There is a difference between big `T` Tradition and small `t` tradition in the Catholic Church. Tradition (big T) refers to the Apostolic Tradition or teachings of the apostles, passed on through the Magisterium or teaching office of the Church. The deposit of faith consists of both Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. This is one of the defining features of Catholicism. Many of our Protestant sisters and brothers believe in Sola Scriptura –all that we need to believe can be found in the bible alone.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the difference between Tradition and tradition as follows:
Tradition is to be distinguished from the various theological, disciplinary, liturgical, or devotional traditions, born in the local churches over time. These are the particular forms, adapted to different places and times, in which the great Tradition is expressed. In the light of Tradition, these traditions can be retained, modified or even abandoned under the guidance of the Church`s magisterium. (83)
For example, our teaching on the Real Presence of Jesus in Holy Communion is part of Tradition. Whether we receive Communion on the hand or the tongue, standing or kneeling, is tradition.
The male priesthood is considered to be Tradition, and has been reaffirmed and upheld by recent Vatican documents. (This was to put an end to the discussion but discussion has not stopped. But that`s another discussion!) Compulsory celibacy in the priesthood is a tradition that came later in our history. Other Catholic and Orthodox Rites allow for married priests as do we in cases of Anglican priests who join the Catholic Church.
Proponents of a pre-Vatican II liturgical style of worship sometimes defend it as more traditional and therefore more Catholic than our contemporary masses. The use of Latin, ornate vestments, organs, Gregorian chant, incense and bells, solemn silences and the pomp of grand processions have been around for a long time. And, they are all good and worthy. But they are not part of our Tradition, truths of our faith cast in stone for all time. They are traditions that evolved and changed over the centuries.
The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. It is central to who we are as Catholics. How we worship and celebrate that belief will continue to evolve and even change depending on the needs of time and place. Hopefully our liturgy and worship styles will continue to reflect our diversity, and be inclusive of the needs of all. For some, the solemn grandeur of the Tridentine Mass will continue to send their spirits soaring. For others it may be an all-out, drum-banging, singing and dancing celebration. Unity doesn`t have to mean uniformity. There are many ways to celebrate one faith.
Knowing the difference between Tradition and tradition helps us to focus on the main tenets of our beliefs that unite us, rather than expending our energy on wearisome quarrels over which tradition is more holy, more right, or more Catholic.