Among the ancient Greeks the custom prevailed of giving a supper to those setting out on a journey. This was called hodoiporion "Convivium, quod itineris comitibus præbetur" (Hedericus, "Lex. græc-lat."). The provision of all things necessary for such a journey, viz. food, money, clothes, utensils and expense, was called ephodion. The adjectival equivalent in Latin of both these words is viaticus, i.e. "of or pertaining to a road or journey" (Facciolati and Forcellini, "Lexicon"). Thus in Plautus (Bacch., 1, 1, 61) we read that Bacchis had a supper prepared for his sister who was about to go on a journey: "Ego sorori meæ coenam hodie dare volo viaticam", and (Capt. 2, 3, 89), "Sequere me, viaticum ut dem trapezita tibi", and in Pliny (VII, ep. 12, in fine), "Vide ut mihi viaticum reddas, quod impendi". Subsequently the substantive "viaticum" figuratively meant the provision for the journey of life and finally by metaphor the provision for the passage out of this world into the next. It is in this last meaning that the word is used in sacred liturgy.
Formerly it meant anything that gave spiritual strength and comfort to the dying and enabled them to make the journey into eternity with greater confidence and security. For this reason anciently not only any sacrament administered to persons at the point of death, baptism (St. Basil, "Hom. in sac. Bapt."; St. Gregory Nazianzen, "Orat. de bapt."), confirmation, penance, extreme unction (Moroni, "Diz. di erudizione stor.-eccl.), Eucharist (Fourth Counc. of Carthage, cap. 78, calls it "viaticum Eucharistiæ"), but even prayers offered up or good works performed by themselves or by others in their behalf, e.g. alms-deeds (St. Cyprian), and finally anything that tended to reconcile the dying with God and the Church came under this designation. In the course of time "viaticum" was applied to the Eucharist generally, but finally it acquired its present fixed, exclusive, and technical sense of Holy Communion given to those in danger of death. The Catechism of the Council of Trent (De Euch. sacr., n. 3) says: "Sacred writers call it the Viaticum as well because it is the spiritual food by which we are supported in our mortal pilgrimage, as also because it prepares for us a passage to eternal glory and happiness". As early as A.D. 325 the Holy Eucharist given to the dying was called the "last and most necessary Viaticum" (Council of Nice, can. 13). Although Aubespine, Bishop of Orléans, in his note on this canon says that "viaticum" here means only the reconciliation and absolution granted at the hour of death to public penitents who had not performed the prescribed canonical penance, yet Macri (Hierolexicon) declares that it means simply "Sacramentum Eucharistic, cui antonomastice nomen veri muniminis convenit". Innocent I (402-17), in "Ad Exsuperium", and the First Council of Orange, 441, employed this word in the same sense.
Formerly Viaticum was administered not only by bishops and priests, but also by deacons and clerics of inferior orders and even by lay people. During the persecutions lay people carried consecrated particles to their homes and administered Holy Communion to themselves, and it is natural to conclude that they received it as Viaticum in the same manner. Dionysius of Alexandria ("Ep. ad Fabium Antioch." in Eusebius, Church History VI.44) relates that Serapion, an old man in danger of death, received Viaticum from his nephew, a mere boy, who had received the consecrated particle from a priest. From a Decree of the Council of Reims (Regino, "De eccl. disc.", I, cxx) it appears that sometimes even females carried the Viaticum to the dying, which practice the Council strictly forbade. Apparently for a while it was difficult to eliminate this abuse, for Hincmar, Archbishop of Reims, required the diocesan visitors to inquire whether the priests gave Communion to the sick with their own hands or by others', "per se et non per quemlibet", and whether they gave the consecrated particle to any lay person, "cuiquam laico", to carry it home for the sake of giving it to the dying (Martène, "De antiq. eccl. rit.", I, I, v, 2). After the tenth century no mention is made of lay persons carrying Viaticum to the dying, but deacons regularly administered it, and from two manuscript codices in the monastery of Casalis Benedicti it is evident that subdeacons carried it to the house of the sick person, but that the priest administered it (Martène, ibid.). At present only parish priests or their assistants carry and administer it to the dying. In case of necessity a deacon my be delegated, and if the necessity be urgent this delegation need not be waited for (Lehmkuhl, II, 135).
All, even children who have reached the age of reason (Decr., "Quam singulari", præscriptio VIII, 8 Aug., 1910), are bound by Divine precept to receive the Viaticum when they are in danger of death, according to the opinion of theologians and the rule of the Church; though it is disputed whether one who is now in danger of death and who has within the last few days received Holy Communion is so bound by Divine precept. The obligation in the latter case is not clear, as the previous Communion in all probability satisfies the Divine law (Slater II, v, 1; Lehmkuhl, II, n. 146). St. Liguori says that according to the more probable opinion the obligation exists (VI, n. 285, dub. 2, sec. sent.). If a person becomes dangerously ill on the day on which he received Holy Communion out of devotion, it is disputed whether he may, or is bound to, receive it as Viaticum (Slater and Lehmkuhl, ibid.). Benedict XIV (De syn. dioc., VII, xi, n. 2) leaves the decision of this question to the prudent discretion of the priest, but St. Liguori (ibid., tertia sent.) thinks that the sick person is bound to receive it if the danger comes from an external cause, but not if he were already ill or if the danger already existed in some internal though unknown cause, as might be presumed in case of sudden illness, e.g. apoplexy and the like. Viaticum, like Holy Communion, out of devotion, may not be given to persons who are insane and who have never had the use of reason (Rit. Rom., Tit. IV, n. 10). To persons labouring under insanity from fever or other causes and at the time incapable of sentiments of piety, Communion cannot be administered; if, however before they became insane they evinced pious and religious sentiments and led a good life and it is apprehended that they will not recover their reason until they are dying, Viaticum may be administered to them in their delirium provided there be no danger of irreverence (Catech. of Council of Trent, II, vi, n. 64). It should not be administered when there is danger of irreverence to the sacrament from incessant coughing, difficulty of breathing or swallowing, and frequent vomiting. In all these cases, a little food or drink may be given first, to try whether the person can receive without danger of rejecting the Sacred Host. The same may be done in case of delirium also. Many recommend the trial to be made with an unconsecrated particle (O'Kane, "On the Rubrics" n. 782). Public sinners ("Publici usurarii, concubinarii, notorie criminosi, nominatim excommunicati aut denuntiati"-Rit. Rom., Tit. IV, cap. iv, n. 1) are not allowed to receive Viaticum until they have repaired, as far as circumstances will permit (the confessor must decide in each case the nature and extent of this obligation), the injuries and scandals of which they have been the cause.
Formerly Viaticum was usually administered under the species of bread, because the Blessed Sacrament, which was to be carried to the house of the dying person, was customarily reserved under this form only. The incident, related above, of the aged Serapion would indicate this, for the boy was instructed by the priest to dip the consecrated particle into water before giving it to his uncle. To this rite the Fourth Council of Carthage (Can. 76) seems to allude, because it states "infundatur ori eius Eucharistia" when Viaticum was to be given to dying persons, who, on account of the parched state of the throat, were unable to swallow the Host. About the twelfth century the custom of receiving Holy Communion out of devotion under both species began to be disused (Chardon, "Storia dei sacramenti", I, III, vii). It cannot be doubted that, as long as this custom prevailed, Viaticum was often administered in the same manner when it was given after Mass, celebrated in the room of the dying person, which was frequently done. Menard, in his notes on the "Gregorian Sacramentary" says that it contained two separate forms for the administration of Viaticum, "Corpus Domini nostri Jesu Christi custodiat te in vitam æternam" and "Sanguis Domini nostri Jesu Christi redimat te in vitam æternam". Sometimes the Host was dipped into the Precious Blood, as is evident from many ancient Rituals, and the Council of Tours prescribes "Sacra oblatio (Host) intincta debet esse in Sanguine Christi, ut veraciter presbyter possit dicere-Corpus et Sanguis Domini proficiat tibi" (Martène, ibid.). Although anciently it was the custom to receive Holy Communion during Mass under both species (also Viaticum after Mass), yet it was never believed that those who communicated under the species of bread only did not receive, whole and entire, the Body and Blood of Christ. At present Viaticum is administered, at least on the Latin Church, under the form of bread only.
Things to be prepared.-(a) By the priest.-The pyx, a small corporal, and a purificator in small burse, a white (even on Good Friday) stole, and a Ritual. (b) In the sick room.-A table (near the foot of the bed, or in some other position in which it is easily visible to the sick person), a crucifix (although this is not prescribed by the rubric), two lighted wax candles, a wineglass containing a little water for purifying the priest's fingers, a clean cloth or napkin for the sick person, a vase containing holy water, and a sprinkler of box or other wood. (c) On the altar.-Two lighted wax candles, the key of the tabernacle and a burse with a large corporal (if the particle is to be transferred from the ciborium to the pyx in this case also an ablution cup and a finger towel). It frequently happens that all the necessary things are not prepared in the sick room, therefore it will be expedient for the priest to carry with him two wax candles, holy water, and a small communion-cloth.
The priest, having placed the pyx in the burse, which should hang on his breast by a cord round his neck goes to the sick person's house, reciting on the way the "Miserere" and other psalms and canticles he may know by heart. At the door of the sick-room he says: "Pax huic domui" and if there be no one to answer, he replies himself: "Et omnibus habitantibus in ea", enters the room, puts on his stole, takes out the pyx, places it on the table, genuflects, and rises. Then he takes the holy water and sprinkles first the sick person in the form of a cross, i.e. in front of himself, then on his (own) left, then on his (own) right, after which he sprinkles some around him on the floors and walls of the room and on those present, saying in the meantime: "Asperges me . . . dealbabor", to which he adds the first verse of the "Miserere", "Gloria Patri" "Sicut erat", and then repeats the antiphon "Asperges me", etc. which must not be changed during Paschal time. He immediately subjoins the versicles "Adjutorium", etc. and the prayer "Exaudi nos", etc.
If the sick person has not previously confessed, the priest should ask those present to leave the room; then he hears the confession, imposes a light penance, and may recall the sick person's attendants. Even if the priest had previously heard the confession, he should not administer Viaticum until he has given the sick person an opportunity to confess again, if he desires it. The priest then goes to the table, genuflects, and uncovers the pyx, and the communion-cloth or napkin is adjusted under the chin of the sick person who recites the "Confiteor", if he be able; if not, it is said in his name by one of the bystanders, or, when there is no one able to do this, by the priest himself. After the "Confiteor" the priest genuflects, rises, and turns towards the sick person, taking care, however, not to turn his back to the Blessed Sacrament. In this position he says "Misereatur" and "Indulgentiam" using the words tui, tuis, tuorum, and tibi. (The singular is used when Communion is given to one who is sick, except in the rare case in which it is given during Mass, when the plural form is used. "Sacrorum Rituum Cong.", 16 Nov., 1906.) The priest then turns to the table, genuflects, and takes the particle between the thumb and index finger of the right hand and holds the pyx in his left hand under the particle. The "Ecce Agnus Dei" and the "Domine non sum dignus" are said as prescribed for the ordinary Communion in the church. The sick person should say the "Domine non sum dignus" with the priest, at least once, in a low tone (Rit. Rom. Rubr., 19). Instead of the "Corpus Domini", the form "Accipe frater (soror)" etc. is used, whether the sick person is fasting or not, for it is always used when the sick person is in probable danger of death. It is a very probable opinion that Communion may be administered the next day, and even every day, and while the danger continues the form should always be "Accipe frater" (O'Kane, op. cit., 777). If difficulty is experienced in swallowing the Host on account of the parched condition of the throat, a little water may be given to the sick person before he receives Holy Communion, or the Host may be placed in some wine or water in a spoon or a little wine or water may be given immediately after receiving the Host.
If the danger of death be imminent, but the person be able to receive, all the prayers, as far as the "Misereatur", may be omitted. In case of extreme necessity the priest may even omit the "Misereatur" and the following, and give Communion immediately. In these cases the prayers which were omitted are not supplied afterwards, even though the state of the sick person should allow this. If it be feared that the person will be unable to swallow the Host before death, it should not be given. If it be given and death ensue before he can swallow it, it should be removed from his tongue and placed either in a corporal or in some vessel and kept in some secure place and in due time put into the sacrarium. Should the Host not be visible in the mouth, nothing further need be done (Dunne, "The English Ritual Explained", 67; De Herdt, III, n. 191; O'Kane, op. cit., n. 823). If the priest, after bringing the Blessed Sacrament, finds unexpectedly that the sick person is unable to communicate, he may give benediction with it to the sick person. But he is never allowed to bring the Blessed Sacrament for this purpose when he knows that the person will be unable to receive. Should the sick person he unable to retain the Sacred Host, it should be removed and carried to the church in a corporal or clean vessel. There it should be kept in a becoming place until it corrupts, when it should be put into the sacrarium.
After the Communion the priest purifies the pyx and his fingers in a small glass of water, and the water is given by the priest, or one of the attendants, to the sick person to drink. If the latter be unable or unwilling to take it, it may be thrown into the sacrarium or into the fire at the house. The priest may, if he wish, purify the pyx and his fingers by rubbing them with one part of the little purificator previously moistened with water. The purificator should then not be used again before it is washed. The priest then says "Dominus vobiscum" and the prayer "Domine sancte", etc. If no particle remains in the pyx he blesses the sick person with his hand in the same manner as after Communion in the church, using the form "Benedictio Dei", etc. O'Kane (n. 835) thinks that since we use "tui" instead of "vestri" in the "Misereatur", there is sufficient reason to justify the use of "super te" instead of "super vos" in this blessing; the rubric "eum manu benedicit" seems to favour this opinion, although authors who give the form in full say it ought to be "super vos". If a particle remain in the pyx, the priest genuflects, puts the pyx in the burse, and, without saying anything, gives the blessing with the pyx, puts off his stole and surplice, and returns to the church reciting on the way the Psalm, "Laudate Dominum de coelis", etc. (This rubric ought to be observed, when the priest is obliged to give Viaticum to person in different houses, until the last particle is given, for the rubric says: "Si altera particula Sacramenti superfuerit".) Having arrived at the church he places the pyx on the corporal, genuflects, descends to the lowest step and there recites the versicles "Panem de coelo", etc. and "Dominus vobiscum" and the prayer "Deus qui nobis", etc., after which he announces the indulgence of seven years and seven quarantines to those who accompanied the Blessed Sacrament with a light, and five years and five quarantines to those who accompanied it without a light. He then ascends to the predella, genuflects, gives the blessing to the assembled people in the church with the pyx and places the latter in the tabernacle in the customary manner.
From the Mass of Maundy Thursday till the Mass of Holy Saturday the colour of the stole must be white, the "Gloria Patri" is recited at the end of the Psalms, and the blessing with the pyx may be given in the room of the sick person, but not in the church. It may happen that Viaticum is to be given during Mass, e.g. to a criminal about to be executed, in an hospital or private house, when the sick person is in view of the altar. The rites and ceremonies observed in such cases are exactly the same as when Communion is given in the church, except that the form will be "Accipe frater (soror)". The colour of the vestment will be suited to the Mass. When Viaticum is administered to two or more persons at the same time, it is given to them successively, as in the church, provided they be in the same apartment or in apartments opening into each other. In this case "Misereatur vestri . . . vestris" and "Indulgentiam . . . vestrorum . . . vobis" are said; the ablution may be given to any one of them, and need not be divided; in the prayer "Domine sancte" the words "fratri nostro" or "sorori nostræ" are changed into "fratribus nostris", or, if all are females, "sororibus nostris", and at the end the blessing with the pyx is given only once to all together.
MACRI, Hierolexicon (Venice, 1712); CHARDON, Storia dei sacramenti (Verona, 1754); ZACCARIA, Bibl. ritualis (Rome, 1781); BENEDICT XIV, De synodo di£cesana (Naples, 1772); LABBE AND COSSART, Concil. coll. (Paris, 1715); MARTÈNE, De antiq. eccl. rit . (Venice, 1783), BARUFFALDI, Ad rituale roman. Comment. (Venice, 1792); BERNARD, Cours de liturgie romaine (Paris, 1893); A SEXTEN, Tract. Pastoralis de sacramentis (Mainz, 1894); SLATER, Manual of Moral Theology (New York, 1908); DUNNE, The English Ritual Explained (London, 1908); O'KANE, Notes on the Rubrics (Dublin, 1867) Rituale Romanum (Ratisbon, 1895).
APA citation. (1912). Viaticum. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15397c.htm
MLA citation. "Viaticum." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15397c.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Vernon Bremberg. Dedicated to the Cloistered Dominican Nuns of the Monastery of the Infant Jesus, Lufkin, Texas.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.