or
people (e.g. "Mit brennenden sorge," Pius XI to the German
people on racism).
solemn authority than an encyclical, they may be written on a doctrinal matter (e.g. Pope
John Paul's Letter on the Mystery of the Eucharist). They may also announce a
papal act such as declaring a person Venerable (heroic virtue) or declaring a church a
Apostolic Exhortation -
category of document similar to an Apostolic Letter, which Pope John Paul
II uses to communicate to the Church the conclusions he has reached after
consideration of the recommendations of a Synod of Bishops. He has also
used it in other circumstances, such as to exhort religious to a deeper
Common Declaration -
joint statements of
the Holy Father and other religious leaders.
Homily - The
homilies of the Pope on the Scripture readings at Mass.
General Audience -
opportunity to hear and/or greet the Holy Father is called an audience. On
Wednesdays, when he is in Rome, he will have a General Audience, either in
the Paul VI audience hall or in St. Peter's Square. The discourses at
these Audiences are typically used to develop a theme over a
long period. An entry ticket, which is free, is required.
Private Audience - The Pope
also holds private audiences with individuals and groups, at which he will
also speak on a pertinent subject, such as on medical issues to groups of
doctors, world affairs to diplomats and Church teaching and procedures to
Discourse - In settings
outside Mass (at which his address is called a homily) or outside the
usual audience setting, the Pope may give a discourse to groups of people,
upon arriving or departing a place, before or after Mass, at a rosary or
in some circumstance not a homily or an audience.
Message - Written
or spoken messages, often conveying a personal greeting, to individuals or
groups. Usually briefer than a letter or an allocution.