CNP Logo Home
Online Catalog
Musical Musings
Liturgical Planners
Submit Your Music
Contact Us
Company Description
CanticaNOVA Publications
Bookmark and Share

Eucharistic Saints

Saint Tarcisius (263-275)

by Gary Penkala

As we continue with the National Eucharistic Revival, it would be profitable to recall those saints who had a special devotion to the Blessed Eucharist. Over the next few articles we'll study these saints, their lives, their devotion to the Blessed Eucharist, and music connected to them.


Saint_Tarcisius In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, addressing a lage group of altar boys: Who was St Tarcisius? We do not have much information about him. We are dealing with the early centuries of the Church's history or, to be more precise, with the third century. It is said that he was a boy who came regularly to the Catacombs of Saint 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 boy. 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 pry 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 Pretorian 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 Saint Calixtus. Pope Damasus had an inscription carved on Saint Tarcisius' grave; it says that the boy died in 257. The Roman Martyrology fixed the date as 15 August and in the same Martyrology a beautiful oral tradition is also recorded. It claims that the Most Blessed Sacrament was not found on Saint 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.
[Pope Benedict XVI - Genreal Audience: August 4, 2010]

Devotion to the Eucharist

Saint Tarcisius' testimony and this beautiful tradition teach us the deep love and great veneration that we must have for the Eucharist: it is a precious good, a treasure of incomparable value; it is the Bread of life, it is Jesus himself who becomes our nourishment, support and strength on our daily journey and on the open road that leads to eternal life. The Eucharist is the greatest gift that Jesus bequeathed to us. {Pope Benedict]

Pope Saint Damasus, in the latter part of the fourth century, wrote a poem about this "boy-martyr of the Eucharist." He compared him to Saint Stephen, for he suffered a violent death at the hands of a mob rather than give up the Sacred Body to "raging dogs." His story became well known when Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman in 1854 made it a part of his novel Fabiola, in which the story of the young acolyte is dramatized and a very moving account given of his martyrdom and death.

Saint Tarcisius had a supreme reverence for the Blessed Eucharist. Indeed, he gave up his own life in return for protecting the Sacred Hosts from desecration. How strong is our own faith in this amazing miracle of the Altar? Do we worship with even a modicum of the belief and adoration that Saint Tarcisius modeled?

Related Music

  1. O salutaris Hostia (César Franck / ed. Jon Naples) — César Franck wrote a lovely 2-part setting of the Latin text, O salutaris hostia, which is a stanza from the hymn by Saint Thomas Aquinas, Verbum supernum prodiens. Jon Naples has edited and arranged it (e.g. lowering the pitch a step) to make the motet more useful for most 2-part choirs.

    This lyrical composition of 100 measures, is mildly imitative but mostly homophonic. The modulations and harmonic colors are straight from 19th century Paris and Sainte-Clothilde Church!

    This motet can be sung by SA or TB voices; the ranges are reasonable and the organ accompaniment — particularly the pedal - is easy.
  2. Ave verum from Two Chant Meditations for Organ (Kevin Waters SJ) — In an organ style reminiscent of Felix Mendelssohn, Fr. Waters treats the the chant melody freely, organizing his setting as a fantasia or rhapsody. His consonant harmonies and appropriate variations in rhythm give the pieces both comfortability and interest. Although not difficult to play, these meditations are by no means simplistic; the composer has skillfully interwoven melodic fragments into both homophonic and polyphonic textures. Indications are given for a two-manual instrument with pedal. The pedal part is relatively easy.
  3. Spirit of Strength and Courage from Seven Processionals for the Roman Pilgrimage Basilicas (Gary Penkala) — With the establishment of the Jubilee Year by Pope Boniface VIII in AD 1300, Rome became a spiritual pilgrimage center for Western civilization. Seven churches (later proclaimed basilicas) developed as particular sites for pilgrims' visits, and neighborhoods — veritable townships — sprang up around them to provide food, housing, shopping and protection for the travelers to Rome.

    CanticaNOVA Publications presents this series of processionals inspired by the Roman Pilgrimage Churches, each with appropriate texts in English, Italian and Latin. Parishes looking for an effective way to unite their liturgies with those of the Millennium celebrations in Rome will find here abundant opportunities for music that links the American congregation with the pilgrims in the Eternal City.

    Spirit of Strength and Courage has texts from the Mass of the Memorial of Saint Sebastian, Psalm 19 and the chant Veni Creator Spiritus.

    The Emperor Constantine had a church constructed on a site along the Appian Way where tradition maintains that the bodies of Saints Peter and Paul were secretly placed in catacombs for safety during the early Roman persecutions. This church was later dedicated to Saint Sebastian, a Roman soldier and a Christian, who was shot with arrows, nursed back to health, resentenced, and beaten to death. His body was recovered by a Roman noblewoman and buried in her crypt along the Appian Way. The present basilica of Saint Sebastian was built in the 17th century by Cardinal Scipio Borghese. The fine catacombs of Saint Sebastian are noted for their graffiti, offering prayers to Saints Peter and Paul, and utilizing the cryptic Greek word icthus (fish) as a covert symbol for Christ.

Article written 08 May 2023

CanticaNOVA Publications / PO Box 1388 / Charles Town, WV 25414-7388
Send website comments or questions to: