Alexandre Falguière, “Tarcisius, Martyr Chrétien”, 1868, Musée d'Orsay
(Photo: ‘Rama’, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
Just as Saint Tarcisius is the patron saint of altar servers, all of us should ask for his intercession, that we appreciate the Blessed Sacrament more fully.
There are many ways to increase our love and devotion for Jesus in the Eucharist, and one of them is to consider the great love that many of the saints have expressed for the Blessed Sacrament. In his General Audience address of August 4, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI related the story of one such saint to a crowd of altar servers.
During Roman Emperor Valerian’s brutal persecution of Catholics in the Third Century, the faithful went underground to the catacombs to meet in secret for Mass and the sacraments. Yet, just as happens today, some people were sick and unable to go to Mass, so priests and their trusted helpers would take Communion to their fellow Catholics. One day after Mass, a priest asked who could take Communion to the sick. The duty of transporting the Eucharist was usually reserved to mature and strong men, but that day, a young altar server stepped forward and asked for the mission, saying: “Send me!”
His name was Tarcisius.
The priest was reluctant to send Tarcisius because he knew this was a dangerous assignment; after all, practicing Christianity in public was a veritable death sentence under Valerian. But Tarcisius pled his case, arguing that his youth would serve not as a liability, but as an asset. Knowing the danger he was undertaking, Tarcisius courageously announced: “My youth will be the best shield for the Eucharist!” When the priest was assured that Tarcisius not only understood the importance of his mission but also Who he was carrying, the priest carefully and lovingly wrapped the Blessed Sacrament in a small linen bag and entrusted the Eucharist to the young boy.
It was the last time the priest would see Tarcisius alive.
On his way to take Communion to the sick, a group of acquaintances saw Tarcisius and noticed that he was carefully protecting something—clutching something close to his heart. When Tarcisius refused to show them what he was carrying, they realized that he was a Christian, and the mob began to savagely assault him, beating Tarcisius and throwing stones at him in an effort to make him drop the bag. During this violent assault on the young boy, he died—still clutching the linen bag to his chest.
A Praetorian guard and secret Christian named Quadratus picked up the body of Tarcisius and carried him back to the priest. When Quadratus set Tarcisius’ body down, they pulled back his arms that were still clutching the linen bag, and they observed something astonishing. Pope Benedict explains:
...in the same Martyrology a beautiful oral tradition is also recorded. It claims that the Most Blessed Sacrament was not found on St. Tarcisius' body, either in his hands or his clothing. It explains that the consecrated Host which the little Martyr had defended with his life, had become flesh of his flesh thereby forming, together with his body, a single immaculate Host offered to God.”
Tarcisius had held Jesus close to his heart in life and in death, and now Jesus held Tarcisius close to His Sacred Heart in eternity.
As Pope Benedict reminded the altar servers:
St. Tarcisius’ testimony and this beautiful tradition teach us the deep love and great veneration that we must have for the Eucharist…
…With consecration, as you know, that little piece of bread becomes Christ’s Body, that wine becomes Christ’s Blood. You are lucky to be able to live this indescribable Mystery from close at hand! Do your task as altar servers with love, devotion and faithfulness; do not enter a church for the celebration with superficiality but rather, prepare yourselves inwardly for Holy Mass! Assisting your priests in service at the altar helps to make Jesus closer, so that people can understand, can realize better: He is here.
Here is a lesson not only for altar servers but for all of us Catholics. There are moments when many of us Catholics receive Holy Communion without taking the time to ponder the transcendental immensity and beauty of the love of God that is taking place. Our minds can be adrift on other things without stopping to consider how much God’s love is expressed in this sacrament. We need to consider that God wills to be present within us—that He is pleased to be sacramentally united with those who love Him. As Saint Thérèse of Lisieux wrote: “He does not come down from Heaven each day in order to remain in a golden ciborium, but to find another Heaven—the Heaven of our souls in which He takes such delight.” Just as Saint Tarcisius is the patron saint of altar servers, all of us should ask for his intercession, that we appreciate the Blessed Sacrament more fully and desire that Jesus clutch us close to His Sacred Heart, now and forever.