The CCC states that "It is this Magisterium's task to preserve God's people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error.... To fulfill this service, Christ endowed the Church's shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals." (Catechism, 890)
There are ORDINARY and EXTRAORDINARY teachings of the Catholic Church.
Most of the teachings you here or see online are the ordinary types. These include weekly addresses, documents, books, and other writings of the Pope. We cannot ignore these. These are for our sanctification and the building up of the Body of Christ. As adults, it is our duty to keep up, as much as possible, with these teachings. This is necessary for an adult appropriation of the Faith. But, parents must teach their children on these points, especially in Confirmation preparation.
There are many definitions of the Faith in these documents and letters, which would make them fall under the level of infallibility. Our own present Pope has been using every means to clarify doctrines and he, plus the previous Pope, Blessed John Paul II, used Apostolic Letters for infallible definitions or re-clarifications of such. Here is a link to one, which is also linked on the side of my blog here.
However, the extraordinary teachings are the ones which are usually concerned with doctrine and include the encyclicals regarding Faith and Morals, as well as doctrinal statements from the Councils.
We cannot ignore these at all. These are the stuff of our Faith.
Here is where some people get confused. Some Catholics think they do not have to believe in these documents. They do not even know which encyclicals are infallible.
Humanae Vitae is infallible.
Here are a few links and some quotations to help with your understanding of this important point.
The Successor of Peter Teaches Infallibly------------------------- from Blessed John Paul II
General Audience, March 17, 1993
The Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, which we explained in the preceding catechesis, belongs to and marks the high point of the mission to preach the Gospel that Jesus entrusted to the apostles and their successors. We read in Vatican II's Constitution Lumen Gentium:
"Among the principal duties of bishops the preaching of the Gospel occupies an eminent place. For bishops are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ, and they are authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice.... Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent" (LG 25).
The magisterial function of bishops, then, is strictly tied to that of the Roman Pontiff. Therefore, the conciliar text goes on aptly to say:
"This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme Magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking" (LG 25).
This supreme authority of the papal Magisterium, to which the term apostolic has been traditionally reserved, even in its ordinary exercise derives from the institutional fact that the Roman Pontiff is the Successor of Peter in the mission of teaching, strengthening his brothers, and guaranteeing that the Church's preaching conforms to the "deposit of faith" of the apostles and of Christ's teaching. However, it also stems from the conviction, developed in Christian tradition, that the Bishop of Rome is also the heir to Peter in the charism of special assistance that Jesus promised him when he said: "I have prayed for you" (Lk 22:32). This signifies the Holy Spirit's continual help in the whole exercise of the teaching mission, meant to explain revealed truth and its consequences in human life.
For this reason the Second Vatican Council states that all the Pope's teaching should be listened to and accepted, even when it is not given ex cathedra but is proposed in the ordinary exercise of his Magisterium with the manifest intention of declaring, recalling and confirming the doctrine of faith. It is a consequence of the institutional fact and spiritual inheritance that completes the dimensions of the succession to Peter.
As you know there are cases in which the papal Magisterium is exercised solemnly regarding particular points of doctrine belonging to the deposit of revelation or closely connected with it. This is the case with ex cathedra definitions, such as those of Mary's Immaculate Conception, made by Pius IX in 1854, and of her Assumption into heaven, made by Pius XII in 1950. As we know, these definitions have provided all Catholics with certainty in affirming these truths and in excluding all doubt in the matter.
The reason for ex cathedra definitions is almost always to give this certification to the truths that are to be believed as belonging to the "deposit of faith" and to exclude all doubt, or even to condemn an error about their authenticity and meaning. This is the greatest and also the formal concentration of the doctrinal mission conferred by Jesus on the apostles and, in their person, on their successors.
Given the extraordinary greatness and importance that this Magisterium has for the faith, Christian tradition has recognized in the Successor of Peter, who exercises it personally or in communion with the bishops gathered in council, a charism of assistance from the Holy Spirit that is customarily called "infallibility."
Here is what Vatican I said on the matter:
"When the Roman Pontiff speaks ex cathedra, that is, when in exercising his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians he defines with his supreme apostolic authority that a doctrine on faith and morals is to be held by the whole Church, through the divine assistance promised him in the person of St. Peter, he enjoys that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer wished to endow his Church in defining a doctrine on faith and morals. Therefore, these definitions of the Roman Pontiff are unreformable per se, and not because of the Church's consent" (DS 3074).
This doctrine was taken up again, confirmed and further explained by Vatican II, which states:
"And this is the infallibility which the Roman Pontiff, the head of the college of bishops, enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith (cf. Lk 22:32), by a definitive act he proclaims a doctrine of faith or morals. And therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly styled irreformable, since they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, promised to him in blessed Peter, and therefore they need no approval of others, nor do they allow an appeal to any other judgment. For then the Roman Pontiff is not pronouncing judgment as a private person, but, as the supreme teacher of the universal Church, in whom the charism of infallibility of the Church itself is individually present, he is expounding or defending a doctrine of Catholic faith" (LG 25).
It should be noted that the Second Vatican Council also calls attention to the Magisterium of the bishops in union with the Roman Pontiff, stressing that they too enjoy the Holy Spirit's assistance when they define a point of faith in conjunction with the Successor of Peter:
"The infallibility promised to the Church resides also in the body of Bishops, when that body exercises the supreme Magisterium with the Successor of Peter.... But when either the Roman Pontiff or the body of bishops together with him defines a judgment, they pronounce it in accordance with revelation itself, which all are obliged to abide by and be in conformity with, that is, the revelation which as written or orally handed down is transmitted in its entirety through the legitimate succession of bishops...which under the guiding light of the Spirit of truth is religiously preserved and faithfully expounded in the Church" (LG 25).
The Council also says:
"Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they nevertheless proclaim Christ's doctrine infallibly whenever, even though dispersed through the world, but still maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the Successor of Peter, and authentically teaching matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement on one position as definitively to be held. This is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church, whose definitions must be adhered to with the submission of faith. And this infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to be endowed in defining doctrine of faith and morals, extends as far as the deposit of revelation extends" (LG 25).
These conciliar texts codify as it were the awareness which the apostles already had when they assembled in Jerusalem: "It is the decision of the Holy Spirit, and ours too..." (Acts 15:28). This awareness confirmed Jesus' promise to send the Spirit of truth to the apostles and the Church once he had returned to the Father after offering the sacrifice of the cross: "He will teach you everything and remind you of all I told you" (Jn 14:26). That promise was fulfilled at Pentecost and the apostles continued to feel its life. The Church inherited that awareness and memory from them.
The Holy Spirit Assists the Roman Pontiff------------------------ from Blessed John Paul II
General Audience March 24, 1993
The infallibility of the Roman Pontiff is a very important topic for the Church's life. For this reason a further reflection on the conciliar texts seems appropriate in order to state in greater detail the meaning and extent of this prerogative.
First of all the councils assert that the infallibility attributed to the Roman Pontiff is personal, in the sense that it falls to him by virtue of his personal succession to Peter in the Roman Church. This means, in other words, that the Roman Pontiff does not enjoy merely an infallibility that really belongs to the Roman See. He exercises the Magisterium and, in general, the pastoral ministry as vicarious Petri: thus he was often called in the first Christian millennium. He personifies, as it were, Peter's mission and authority, exercised in the name of him on whom Jesus himself conferred them.
It is clear, however, that infallibility was not given to the Roman Pontiff as a private person, but inasmuch as he carries out the office of shepherd and teacher of all Christians. Furthermore, he does not exercise this office as one having authority in himself and from himself, but "with his supreme apostolic authority" and "through the divine assistance promised him in the person of blessed Peter." Lastly, he does not possess it as if it were available or he could count on it in every circumstance, but only "when he speaks ex cathedra," and only in a doctrinal matter limited to truths of faith and morals and to those closely connected to them.
According to the conciliar texts, the infallible Magisterium is exercised in "doctrine concerning faith and morals." This refers to the matter of explicitly or implicitly revealed truths that require an assent of faith, which the Church guards in the deposit entrusted to her by Christ and handed on by the apostles. She would not guard them properly if she did not defend their purity and integrity. These are truths about God in himself and in his creative and redeeming work; the human person and the world in their creaturely status and destiny according to the design of Providence; eternal life and earthly life itself in its basic demands regarding truth and goodness.
It is a question, therefore, of "truths for life" and of applying them in human conduct. In the mandate to evangelize, the divine Master ordered the apostles: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations...teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Mt 28:20). The area of truths that the Magisterium can definitively teach includes those principles of reason that are not contained in the truths of faith but are closely related to them. In actual fact, both in the past and today, the Church's Magisterium, especially the Roman Pontiff's, preserves these principles and continually rescues them from the obfuscation and distortion they suffer under pressure from partisan viewpoints and bad habits well established in cultural models and currents of thought.
In this regard the First Vatican Council said that the object of the infallible Magisterium is the "doctrine on faith and morals to be held by the whole Church" (DS 3074). In the new formula of the profession of faith recently approved (cf. AAS 81 : 105, 1169), a distinction was made between divinely revealed truths and truths definitively taught but not as divinely revealed, which therefore require a definitive assent that nevertheless is not an assent of faith.
The conciliar texts also indicate the conditions for the Roman Pontiff's exercise of the infallible Magisterium. They can be summarized in this way: the Pope must act as "the shepherd and teacher of all Christians," pronouncing on truths regarding "faith and morals," in terms clearly showing his intention to define a certain truth and to require definitive assent of all Christians. That occurred, for example, in the definition of Mary's Immaculate Conception, about which Pius IX stated: "It is a doctrine revealed by God and for this reason it must be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful" (DS 2803), or in the definition of the Assumption of Mary most holy, when Pius XII said: "By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and our own authority, we declare and define as divinely revealed dogma...etc." (DS 3903).
With these conditions one can speak of the extraordinary papal Magisterium, whose definitions are unreformable per se, and not â€œfrom the consent of the Church" (ex sese, non autem ex consensu ecclesiae). This means that these definitions do not need the consent of the bishops in order to be valid, neither an antecedent consent, nor a consequent consent, "since they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, promised to him in blessed Peter, and therefore they need no approval of others, nor do they allow an appeal to any other judgment" (LG 25).
The Supreme Pontiffs can exercise this form of Magisterium, and in fact they have done so. Many Popes, however, have not exercised it. But it must be noted that in the conciliar texts we are explaining, a distinction is made between the "ordinary" and "extraordinary" Magisterium, emphasizing the importance of the first, which is permanent and ongoing, while the second, which is expressed in definitions, could be called exceptional.
Alongside this infallibility of ex cathedra definitions, there is the charism of the Holy Spirit's assistance, granted to Peter and his successors so that they would not err in matters of faith and morals, but rather shed great light on the Christian people. This charism is not limited to exceptional cases, but embraces in varying degrees the whole exercise of the Magisterium.
The conciliar texts also point out how serious is the Roman Pontiff's responsibility in exercising both his extraordinary and ordinary Magisterium. He thus feels the need, one could say even the duty, to explore the sensus ecclesiae before defining a truth of faith, in the clear awareness that his definition "expounds or defends the teaching of the Catholic faith" (LG 25).
This occurred prior to the definitions of Mary's Immaculate Conception and Assumption through a broad and precise consultation of the whole Church. In the Bull Munificentissimus on the Assumption (1950), Pius XII mentioned among the arguments in favor of the definition that of the faith of the Christian community: "The universal consent of the Church's ordinary Magisterium provides a certain, solid argument to prove that the Blessed Virgin Mary's bodily assumption into heaven...is a truth revealed by God"  .
Furthermore, in speaking of the truth to be taught, the Second Vatican Council states: "The Roman Pontiff and the bishops, in view of their office and the importance of the matter, by fitting means diligently strive to inquire properly into that revelation and to give apt expression to its contents" (LG 25). It is a sign of wisdom that finds confirmation in the experience of the procedures followed by the Popes and the offices of the Holy See assisting them in carrying out the duties of the Magisterium and governance of Peter's successors.
We will close by noting that the exercise of the Magisterium is a concrete expression of the Roman Pontiff's contribution to the development of the Church's teaching. The Pope (who not only plays a role as head of the college of bishops in the definitions on faith and morals that the latter make, or as the notary of their thoughts, but also a more personal role both in the ordinary Magisterium and in his definitions) carries out his task by applying himself personally and encouraging study on the part of pastors, theologians, experts in different areas of doctrine, experts in pastoral care, spirituality, social life, etc.
In this way he fosters a cultural and moral enrichment at all levels of the Church. In organizing this work of consultation and study too, he appears as the Successor of the "rock" on which Christ built his Church.
More to come.....