Propers of Saint Tharsicius

Saint Tharsicius, or, more commonly, Saint Tarcisius, is the patron saint of altar servers. His lipsanotheca prominently features in the page the Cœtus Internationalis Ministrantium dedicates to its patron saint here. (As an aside, we register that the correct Latin term for altar server is ministrans, as opposed to the affected calque others are wont to employ, servus altaris.) While the difference in onomastic spelling may seem negligible, it can divide etymologists. Some trace his name from the city of Tarsus in the Roman province of Cilicia, rendering it in Greek as Ταρσίκιος. Others trace it from the place called Tharsis in Holy Writ, rendering it in Greek as Θαρσίκιος. In terms of pronunciation, the difference is practically imperceptible in the West, for while τ and θ are pronounced differently in Koine Greek, t and th are pronounced the same in Ecclesiastical Latin.

Tarcisius, martyr chrétien | Alexandre Falguière | 1868

That said, both East and West venerate Saint Tharsicius as a martyr. Western hagiography designates him an acolyte, one of the minor orders, based on a sixth-century legend about the martyrdom of Pope Saint Stephen I. Eastern hagiography, meanwhile, sometimes registers him a deacon, one of the major orders, which somehow agrees with the epigraph Pope Saint Damasus I wrote. The Roman Martyrology lists Saint Tharsicius under 15 August, which is the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, having suffered martyrdom on this day in 257 A.D., during the reign of Emperor Valerian. As such, his feast is perpetually impeded.

In the Vetus Ordo, therefore, (click on the thumbnails below to open the files for his proper Mass and Office, as well as the chant our Choir set for the Mass propers), his feast is properly kept on 25 November, which is probably the date: either when his relics were transferred from the Catacombs of Saint Callixtus to the Basilica of San Sisto e Santa Cecilia, and thither reposed in the tomb of Pope Saint Zephyrinus; or when Pope Saint Paul I transferred his relics, together with the relics of other martyrs, from the Basilica of San Sisto e Santa Cecilia to the Basilica of San Silvestro in Capite, where they remain today. However, celebrating his feast closer to 15 August is permitted, provided that it is assigned on an unimpeded day.

Pope Saint Damasus I, who laboured to promote devotion to the martyrs, often writing epigraphs in their honour, dedicated one such poem to the child martyr, equating his resistance to deliver the Eucharist to pagans with the abnegation that Saint Stephen the Protomartyr displayed when the Jews brought him out to be stoned. He caused this inscription to be placed on the tomb of the martyr.

Par meritum, quicumque legis, cognosce duorum,
quis Damasus rector titulos post præmia reddit.
Iudaicus populus Stephanum meliora monentem
perculerat saxis, tulerat qui ex hoste trophæum,
martyrium primus rapuit levita fidelis.
Tharsicium sanctum Christi sacramenta gerentem,
cum malesana manus premeret vulgare profanis,
ipse animam potius voluit dimittere cæsus,
prodere quam canibus rabidis cœlestia membra.



Whosoever readest, know ye the equal merit of the two
to whom Pope Damasus dedicated epitaphs for their deeds.
The Jewish people had taken away and smitten with stones
Stephen foretelling better things, the faithful deacon
who first obtained martyrdom and memorial from the foe.
When an unsound rabble pressed Saint Tharsicius
to display the sacraments of Christ he was carrying,
he, being slain, instead willed to give up his soul,
than to show the heavenly particles to the raging dogs.

Saint Tharsicius is the altar server par excellence. His example stands in stark contrast to the indiscretions of today’s altar servers, who participate in acts of wanton abandon, running the gamut from prancing like perfumed ponces in video-sharing social networking platforms, to signalling forbearance of other people’s defects with an almost constipated constitution, from pining for the validation of their peers and the attention of prospective opportunistic sponsors in local iconocamerariat circles, to retelling their sacristy-profaning unchaste encounters (aberrant or not) in online freedom walls. Let us, therefore, pray that Saint Tharsicius’ great suffering, for which he received the glory of heaven, may obtain from God forgiveness for our sins, and our Lord’s sacred Body and saving Blood, which he defended until death, may fortify our life on earth and profit us unto life everlasting.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.