A tetradic scattering matrix formalism is proposed as a comprehensive framework for describing scattering and relaxation processes of both stationary and non-stationary systems. In the latter case (realized by the scattering of the molecular-maser beam) ordinary dyadic T-matrix formalism involving on-the-energy-shell scattering amplitudes is inadequate, the introduction of off-the-shell elements being required. Expressions are given relating the tetradic T-matrix elements to various scattering and attenuation rates (or cross sections). The relation to the tetradic level-shift operator in relaxation (linear response) theory is discussed. Photon absorption is presented as the successive occurrence of a scattering and a relaxation process, from the point of view of this formalism.