St. Tarcisius

Author: Berchmans Bittle, OFM Cap.


Third Century

A tradition dating from the sixth century says that St. Tarcisius was an acolyte whose fidelity and courage so impressed the leaders of the Church during the persecution of Valerian that he was entrusted with taking the Blessed Sacrament secretly to the Christians who awaited martyrdom in prison. This custom arose when the priests who ministered to the prisoners would be easily discovered, while the acolytes were less known to the heathens. The Roman Martyrology, based on the fourth-century poem of Pope St. Damasus, gives the story of the "boy martyr of the Eucharist" in these words: "At Rome, on the Appian way, the passion of St. Tarcisius the acolyte, whom pagans met carrying the sacrament of the Body of Christ and asked him what it was he was carrying. He deemed it a shameful thing to cast pearls before the swine, and so was assaulted by them for a long time with clubs and stones until he gave up the ghost. When they turned over his body, the sacrilegious assailants could find no trace of Christ's Sacrament either in his hands or in his clothing. The Christians took up the body of the martyr and buried it with honor in the cemetery of Callistus." In his poem Pope Damasus compares St. Tarcisius with St. Stephen who was stoned by the Jews, and praises the martyr for suffering a cruel death rather than surrender "the divine Body to raging dogs." The body of St. Tarcisius was most probably laid to rest with those of Pope St. Zephyrinus and others in the Basilica of St. Sixtus and Cecilia, but at present it is said to be in the Church of San Silvestro in Capite. St. Tarcisius is venerated as a model for altar boys and as an example of loving and heroic devotion to our Lord in the Holy Eucharist.

Taken from"A Saint A Day" by Berchmans Bittle, O.F.M.Cap., published by The Bruce Publishing Company, Milwaukee (c) 1958