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also known as
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Within the Catholic Church, viaticum is a term for the Eucharist (communion) administered during the sacrament of the sick, given to a person who is dying or who faces the possibility of death, and is thus a part of the last rites. According to Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, "The Catholic tradition of giving the Eucharist to the dying ensures that instead of dying alone they die with Christ who promises them eternal life."[1] For Communion as viaticum, the Eucharist is given in the usual form, with the added words "May the Lord Jesus Christ protect you and lead you to eternal life".

The word viaticum is a Latin word meaning "provisions for a journey," from via, or "way." The Eucharist is seen as the ideal food to strengthen a dying person for the journey from this world to life after death. It seems that originally the Eucharistic bread was placed in the mouth of the dead person so that he or she would have food for what the early Christians believed was a 3 day journey between this world and the next. Scholars have compared the rite to the pre-Christian custom of Charon's obol, a small coin placed in the mouth of the dead for passage to the afterlife and sometimes called a viaticum in Latin literary sources.[2]

The desire to have the consecrated host and precious blood available for the sick and dying led to the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, a practice which has endured from the earliest days of the Christian Church. Saint Justin Martyr, writing less than fifty years after the death of Saint John the Apostle, mentions that “the deacons communicate each of those present, and carry away to the absent the consecrated Bread, and wine and water.” (Just. M. Apol. I. cap. lxv.)

If the dying person cannot take solid food, the Holy Eucharist may be administered in the species of the precious blood. The sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is often administered immediately before giving Viaticum if a priest is available to do so. Unlike the Anointing of the Sick, Viaticum may be administered by a priest, deacon or extraordinarily (and only in special circumstances) by a lay minister using the reserved Blessed Sacrament.

Historically, permitting a lay person to carry Viaticum reverses a medieval emphasis on the priest's role in communicating the sick. The sacrament was carried in a formal procession with a light and a bell before him. The faithful were expected to kneel in prayer or follow reverently.


  • Rubin, Miri, Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
  • Snoek, C. J. K., Medieval Piety from Relics to the Eucharist: A Process of Mutual Interaction, Leiden: Brill, 1995,
  1. ^ L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's newspaper.
  2. ^ A. Rush, Death and Burial in Christian Antiquity (Washington, D.C. 1941), pp. 93–94; Gregory Grabka, “Christian Viaticum: A Study of Its Cultural Background,” Traditio 9 (1953), 1–43; Frederick S. Paxton, Christianizing Death: The Creation of a Ritual Process in Early Medieval Europe (Cornell University Press 1990), pp. 32–33 online; G.J.C. Snoek, Medieval Piety from Relics to the Eucharist: A Process of Mutual Interaction (Leiden 1995), passim, but especially pp. 102–103 online and 122–124 online; Paul Binski, Medieval Death: Ritual and Representation (Cornell University Press 1996), p. 32 online; J. Patout Burns, “Death and Burial in Christian Africa: The Literary Evidence,” paper delivered to the North American Patristics Society, May 1997, full text online.

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

VIATICUM (a Latin word meaning "provision for a journey"; Gr. ra 1/26Sca), is often used by early Christian writers to denote the sacrament of the Eucharist, and is sometimes also applied to baptism. Ultimately it came to be employed in a restricted sense to denote the last communion given to the dying. The 13th canon of the council of Nicaea is to the effect that "none, even of the lapsed, shall be deprived of the last and most necessary viaticum (E40Siov)," and that the bishop, on examination, is to give the oblation to all who desire to partake of the Eucharist on the point of death. The same principle still rules the canon law, it being of course understood that penitential discipline, which in ordinary circumstances would have been due for their offence, is to be undergone by lapsed persons who have thus received the viaticum, in the event of recovery. In extreme cases it is lawful to administer the viaticum to persons not fasting, and the same person may receive it frequently if his illness be prolonged. The ritual to be observed in its administration does not differ from that laid down in the office for the communion of the sick, except in the words of the formula, which is "accipe, carissime frater (carissima soror), viaticum corporis nostri Jesu Christi, quod te custodiat ab hoste maligno, protegat te, et perducat te ad vitam aeternam. Amen." Afterwards the priest rinses his fingers in a little water, which the communicant drinks. The viaticum is given before extreme unction, a reversal of the medieval practice due to the importance of receiving the Eucharist while the mind is still clear. In the early centuries the sick, like those in health, generally received both kinds, though there are instances of the viaticum being given under one form only, sometimes the bread and sometimes, where swallowing was difficult, the wine. In times of persecution laymen occasionally carried the viaticum to the sick, a practice that persisted into the 9th century, and deacons continued to do so even after the Council of Ansa (near Lyons) in 990 restricted the function to priests.

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