For First Communicants

With Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1919

by a Sister of Notre Dame, author of First Communion Days

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-------St. Tarcisius --------

Long ago the Romans were the most famous and most powerful people in the world. In their great city of Rome the Christians were often very cruelly treated, just because they loved and honoured Jesus Christ. Often they were thrown into dark and dirty prisons, from which they were only taken in order to be Martyred. Sometimes Christians were beaten or burnt to death. Sometimes they were thrown to lions or panthers in a large open space surrounded by rows of seats, called the Coliseum. To keep out of the way of the pagan Romans, so that they might live in safety, the Christians dug deep down into the earth and made long passages and rooms. The openings to these hiding-places were made in lonely spots outside the city, and only the Christians knew where they were.

These underground places were called "catacombs," and Holy Mass was said there, and there the Christians used to receive Holy Communion and have instructions from the bishops and priests.

But in spite of all the care that was taken to keep everything secret, the pagans sometimes found the openings into the catacombs, and then the Christians were caught and put in prison or condemned to death. At the time that this story happened a great many Christians had been caught and were in prison expecting every day to be put to death. These brave soldiers of Christ sent a message to the Bishop asking him to send them Holy Communion, for they knew that just as food makes our bodies strong, so Holy Communion strengthens our souls, and they felt that if they could only receive Our Dear Lord, "the Bread of the strong," into their hearts they would be able to bear any pain or torture for love of Him.

This message reached the Bishop just as he was about to say Mass in one of the catacombs. The underground chapel was quite dark except for the candles on the altar, but all who were kneeling there could see the Bishop as he turned round before he began his Mass and asked all present to pray that he might choose the best messenger to carry the Blessed Sacrament to the prisoners. No priest could do this, because he would be at once seized and imprisoned, and most of the other Christians were well known too. When the Mass was over the Bishop turned round again and asked who would be willing to risk his life to carry Holy Communion to the prisoners. Two or three men offered, but the Bishop was afraid they would be caught and put to death. Then a little boy named Tarcisius came up to the Bishop, and kneeling at his feet begged to be allowed to carry Our Lord to those who needed Him so much.
"I am so young," he said, " the pagans will think I am only a messenger boy, and let me pass."
Tarcisius was an orphan, and well known to all the Christians for his great love of the Blessed Sacrament At first the Bishop thought he was too young, but Tarcisius begged so hard to be allowed to go that the Bishop at last said "Yes."

Several Sacred Hosts were placed inside a white linen cloth within a little case which Tarcisius put inside his tunic, just over his heart, and with his two hands clasped over his Sacred Burden, he started off.
Oh, how happy and proud Tarcisius felt as he carried Our Blessed Lord so close to his heart! He had no thoughts to spare for places or people that he passed. He thought only of Jesus, Whom he carried.

"Oh, dear Jesus, how I love Thee," he whispered. "How good Thou art to choose me as Thy little messenger. How willingly I would suffer and die for Thee, like these good people in prison. Perhaps one day Thou wilt let me lay down my life for Thee too."
Whispering words of love like these he sped quickly on his way.

He was out of the catacombs now and on the high road. There he passed a group of his school comrades just about to start a game, but needing one more to complete the number. Catching sight of Tarcisius they called to him to stop and join them.

"I am sorry," he said, "but I am on an important message."
He hurried on, but the lads caught hold of him and would not let him go.

"What have you there?" said one, seeing how tightly Tarcisius held his hands to his breast. "Let me see."

"No, no," cried Tarcisius, struggling to free himself .

His anxiety made them all curious, and together they tried to pull away his hands.
"My Jesus, strengthen me," whispered Tarcisius almost under his breath.

But one boy heard the words and cried out to the others: "He is a Christian. He is hiding some Christian mystery there."
This made the boys still more curious. They determined to see for themselves, so they struck him and kicked him and did their best to pull away his hands, but they could not move them.

A man passing by asked what was the matter. "He's a Christian, carrying some Christian mystery, and we're trying to get it from him," cried one of the boys.

"A Christian did you say?" said the man, and giving Tarcisius one cruel blow, threw him to the ground.

At this very moment a soldier, hastening towards the group, scattered them to right and left and, stooping down, lifted Tarcisius in his arms.

"You cowards!" he said; "all setting on one little lad," and he strode quickly down the street and hurried off into a quiet lane.

"Tarcisius, lad," he said, smoothing back the curls from his pale face.

Tarcisius opened his eyes and recognised the soldier as a Christian whom he had often met in the catacombs.
"I am dying," he said, " but I have kept my God safe from them." And he handed his Precious Treasure to the soldier, who placed It reverently inside his tunic. "Carry Him to the prison for me," said Tarcisius, and with a gentle sigh he fell back into the soldier's arms. His little soul was already with God, for Whom he so willingly had given his life, for Jesus Himself once said: "Greater love than this no man has, than that a man lay down his life for his friend." Little Tarcisius gave his life for the Friend of friends, Jesus Christ.

St. Tarcisius is the patron of First Communicants and his Feast Day is August 15.

The above image is not part of the book, which has black and white illustrations.