The term does not refer to transitory customs or practices which may change, according to the circumstances, such as styles of priestly dress, forms of devotion to saints, or even liturgical rubrics. Sacred or apostolic tradition consists of the teachings that the apostles passed orally through their preaching, and the Church has guarded it with special care and veneration.
Saint Paul illustrated what tradition is: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1Cor 15: 3). The apostle praised those who followed the Tradition: “I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you” (1Cor 11: 2). Paul is speaking of the teachings that He had received orally perhaps from the apostles themselves, and that he had conveyed to them through his preaching.
The first Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2: 42) long before there was a New Testament. From the very beginning, the fullness of Christian teaching was found in the life of the Church, not in a book. In the first centuries, the teaching of the Church was based especially in the oral teachings of the apostles. Paul himself gives a quotation from Jesus that was handed orally to him: “Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” (Acts 20: 5).
With fraternal affection,
Fr. Homero C.