A question about Sacred Tradition

A question about Sacred Tradition January 30, 2017

A reader writes:

Sorry to disturb. I teach an RCIA class and a question came up for a further explanation of what Sacred Tradition is. Saying “as Catholics we believe that the source of our belief is both sacred scripture and sacred tradition.” wasn’t enough. Someone wanted an example of sacred tradition. Scripture is easy but give me an example of sacred tradition. As a long time Catholic I always just excepted the above statement as our source of belief but never really demanded an example of tradition. So I have been looking for a simple answer and example and came across your article and was going to email it to myself for further review and realized it sent a blank to you – sorry, but a good article btw. I find it still tricky to come up with something simple to explain to a catechumen what tradition is with an example. Probably more than you wanted to know but that’s how you got the blank.

Sacred Tradition is, ultimately, Jesus himself. “Tradition” means “that which is handed down.” It is Jesus, in the final analysis, who is handed down (and, in the Eucharist, handed over) by the Church. He is handed over in both word and sacrament. And so he is handed over in the common life, common worship, and common teaching of the Church both written and unwritten. Now and then, the Church will define some aspect of that Tradition in a creed or dogmatic statement (such as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed we say every Sunday). But much of the Tradition is not defined, leaving an enormous amount of freedom in how to live it. So while human life is sacred from conception (and indeed, the processes that lead to it are sacred as well since they occur within the human person) the Church has no dogma about when personhood begins. The church dogmatically insists that Christ was raised bodily from the dead, but there is no dogma (nor can there be) defining the nature of that body since the Resurrection is beyond our understanding.

The point is that definitions of the Tradition are rather rare in our history. They exist (and you can find a summary of them here): But don’t make the mistake of reducing the Tradition to some collection formulae.

Hope that helps!

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