Since we have been on a bit of a back to basics trip lately, I think it's time to examine the proper way to look at tradition.
First, we need to understand the Biblical Concept of Tradition. In the Bible, St. Paul commends the Thessalonians for adhering to the paradosis they have received, whether by word or letter. (2 Thess 2:15) In English, we know that as the word tradition. Now in the Greek, paradosis was simply that which was handed down. So when we speak of tradition, we speak of that (in whatever venue) was handed down throughout the ages in the Church.
The confusion comes from the fact that, like the phrase salvation, tradition can have several different meanings, all compatible with each other. First and foremost, there is that which is called Apostolic Tradition, which we normally know as Tradition with a capital T. This comes from either the Bible or the Oral Teaching of Christ & The Apostles, handed down throughout the generations to the present, which is safeguarded by the Holy Ghost so that people can always learn God's truth. Such a teaching based on Tradition would be that the Mass is a propitiatory sacrifice where the timeless Sacrifice of the Cross is made present in time to the Christian, or that there are Seven Sacraments. These are directly matters of revelation, as well as of faith and morals which can be traced throughout history. As such, they cannot under any circumstances be changed. Baptism will never cease to be a Sacrament, and the Mass will never be just a communal praise & worship service, women will never be ordained priests, etc.
Another form of tradition is that which we ecclesiastical tradition. This is tradition not neccessarily handed down from the Apostles, but which is meant to support the truths of the Christian faith. Such examples would be the rites of the liturgy and the sacraments outside of the essentials. These make Apostolic Tradition clearer and relevant to the Christian. Since they are meant to communicate timeless truths to an audience in time, these can change. Yet organized religion worshipping Yahweh is at least 5,000 years old, and these traditions have developed in just about every circumstance conceivable, and have developed organically over these millenia. So while they can be changed, you really should have a good reason for doing them, and they should only be done through the highest of channels, lest disaster ensue. (More on this later.)
There is finally a third instance in which tradition is used. This refers mainly to local customs and practices which have developed over time. These aren't universal, and more often than not they aren't even regional. Some examples of this might be how fasting is applied in your area (which is a lot more diverse than you would think), certain devotional prayers after Mass communities have prayed, etc. The same rules apply in ecclesiastical tradition, yet they are even more prone to change, and are frequently changed on the local level.
When properly understood, tradition is a lot less confusing than people make it out to be. Yet based on these definitions, the perceptive reader can see ways in which today's modern audience (on all sides) really misunderstand what tradition is. This is what we will be discussing in future posts, starting with a bit of in house cleaning: how some traditionalists fail to properly understand tradition.