Friday, January 15, 2016

Tarcisius, patron of acolytes

I became an altar boy in Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Darby, Pennsylvania, when I was in second grade.

We had to memorize the responses in Latin and learn how to ring the bells, move the missal from one side of the altar to another, give the priest the wine and water and wash his hands, and, in general, to behave well on the altar.

We were there, close to the priest, close to the Eucharist, visible to all our family and the whole parish.

I learned that the patron of acolytes was St. Tarcisius, a twelve year old who was entrusted to take Communion. On the way he was accosted by some pagans but he refused to give up the Sacred Hosts. He was killed, a martyr for the Eucharist.

In a few days, God willing, our bishop, Monseñor Darwin Andino, will install me in the ministry of the acolyte.

As I prepare for this I thought again of St. Tarcisius.

Searching for more information on this early martyr, I came across an address by Pope Benedict XVI, in 2010, to altar servers, where he spoke about St. Tarcisius, who was martyred about the year 257:
Who was St Tarcisius? We do not have much information about him…. It is said that he was a boy who came regularly to the Catacombs of St Calixtus here in Rome and took his special Christian duties very seriously. He had great love for the Eucharist and various hints lead us to conclude that he was presumably an acolyte, that is, an altar server. Those were years in which the Emperor Valerian was harshly persecuting Christians who were forced to meet secretly in private houses or, at times, also in the Catacombs, to hear the word of God, to pray and to celebrate Holy Mass. Even the custom of taking the Eucharist to prisoners and the sick became increasingly dangerous. One day, when, as was his habit, the priest asked who was prepared to take the Eucharist to the other brothers and sisters who were waiting for it, young Tarcisius stood up and said: "Send me!". This boy seemed too young for such a demanding service! "My youth", Tarcisius said, "will be the best shield for the Eucharist". Convinced, the priest entrusted to him the precious Bread, saying: "Tarcisius, remember that a heavenly treasure has been entrusted to your weak hands. Avoid crowded streets and do not forget that holy things must never be thrown to dogs nor pearls to pigs. Will you guard the Sacred Mysteries faithfully and safely?". "I would die", Tarcisio answered with determination, "rather than let go of them". As he went on his way he met some friends who approached him and asked him to join them. As pagans they became suspicious and insistent at his refusal and realized he was clasping something to his breast that he appeared to be protecting. They tried to prize it away from him, but in vain; the struggle became ever fiercer, especially when they realized that Tarcisius was a Christian; They kicked him, they threw stones at him, but he did not surrender. While Tarcisius was dying a Pretoria guard called Quadratus, who had also, secretly, become a Christian, carried him to the priest. Tarcisius was already dead when they arrived but was still clutching to his breast a small linen bag containing the Eucharist. He was buried straight away in the Catacombs of St Calixtus….
Not a deacon, not a priest, not even an adult, he carefully carried and guarded the Body of Christ.

May I be worthy to carry the Body of Christ to the sick and the inform and all those members of the Body of Christ who seek to satisfy their hunger.


This is the third in a series of blog posts on the ministry of acolytes, in preparation for my institution in the ministry on Sunday, January 17, 2016.

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