April 28, 2021: ST. VITALIS
April 28, 2021: COMMEMORATION OF ST. VITALIS, MARTYR
To preserve one of thy brethren from this misery, thou, 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, holy Martyr, that we may be on our guard, and that the mystery of the Pasch may be fully accomplished within us, now and for ever!
Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that by the intercession of blessed Vitalis thy Martyr, we may be delivered from all temporal adversities, and our hearts be cleansed from all evil thoughts. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
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 honour the memory of their father, who also won the palm under the persecution of Nero. She has chosen for his feast the glad Season of Easter. The account, given by the Liturgy, upon 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 was a soldier, and the father of Saints Gervasius and Protasius. Coming one day into Ravenna, in company with the judge 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, and then 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.
St. Vitalis, Martyr.
About the year 62.
St. Vitalis is honoured as the principal patron of the city of Ravenna, in which he glorified God by martyrdom in the persecution of Nero. He was a citizen of Milan, and is said in his acts to have been the father of SS. Gervasius and Protasius. The divine providence conducted him to Ravenna, where he saw a Christian named Ursicinus, who was condemned to lose his head for his faith, standing aghast at the sight of death, and seeming ready to yield. Happy is he who, by a perfect diffidence in himself and a sincere humility, obtains strength and comfort from above in the fiery trials of his last conflicts; when the devil rages with the greatest fury, knowing that he has only a little time to compass the ruin of a soul for ever. Vitalis was extremely moved at this spectacle. The honour of God, which was in danger of being insulted by sin, and the soul of a brother in Christ which appeared to be upon the very brink of apostacy, were alarming objects to awaken his zeal. He who dreaded the presumption of rashly seeking the combat, knew his double obligation of preferring the glory of God, and the eternal salvation of his neighbour to his own corporal life: he therefore boldly and successfully encouraged Ursicinus to triumph over death, and after his martyrdom, carried off his body, and respectfully interred it. The judge, whose name was Paulinus, being informed of what he had done, caused him to be apprehended, stretched on the rack, and, after other torments, to be buried alive in a place called the Palm-tree, in Ravenna, as Fortunatus and his acts relate. These acts add that his wife, Valeria, returning from Ravenna to Milan was beaten to death by certain peasants, because she refused to join them in an idolatrous festival and riot. The relics of St. Vitalis are deposited in the great church which bears his name in Ravenna, and was magnificently built by the emperor Justinian, in 547. It [belonged] to a noble Benedictin abbey, where in a ruinous private chapel are shown the tombs of the emperor Honorrus, and of the princes and princesses of his family.
We are not all called to the sacrifice of martyrdom; but all are bound to make their whole lives a continued sacrifice of themselves to God, and to perform every action in this perfect spirit of sacrifice. An ardent desire of devoting ourselves totally to God in life and in death, and a cheerful readiness to do and to suffer whatever he requires of us, in order constantly to accomplish his divine will, is a disposition which ought to accompany and to animate all our actions. The perfection of our sacrifice depends on the purity, fervour, and constancy of this desire. We must in particular make our bodies and our souls with all their faculties continual victims to God: our bodies by patient suffering, voluntary mortification, chastity, temperance, and penitential labour: our souls by a continual spirit of compunction, adoration, love, and praise. Thus we shall both live and die to God, perfectly resigned to his holy will in all his appointments.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year – The Paschal Time, Vol. II, Dublin, Edition 1871;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. I, 1903; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume I, 1806.
St. Vitalis, pray for us.