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The Catholic Defender: The Saint Tarcisius Story

In a race, everyone runs but only one person gets first prize. So run your race to win. To win the contest you must deny yourselves many things that would keep you from doing your best. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-25

In 258 A.D. the Roman world was dominated by power, the Roman persecutions against the Catholic Church had by this time lasted over 230 years since the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The Roman Emperor Valerian (253–259). continued this persecution with a horrible fury to wipe out the believers of Christ. He wanted to maintain the effort of his predecessor Decius.

Valerian boasted, "Rid the empire of them! If they don’t give up their superstition, send them to the arena as a spectacle and a warning for the knights, patricians and senators who have dared embrace the inhuman Christian abomination.”

In 257 A.D., Valerian issued is edict against the Christians calling for a universal decree executing Christians who refused to worship and give sacrifice to the Roman gods of Rome. He seized property from those tried and convicted for being a Christian.

Pope St. Sixtus II seeking protection from this latest edict by Valerian, sought refuge in the subterranean cemetery of Praetexatus on the Appian Way. The Romans caught up with the Pope along with four deacons, Saint Januarius (who blood liquifies each year on the anniversary of his martyrdom), Vincent, Magnus, ans Stephen. There were large numbers of Christians being captured many placed in prisons until their executions.

In 258, there was a 12 year old acolyte who had been raised with a love for the Lord. Tarcisius served Mass for Pope St. Stephen and after his martyrdom, he served under Pope Sixtus II It was very difficult to offer much aid for the Christians in prison. The faithful would gather in the catacombs for Mass and originally a deacon would carry the Eucharist to those condemned to die for their faith. With the death of the last deacon, St. Tarcisius volunteered to take the consecrated Host to those in prison. He had been successful in the past and the Romans did not challenge him before.

Pope Sixtus gave St. Tarcisius several consecrated Hosts placing them in clean linen placed in a makeshift pix out of wood that was placed around his neck as a necklace. He clutched the wooded box that was placed in a bag to conceal the content.

As St. Tarcisius was on his way to the prison, a group of friends he had known wanted him to join them in some of their games. Noticing that Tarcisius held something in his hands they began to accuse him of being a Christian. One of the boys attempted to grab the bag out of Tarcisius hands but could not do so. He did recognize the outline of a fish etched onto the lid of the pix made of wood. At this point, the accusation cry resulted, "Tarcisius is a Christian! Tarcisius is a Christian!"

Tarcisius friends quickly turned into a mob and began to attack him with great fury. A Roman Soldier (Sylvanus Dexter), secretly a Christian himself, watching the mob intervened running off the gang of boys.

Greatly injured, St. Tarcisius was carried back home where he was cleaned up. At no time did Tarcisius ever let go of the pix containing our Lord. Not even for the Soldier. Even unconscious, Tarcisius refused to loosen his grip until he came too and recognized Sylvanus. He told Sylvanius, “I had to protect the Blessed Jesus, 'Take him to those who need him.” With that Tarcisius died in the Soldier's hands who claimed that this death was heroic and the soul of Tarcisius leapt forth in a devout and ardent flame to meet his Lord in glory.

Silvanus carried Tarcisius to his parents and gave testimony of their son's heroism. Pope Sixtus received the body of Tarcisius at the catacomb of St. Callistus offering Mass for the young man who would be a Saint for the Eucharist. Pope St. Damasus of the fourth century wrote a poem "boy-martyr of the Eucharist" compared the death of Tarcisius with that of St. Stephen who both suffered violent deaths at the hands of a mob.

St. Tarcisius is a patron of Altar boys and his feast day was 15 August. His Feast day was taken off the universal calendar as the Virgin Mary's Assumption into Heaven became priority.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. ...


O God, You have graciously called me to serve You upon Your altar. Grant me the graces that I need to serve You faithfully and wholeheartedly. Grant too that while serving You, may I follow the example of St. Tarcisius, who died protecting the Eucharist, and walk the same path that led him to Heaven. St. Tarcisius, pray for me and for all servers. Amen.

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