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Today’s saint proves that age is not a qualification for sainthood. He was martyred at age 12.
He was alive during a period of open persecutions of the Christians. At that time each day, from a secret meeting place in the catacombs where Christians gathered for Mass, a deacon would be sent to the prisons to carry the Eucharist to those Christians condemned to die. At one point, there was no deacon to send, and so St. Tarcisius, an acolyte, was sent carrying the “Holy Mysteries” to those in prison.
On the way, he was stopped by boys his own age who were not Christians but knew him as a playmate and lover of games. He was asked to join their games, but this time he refused, and the crowd of boys noticed that he was carrying something.
Somehow, he also was recognized as a Christian, and the small gang of boys, anxious to view the Christian “mysteries,” became a mob and turned upon Tarcisius with fury. He went down under the blows defending the sanctity of the blessed Eucharist.
It is believed that a fellow Christian drove off the mob and rescued the young acolyte. He brought the mangled body of Tarcisius back to the catacombs, but on the way the boy died from his injuries. He was buried in the cemetery of St. Callistus, and his relics are claimed by the church of San Silvestro in Capite.
Tarcisius, one of the patron saints of altar servers, always has been an example of youthful courage and devotion, and his story was one that was told again and again to urge others to a like heroism in suffering for their faith.
In the “Passion of Pope Stephen,” written in the 3rd century, Tarcisius is said to be an acolyte of the pope and, if so, this explains the great veneration in which he was held and the reason why he was chosen for so difficult a mission.