The Mass was pleasant with an enthusiastic priest and a moderate-sized congregation that prayed wholeheartedly. At the end of Mass, the cantor got up to make an announcement. Apparently the parish is suffering from lack of involvement by the laity. "Who will assist the priest at Mass?" he asked, and it was then that I realized that it was very unusual that there had not been any acolytes at the altar. My son Justin, who went to that church the previous week, mentioned that there had not been any lector at the Mass he attended, and he said that the priest proclaimed all of the readings.
Then the cantor went on to share a beautiful story....
"When I was a boy, my favorite saint was St. Tarcisius. During the early days of Christianity, when Mass was held in the catacombs, there was a group of Christians being held in prison. They longed to receive spiritual nourishment from the Holy Eucharist but there was no one who could take it to them. If the bishop or the priests were to go, they would surely be murdered. Although Tarcisius was only a young boy, he begged to be allowed to help with this important mission. After some hesitation, the bishop agreed to let Tarcisius carry Jesus to the prisoners.
The hosts were carefully wrapped in cloth and placed in a container which Tarcisius carefully held close to his breast as he began his treacherous journey. As he was nearing the prison with the Blessed Sacrament clutched close, he passed some school mates who were playing a game. They invited Tarcisius to join them, but he refused. One of them noticed that he was carrying something and they began to taunt him about what it might be that he was protecting so carefully. The boys then realized that Tarcisius was a Christian and that he was carrying a Christian "mystery". They tried to pry the Blessed Sacrament from him but Tarcisius would not let go. So the boys beat him until he was near death. Along came a Roman soldier who pulled Tarcisius away from the boys and took him away to a quiet place. It was there that Tarcisius discovered that the Roman soldier was really a Christian as well. Tarcisius handed his Treasure to the soldier and asked him to carry it to the prison for him. Then he died in the soldiers arms."
The cantor went on to say, "I always wanted to be like St. Tarcisius and have the honor of delivering Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament to others. So when the changes in Vatican II came about, allowing the laity to serve as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, I was the first in line to offer my help. But today, the laity aren't taking the precious opportunity to help the priest at the altar seriously. Too many are just content to sit in the pew without taking an active part in the Mass. We need you for this important work. Father needs you! He needs you to help as lectors, cantors, acolytes and extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist. Who will assist the priest at the altar?"
Even though we aren't members at that parish, my family and I all felt moved by the story of St. Tarcisius and the need for the laity to be more involved in the liturgy. We are prayfully considering how God may be calling us to serve Him at Mass. How might you take a more active role in the life of your parish by assisting the priest at Mass?