The word "tradition" refers to a handing on of beliefs and practices from one generation to the next. For example, we often speak of family traditions --of special meals and funtimes that a family repeats though the years. In this way, traditions help to connect the old with the young; they also help us to remember who we are. In a similar manner, Sacred Tradition refers to important beliefs and practices that have been handed on through the centuries from one generation to the next.
A question often asked has to do with the relationship between Sacred Tradition and Scripture.
The New Testament itself sheds light on this relationship in the Second Letter to the Thessalonians where the author writes: "This passage makes it clear that there were important traditions passed on by word and not only by letter. As the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council noted, "It is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore, both Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and reverenced with the same sense of devotion. Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, which is committed to the Church." So we see that we need both Scripture and Sacred Tradition to understand God's life among us properly.
Most of the beliefs and practices found in Sacred Tradition have their basis in Scripture, but some do not. Catholics' belief that Mary was assumed into heaven is an example of a Sacred Tradition that has no reference in Scripture. The Assumption of Mary was nonetheless an important belief in the early Church and that is why it has been passed on through the generations as part of Sacred Tradition.
A few examples of beliefs and practices which do have their basis in Scripture would include the following:
- The Apostles' Creed, an early summary of important Christian beliefs.
- The role of bishops, priests, and the Pope in Christian ministry.
- The authority of the Pope--the belief that the Pope cannot teach falsely when he speaks officially as head of the Church on matters of faith and morals.
- Our understanding of the Sacraments and their place in Christian life.
Although Scripture touches on these matters, it is through Sacred Tradition that we fully understand their meaning and significance to the Church.
Finally, we must note that there are many traditions in the Catholic Church which do not belong to Sacred Tradition. These traditions, with a small "t" if you will, include such things as special prayers and devotions and stories concerning certain Saints. These traditions may help people grow closer to God, but they are not as important as Sacred Tradition, with a capital "T". Sacred Tradition, together with Scripture, includes those beliefs and practices that are most important to the Church because they have been revealed by God and because they have been affirmed by the teaching authority of the Catholic Church. That is why Sacred Tradition can help us to live a better Christian life.For a detailed study please refer to "Catechism of the Catholic Church" pages 74-84.