|Tradition is the permanent presence of the
Saviour who comes to meet us, to redeem us and to sanctify us in the
At the General Audience in St. Peter's Square
on Wednesday, 26 April, the Holy Father continued his catechesis on
communion, focusing this week on: "Communion in time: Tradition", which
embraces all generations and all epochs. "Tradition", the Holy Father
said, "is the communion of the faithful around their legitimate Pastors
down through history, a communion that the Holy Spirit nurtures". The
following is a translation of the Pope's Catechesis, which was given in
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Thank you for your affection! In the new series of catecheses, recently
begun, we are seeking to understand the original plan of the Church which
the Lord desired, in order to understand better our place, our Christian
life, in the great communion of the Church.
So far we have understood that ecclesial communion is inspired and
sustained by the Holy Spirit and preserved and promoted by the apostolic
ministry. And this communion, which we call "Church", does not only extend
to all believers in a specific historical period, but also embraces all
the epochs and all the generations. Thus, we have a twofold universality:
a synchronic universality — we are united with believers in every part of
the world — and also a so-called diachronic universality, that is: all the
epochs belong to us, and all the believers of the past and of the future
form with us a single great communion.
The Holy Spirit appears to us as the guarantor of the active presence
of the mystery in history, the One who ensures its realization down the
centuries. Thanks to the Paraclete, it will always be possible for
subsequent generations to have the same experience of the Risen One that
was lived by the apostolic community at the origin of the Church, since it
is passed on and actualized in the faith, worship and communion of the
People of God, on pilgrimage through time.
And so it is that we today, in the Easter Season, are living the
encounter with the Risen One not only as something of the past, but in the
present communion of the faith, liturgy and life of the Church. The
Church's apostolic Tradition consists in this transmission of the goods of
salvation which, through the power of the Spirit makes the Christian
community the permanent actualization of the original communion.
It is called "original" because it was born of the witness of the
Apostles and of the community of the disciples at the time of the origins.
It was passed on under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the New
Testament writings and in the sacramental life, in the life of the faith,
and the Church continuously refers to it — to this Tradition, which is the
whole, ever up-to-date reality of Jesus' gift — as her foundation and her
law, through the uninterrupted succession of the apostolic ministry.
Universal outreach of salvation
In his historical life furthermore, Jesus limited his mission to the
house of Israel, but already made it clear that the gift was not only
destined for the People of Israel but to everyone in the world and to
The Risen One then explicitly entrusted to the Apostles (cf. Lk 6:13)
the task of making disciples of all the nations, guaranteeing his presence
and help to the end of the age (cf. Mt 28:19 ff.).
The universalism of salvation, moreover, requires that the Easter
memorial be celebrated in history without interruption until Christ's
glorious return (cf. I Cor 11:26). Who will bring about the saving
presence of the Lord Jesus through the ministry of the Apostles —heads of
the eschatological Israel (cf. Mt 19:28) — and through the whole life of
the people of the New Covenant? The answer is clear: the Holy Spirit. The
Acts of the Apostles — in continuity with the pattern of Luke's Gospel —
show vividly the interpenetration between the Spirit, those sent out by
Christ and the community they have gathered.
Thanks to the action of the Paraclete, the Apostles and their
successors can realize in time the mission received from the Risen One.
"You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send the promise of my
Father upon you" (Lk 24:48 ff.).
"You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and
you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to
the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). And this promise, which at first seems
incredible, already came true in the Apostles' time: "And we are witnesses
to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who
obey him" (Acts 5:32).
So it is the Spirit himself, who through the laying on of hands and
prayers of the Apostles, consecrates and sends out new Gospel missionaries
(as, for example, in Acts 13:3 ff. and I Tm 4:14). It is interesting to
observe that whereas in some passages it says that Paul appointed elders
in every Church (cf. Acts 14:23), elsewhere it says that it is the Spirit
who has made them guardians of the flock (cf. Acts 20:28).
The action of the Spirit and the action of Paul thus are deeply
interwoven. At the time of solemn decisions for the life of the Church,
the Spirit is present to guide her. This guiding presence of the Holy
Spirit was particularly acutely felt in the Council of Jerusalem, in whose
conclusive words resound the affirmation: "For it has seemed good to the
Holy Spirit and to us..." (Acts 15:28); the Church grows and walks "in the
fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 9:31). This
permanent actualization of the active presence of the Lord Jesus in his
People, brought about by the Holy Spirit and expressed in the Church
through the apostolic ministry and fraternal communion is what, in a
theological sense, is meant by the term "Tradition": it is not merely the
material transmission of what was given at the beginning to the Apostles,
but the effective presence of the Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus who
accompanies and guides in the Spirit the community he has gathered
Tradition as continuity
Tradition is the communion of the faithful around their legitimate
Pastors down through history, a communion that the Holy Spirit nurtures,
assuring the connection between the experience of the apostolic faith,
lived in the original community of the disciples, and the actual
experience of Christ in his Church.
In other words, Tradition is the practical continuity of the Church,
the holy Temple of God the Father, built on the foundation of the Apostles
and held together by the cornerstone, Christ, through the life-giving
action of the Spirit: "So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners,
but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household
of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ
Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined
together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are
built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit" (Eph 2:19-22).
Thanks to Tradition, guaranteed by the ministry of the Apostles and by
their successors, the water of life that flowed from Christ's side and his
saving blood reach the women and men of all times. Thus, Tradition is the
permanent presence of the Saviour who comes to meet us, to redeem us and
to sanctify us in the Spirit, through the ministry of his Church, to the
glory of the Father.
Concluding and summing up, we can therefore say that Tradition is not
the transmission of things or words, a collection of dead things.
Tradition is the living river that links us to the origins, the living
river in which the origins are ever present, the great river that leads us
to the gates of eternity. And since this is so, in this living river the
words of the Lord that we heard on the reader's lips to start with are
ceaselessly brought about: "I am with you always, to the close of the age"