We may say there is no difference. However, if we put the question in the context of our faith, there is a difference. “We are in the world, but we do not belong to the world”, we read in John’s Gospel.
When we speak about tradition with lowercase, we understand the way we pass customs, beliefs, language, folklore and other aspects of life from one generation to the next. That is tradition, in the world, but we are called to see our life beyond this world.
In the Church, (human) tradition refers to practices that can change over time, whether in liturgy, disciplines or devotions, according to the pope and bishops. For example, once the faithful were required, as a discipline, to fast before receiving Holy Communion, even from water. Today, our tradition requires to fast only from food at least one hour before receiving Communion. These traditions can be retained, modified or even abandoned, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, (83).
Tradition with capital T refers to the Apostles’ teachings; the community’s faith in Jesus Christ; the celebration of the Eucharist; and the prayers experienced by the primitive Christian communities. These are considered Sacred Traditions that remain unchanged. United with their pastors, these small communities lived these experiences after Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven. We call it Sacred Tradition, and combined with the Sacred Scriptures, it is what the Church defines as the Sacred deposit of faith. The community’s lived experience of faith according to what they experienced with Jesus while He was among them. After His departure, they followed the Apostles’ instruction. These teachings constitute Tradition that has grown into what we believe and follow—that Jesus is our Savior and Redeemer.
In summary, there is tradition according to the world and Tradition according to our Catholic faith. Both are important, but the latter unites us in our faith in our triune God.
By Father Luis Salazar, parochial administrator of Holy Redeemer Parish in Kissimmee, August 04, 2022