From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
THERE are few martyrs of the West whose names are more celebrated than those of SS Gervasius and Protasius. The veneration in which they aie 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 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 SS 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, clamare 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 Paulinus, he saw a certain Ursicinus, a physician, being led to execution, for having confessed the Christian faith. Vitalis observing that his courage was somewhat shaken 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.
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, didst bravely raise 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 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 for ever!