April 28 – St Vitalis, Martyr
There are few martyrs of the West whose names are more celebrated than those of Saints Gervasius and Protasius. The veneration in which they are held by the Roman Church has led her to honor the memory of their father, who also won the palm under the persecution of Nero. She has chosen for this feast the glad Season of Easter. The account given by the Liturgy of St. Vitalis is short; but we can gather, from the few circumstances related, what fine characters these primitive Christians were who received the crown of martyrdom under the first of all the Persecutions—the one that numbers among its choicest victims the two Apostles Saints Peter and Paul.
|Vitalis miles, sanctorum Gervasii et Protasii pater, una cum Paulino judice Ravennam ingressus, cum vidisset Ursicinum medicum ob Christianæ fidei confessionem ductum ad supplicium paululum in tormentis titubare, exclamavit: Ursicine medice, qui alios curare solitus es, cave ne te mortis æternæ jaculo conficias. Qua voce confirmatus Ursicinus, martyrium fortiter subivit. Quare Paulinus incensus Vitalem comprehendi jubet, et equuleo tortum, atque in profundam foveam demersum, lapidibus obrui. Quo facto quidam Apollinis sacerdos, qui Paulinum in Vitalem incitarat, oppressus a dæmone, clamre cœpit: Tu me nimium, Vitalis Christi martyr, incendis: et illo æstu jactatus, se præcipitavit in flumen.||Vitalis was a soldier, and the father of Saints Gervasius and Protasius. Coming one day into Ravenna, in company with the judge of Paulinus, there was being led to execution, for his having confessed the Christian faith, a certain Ursicinus, a physician. Vitalis observing that his courage was somewhat staggered by the tortures, cried out to him: “Ursicinus! thou that art a physician, and curest other men, take heed lest thou wound thyself with the dart of eternal death!” Encouraged by these words, Ursicinus bravely suffered martyrdom. Whereupon, Paulinus was exceedingly angry, and ordered Vitalis to be seized, tortured on the rack, an dthen thrown into a deep pit, where he was to be buried alive by stones being thrown upon him. This done, one of the priests of Apollo, who had excited Paulinus against Vitalis, was possessed by a devil, and began shouting these words: “O Vitalis, Martyr of Christ, thou burnest me beyond endurance!” Mad with the inward burning, he threw himself into a river.|
Sin is the enemy of the soul; it throws her back again into that death, whence Jesus had drawn her by his Resurrection. To preserve one of thy brethren from this misery, thou, O Vitalis, bravely raisedst a cry of zealous warning to him in the midst of his torments, and thy words awakened him to self-possession and courage. Show this same fraternal charity to us. We are living with the Life of our Risen Jesus; but the enemy is bent on robbing us of this Life. He will seek to intimidate us; he will lay all manner of snares wherewith to deceive us; he will give us battle, and this untiringly. Pray then for us, O holy Martyr, that we may be on our guard, and that the mystery of the Pasch may be fully accomplished within us, now and forever!
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)