A Latin word meaning provision for the journey, viaticum is the sacrament proper to the dying Christian, wherein the Eucharist is given to one in danger of death as the food for the passage through death to eternal life. The First Council of Nicaea (325), in an effort to comfort the dying and avoid rigorous attitudes, legislated that the dying were not to be deprived of "their last, most necessary viaticum." The biographies of holy people such as St. Ambrose (ca. 339–97) and St. John Chrysostom (347–407) also attest to this practice of receiving holy communion just before death. Early ritual evidence of viaticum appears in Ordo Romanus XLIX (ca. 800), which states that "the holy sacrifice," will be the dying person's "defender and helper at the resurrection of the just." Given at the point of death, communion is a pledge or promise of resurrection and of everlasting life. As late as the thirteenth century, holy communion is still administered in close proximity to the commendation of the dying person. The rites for the dying in the thirteenth-century Pontifical of the Roman Curia, for instance, closely follow the monastic pattern for attending to the sick and the dying: caring for the sick, anointing with oil, administering holy communion, commending the dying person in the death agony, and providing funeral services that involve the waking, care, and burial of the body. However, in a departure from this pattern, the Franciscan Ritual of the Last Sacraments (1260) provides three distinct rites which are celebrated at different times: communion of the sick, anointing, and commendation of the soul. Here, communion given as viaticum is contained within the order of communion of the sick as a rite that is no longer associated with the hour of death, but is now given early in a grave illness. In addition, viaticum is further separated from the commendation rite by another distinct rite, anointing of the sick, which has been transformed by this time from a rite for the restoration of health to a rite for the spiritual preparation of death. The Franciscan ritual spread and perpetuated this separation of viaticum from the hour of death, a practice which is evident in two important sixteenth-century rituals, Alberto Castellano's Liber Sacerdotalis (1523) and Julius Santori's Rituale Sacramentorum Romanum (1602), and which is taken up and continued in the 1614 Rituale Romanum. The communion rite itself had become a penitential rite that emphasized the forgiveness of sins, deliverance from pain and punishment after death, and the need for protection against the enemy. These concerns are expressed in the formula that the 1614 RR uses when communicating the dying: "Receive brother, or sister, the food for your journey, the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ. May he preserve you from the wicked enemy, and lead you to everlasting life."
At the direction of the Second Vatican Council (1962–65), the rites of anointing and viaticum were to be revised, wherein viaticum was restored as the sacrament for the dying (Pastoral Care of the Sick, no. 174). In addition to retrieving the more ancient pattern of viaticum-commendation, the post-conciliar reforms restored viaticum as a sacrament of passage, in which the dying person, strengthened with the Body and Blood of Christ, passes through death with Christ, going from this world to the Father in the hope of the resurrection (PCS, nos. 26 and 175). The dying Christian should receive viaticum within Mass, but there is a celebration of this sacrament outside Mass and another within a continuous rite used in exceptional circumstances. A distinctive feature of the rite is the renewal of the baptismal profession of faith, which, in the context of viaticum, is a renewal and fulfillment of initiation into the Christian mysteries (PCS, no.179). The sign of communion is more complete when received under both kinds because it expresses more fully and clearly the nature of the Eucharist as a meal, one which prepares all who take part in it for the heavenly banquet (PCS, no. 181).
Bibliography: Sources. m. andrieu, Ordo Romanus XLIX, in Les Ordines romani du haut moyen-âge: Les textes (Ordines XXXV–XLIX) (Spicilegium Sacrum Lovaniense 28; Louvain 1956), 4:529–530. m. andrieu, Le pontifical de la curie romaine au XIII esiècle, vol. 2 (Studi e Testi 87; Vatican City 1940). Sources of the Modern Roman Liturgy: The Ordinals by Haymo of Faversham and Related Documents (1243–1307), ed. s.j.p. van dijk (Leiden 1963). a. castellano, Liber Sacerdotalis (Venice 1523; Paris 1973). j. a. cardinal santori, Rituale Sacramentorum Romanum Gregorii Papae XIII Pont. Max. iussu editum (Rome: 1584–1602; Paris 1973). Rituale Romanum Pauli V. Pont. Max. iussu editem (Rome 1614; Paris 1973). Ordo Unctionis infirmorum eorumque pastoralis curae, Rituale Romanum ex decreto sacrosancti oecumenici Concilii Vaticani II instauratum auctoritate Pauli PP. VI promulgatum, editio typica (Rome 1972). Pastoral Care of the Sick: Rites of Anointing and Viaticum, the Roman Ritual Revised by Decree of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council and Published by Authority of Pope Paul VI, Approved for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and Confirmed by the Apostolic See, Prepared by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy: A Joint Commission of Catholic Bishops' Conferences (New York 1983). Literature. j. m. donohue, "The Rite for the Commendation of the Dying in the 1983 Pastoral Care of the Sick: Rites of Anointing and Viaticum," (Ph.D. diss., The Catholic University of America, 1999). f. s. paxton, Christianizing Death: The Creation of a Ritual Process in Early Medieval Europe (Ithaca, 1990). d. n. power, "Commendation of the Dying and the Reading of the Passion," in Rule of Prayer, Rule of Faith: Essays in Honor of Aidan Kavanagh, O.S.B., ed. n. mitchell and j. f. baldovin (Collegeville, Minn. 1996): 281–302. a. c. rush, "The Eucharist: The Sacrament of the Dying in Christian Antiquity," The Jurist 34 (1974): 10:35. d. sicard, La Liturgie de la mort dans l'église latine des origines à la réforme carolingienne (Liturgiewissenschaftliche Quellen und Forschungen, vol. 63; Münster 1978).
[j. m. donohue]