Pastoral Letter

Pastoral Letter a letter addressed either at certain stated times, or on the occurrence of some notable occasion, by a "pastor," but especially by a bishop to the clergy under his jurisdiction, to the laity of his flock, or to both. Of the former class, in the Church of Rome, are the so-called Lenten Mandates, or Instructions, issued before the commencement of Lent, and making known the regulations enacted for the observance of the Lenten fast, the dispensations granted, and the devotions and other pious works prescribed. Such also are the letters issued by a bishop on many of the chief festivals of the year. It is usual for bishops, besides their stated letters, to address to their clergy or people instructions suited to any particular emergency which may arise, and sometimes to take occasion from the issuing of the stated pastoral letter to offer instruction on some topic of importance which may engage public attention at the time, on some prevalent abuse or scandal, or some apprehended danger to the faith or to morals. To this class belong many of the remains of the early fathers, especially in the Western Church. In some countries the government, as formerly in Austria, claimed a right to exercise a censorship over the pastoral letters to be issued by the bishops. This right, however, is regarded by churchmen as a usurpation, and, although submitted to, is admitted only under protest.

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